Rick Santorum, Communist ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

Crikey's Guy Rundle, still serving his sentence on the US campaign trail, has a look at Republican contender (albeit close to also-ran) Rick Santorum's family history (while kindly ignoring the terrible fate Santorum's name - like Thomas Crapper before him - has suffered) - A Pinch of piss in Sth Carolina as Santorum sells lunch pail nostalgia.

The Springdale Historic Conference Centre was the usual, symbolic deal — a historic home, lit to the gills, with a plain oblong building behind, slapped up in minutes. Families were streaming past the house and up the pathway, in actual Sunday best. At the head of the path, a morbidly obese Santorum supporter had set up the badges stall, so everyone had to step through the flowerbed to get around him. No one said a word.

“That doesn’t seem to be the best place to set up.”

“Oh yeah, I guess so.”

Everyone had a slightly floaty, Xanaxy air. Perhaps this was relaxed southern charm. Then three black SUVs pulled up, and the candidate stepped out, with three staffers and three secret service agents, all of these bald and black-coated and nothing like his supporters, more like a Fast and Furious sequel had just turned up. In the middle of them all, the candidate, in his now-signature sweater-vest, curly-hair and addled grin, looked jaunty, a Pennsylvania Italian-American, not a lot like the southern folk among whom he had found a following. He bounded in through the open faux-french windows, all energy — and then realised that he was at the back of the press pen, and there was no route to the stage. How the hell had he pulled out a draw in Iowa?

Three days after the New Hampshire primary, and Rick Santorum is still in the game, purely on the strength of the surprise Iowa result. No one, but no one had predicted that he would get anything like that vote, even though he was the last conservative standing, after the Right’s speed-dating fiasco through Bachmann, Perry and Gingrich at the end of 2011. Santorum had flatlined throughout, he had no serious money, and he had no organisation to speak of in New Hampshire. He’d taken the usual route of the last chance longshot, effectively moving to Iowa for several months, and working “every one of its 99 counties” as his tagline went.

Since Iowa’s main crop is corn, it was a case of coals to Newcastle, because Rick Santorum, more than any candidate, has planted himself firmly in the faith and family camp. Ron Paul had his gold standard end the Fed thing, Newt Gingrich wants to build Facebook on the moon or something, and Rick Perry is still campaigning off executing innocent people, but Santorum, the sole Roman Catholic, has planted himself at the centre of the values vote. Standing before an echt banner at the Peachtree, which read Faith, Family, Freedom, he yowled:

“I always thought that banner should read faith plus family equals freedom!” to moderate enthusiasm SC style. Santorum’s credentials — he is not only opposed to abortion, but to legal contraception, he has seven home-schooled kids — should have make him a shoo-in for the religious Right, but there have been problems along the way. The religious values vote is overwhelmingly evangelical, and until recently overwhelmingly anti-Catholic. South Carolina is the home of Bob Jones University, whose founder calls the Pope the “anti-Christ”. Yes, that’s absurd, but these people believe Adam and Eve rode to church on dinosaurs so, y’know.

By the time the South Carolina primary came around, the evangelicals had failed to endorse a candidate, even though Newt Gingrich was a serial adulterer and Mitt Romney was a Mormon, which the evangelicals regard as one up from being a children’s party magician. Having run more or less equal fourth in New Hampshire, with 10% of the vote, Santorum needs to separate himself from the pack. At the end of the first week, he had gone from 19% to 16%,and the base wasn’t firing.

Consequently, at the Springdale, he was laying it on with a trowel. There was plenty there for anyone who wanted a constitutional theocracy, and enough to freak out anyone who thought that might not be the best idea.

“You know in the old USSR, some of you are old enough to remember that [all of them were, except those too young to remember SpongeBob] and every time they had a new leader, they’d rewrite the history books, well that’s kinda what the progressives do. But we hold these truths, these truths to be self-evident, that we are endowed with certain rights by … who, by who? …”

“By our Creator!” the audience replied in unison.

“We are children of God,” he continued, “because we’re made in his image.”

On it went, the full American theology, a flagrant Christianist misconstruction of Thomas Jefferson’s specifically Deist rendering of reality.

“The pursuit of happiness!” Santorum said, “The founding fathers didn’t mean pleasure! They meant living in accordance with God!”

By now I was getting shouty in my head, wanting to raise the bit where Ben Franklin got closer to God via two whores in a bath in Paris. But Santorum was already on to de Tocqueville ”read Alexis de Tocqueville! He knew how great we are!”

No, you read de Tocqueville! He thought democracy would turn you into an atomised mediocrity! Nurrggghhh!

The first part of Santorum’s speech was the most Messianic version of American exceptionalism on offer in the primaries so far, and drew in his grandfather coming over from Italy, to pursue freedom and escape fascism. In the second half, he outlined an economic plan that could have been straight out of Mussolini.

Having enunciated a constitution promising limited government, Santorum then outlined a program that was pure corporatism, a fantasy projection by which America gets back its manufacturing base. Santorum’s “Made In America” plan is a scheme not merely to reintroduce a degree of high-end manufacture, but to get back the sort of full-bore grunt jobs that have long since gone east.

“The average manufacturing job makes 77 thousand dollars a year. Those are the sort of jobs we can get back, if we can get high corporate taxes off the back of business and get those businesses back!”

The argument is a fantasy of course, and of a particular kind, for it reaffirms the idea that a certain type of America could be returned — solid, blue-collar jobs requiring nothing more than a high-school diploma, and offering a wage guaranteeing a life that would elsewhere be seen as middle-class. The message has resonated in Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania whose towns are rusting wrecks, and in South Carolina, where the final departure of textile mills has cost the state much of its sense of self.

The contradiction between a minimal constitution, and the proposal for a federal industry policy that would draw energy and talent away from new industries and into old non-viable ones disappears only if you enter into the full fantasy that Rick Santorum is selling more than any other candidate — that the Constitution is a guarantee not merely of liberty of a sort, but also of prosperity, and dominance. This element, always present in American campaigns, has become obsessive this year, therapeutic. The crowds can’t get enough of it.

“Being exceptional doesn’t make us special,” Santorum noted in a barely consistent caveat, before noting “but we kinda know we are”, which brought a self-indulgent giggle from a section of the audience. They all do it, save Ron Paul, but Santorum is the one selling the most all-embracing nostalgia, the whole package, the Stars and Stripes on the lunch-pail vision.

He wrapped up with a bit of business about what a busy year this is for him family-wise, and how he shouldn’t be running … “but” (long pause) “it’s my dooty”. He has a low and portentous delivery that is sinister and compelling. He is a professional politician, of course, who has poured out the pork, souvenired the earmarks, opened his doors wide to lobbyists, and supported a whole raft of big government legislation.

One can usually find the gales of exceptionalia in US politics either amusing or merely blathersome, but there is something about Rick Santorum that gets under my skin, and it has nothing to do with his positions on sexuality, etc, which is simply consistent religious conservatism.It is instead the total fiction that he makes of his family’s history, as a way of inserting it into the national myth, and a fairly suffocating version of it at that. After all, Santorum’s father, a doctor in state-run veterans’ hospitals throughout his career, credited the New Deal-era GI Bill as “making his life”, allowing him to return from World War II and not have to slide straight into a job. The GI Bill was exactly the sort of “socialist” bill that Santorum purports to not merely despise, but believes is a net drain on the economy, and a debilitating enslavement to big government.

When your father is on record as saying that the government helped make the life that in turn made yours, there is something deeply dishonourable in traducing it — not merely on his behalf, but for the millions who gained better lives out of that initiative. It is part and parcel of the simple, total mythology that seems essential to holding national self-belief together. Going back one generation further, it got weirder —  Santorum’s grandad Pietro came to the States in 1925 to escape Mussolini — but as a Communist, escaping fascist death squads. He later returned to Italy, where The Daily Beast found the other side of Santorum’s family — “I have visited them,” Santorum said in his speech, “they are wonderful people, but they are nothing like me” — and they were all Communists. That is all simply part of the complex history of the 20th century. But like doctored photos in the USSR, as the man said, Pietro Santorum has had a flag inserted in his hand, in a grainy photo at Ellis Island.

Rundle also casts a jaundiced eye over Obama's "State Of The Union" speech (just to demonstrate he is an impartial observer of both Republican and Democrat politicians, and carefully avoiding the use of the "f" word) - Obama rolls his tanks onto the GOP’s country-club lawns.
They call the north-west “the forgotten coast”, and it’s an eerie and beguiling stretch — cheek-by-jowl with the metropolis, the roaring new cities of the eastern “space coast”, the foreclosure lands of Orlando — yet decades away from it. No convenience stores or schmick fast-food outlets here — the gas comes from ancient stations that sell nothing else, save for souvenir baskets made from shells, and Doritos.

The place even has its own time zone — central time, an hour behind the east coast, extending halfway into the state, stopping at the Apalachicola River, except where a town decides different. Go into an old weatherboard trading post for a burger, and the clock’ll show it an hour behind the place 10 minutes back along the road.

Given all that it was inevitable, perhaps, that the bursts of Christian rock (“come to our Creator/dude don’t wait till later”) and identikit nu-country (“I stopped driving my rig three years ago, when Cheryl-Anne got cancer/she said don’t ask ‘why us’ babe, cos you know we got the answer/ it’s those three sons we raised to men/it’s the flag we raise each evening, when …”) would be interspersed with warnings of disaster — of an America “we have four more years to save”, of a “country disappearing beneath our feet”, of the “trickery and manipulation” of the grand “community organiser in chief”, of Hitler and Stalin, of the income tax system being based on need and “from each according to their needs, to each …”.

Yes, every second or third station, beamed from Panama City, from Pensacola, from Carrabelle, there was measured panic from the paid ranters of the Right: from Rush Limbaugh, from Fox News Radio, and from crazed locals (“I’m so angry I can’t even speak right now! Here’s an ad for gold investing!”) stirred up by what Limbaugh called the “class warfare rally”, otherwise known as President Obama’s 2012 state of the union speech.

While Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich went at it hammer and tongs up and down the peninsula, Obama had launched his 2012 re-election campaign, with an address that liberal commentators assessed as less partisan than previous years, but which, to me, had the distinct feel of the President rolling his tanks onto the GOP’s country-club lawns.

Wrapping his remarks in the killing of bin Laden, at the opening and closing of the speech, Obama presented a combative politics, emphasising the idea that “fairness” should be at the centre of American life, that as a principle, “no one earning more than a million dollars should pay less than 30% in tax”, and laying claim to the notion of “teamwork” as part of the American experience, relating it to the teamwork of the Navy SEALS team. If you’re of an internationalist leftish persuasion I wouldn’t read this bit while consuming liquids:
“Which brings me back to where I began. Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian, Latino, Native American, conservative, liberal, rich, poor, gay, straight. When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind. You know, one of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats; some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates, a man who was George Bush’s defence secretary, and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president.

“All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves.

“One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job: the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other, because you can’t charge up those stairs into darkness and danger unless you know that there’s somebody behind you watching your back.

“So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes. No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our union will always be strong.

“Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.”

Well, I did warn you, didn’t I? Now you need a new laptop.

The speech was the first time that Obama has really laid claim to the bin Laden raid, and to the fact that, through his lethal drone wars, he has effectively crippled al-Qaeda far more effectively than Bush, etc, managed to do. But it’s linking it back to the domestic fight that is particularly audacious — and effective, because it gives him a way of anchoring his centre-right social market politics — or Marxist communism, to use the Right’s technical term — in American traditions.

For years the Right have sought to claim ownership of individualism, and the collective purpose that any society craves, by assigning them to separate spheres — the military is the collective enterprise that protects borders and allows the individualist society to flourish.

That’s a simple story, and easily told. Obama pushed the military model into the centre of civilian life, which leaves the Right the unenviable task of clarifying their objection without insulting the notion of collective effort. At the centre of every story told by every vet, is always collective — of how you did what you did for your unit, your buddies, the man or woman next to you. By fusing that to the domestic effort, Obama creates a platform to make the contrived nature of the Right’s account of American life obvious. It was pretty audacious, I thought, and I was surprised that the US press made very little commentary on the manoeuvre. But it was also of course not merely a move to the Right, but a leapfrog across.

When you start to use the military as a model for collective social action, you’re well into corporatism, and perhaps something more. I wouldn’t use the “F” word here, though I’m sure many will, because it is neither accurate nor useful, even metaphorically. Really, it’s a form of liberal imperialism, maintain an empire abroad while slowly drawing back its borders and power projection, while extending collective aspects at home, through an appeal to patriotic unity.

The hope, I suspect, is that the emotions attached to power projection can be swung around to the domestic sphere. The Democrats can then own this energy, and leave the Right with very little. ...

Amid their decrying of class warfare and envy and the like, they really have no idea how that “individualism” (an inaccurate portrayal of 1776, in any case) comes across to tens of millions: as atomisation, lawlessness and a wasteland where the strong rule the weak, inheritors rule workers, white black, native born immigrant, and the like. The whole military-civilian thing scares the bejesus out of me, and sets up for worse ahead, but I couldn’t suppress a cheer that he was taking the fight to them, and the notion that a mildly tilted tax system might be “communistic class envy”.

Moving over to the usually ignored left side of the political divide, TomDispatch has an article arguing that government serves some sort of useful purpose - Why Climate Change Will Make You Love Big Government .
Look back on 2011 and you’ll notice a destructive trail of extreme weather slashing through the year. In Texas, it was the driest year ever recorded. An epic drought there killed half a billion trees, touched off wildfires that burned four million acres, and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and buildings. The costs to agriculture, particularly the cotton and cattle businesses, are estimated at $5.2 billion -- and keep in mind that, in a winter breaking all sorts of records for warmth, the Texas drought is not yet over.

In August, the East Coast had a close brush with calamity in the form of Hurricane Irene. Luckily, that storm had spent most of its energy by the time it hit land near New York City. Nonetheless, its rains did at least $7 billion worth of damage, putting it just below the $7.2 billion worth of chaos caused by Katrina back in 2005.

Across the planet the story was similar. Wildfires consumed large swaths of Chile. Colombia suffered its second year of endless rain, causing an estimated $2 billion in damage. In Brazil, the life-giving Amazon River was running low due to drought. Northern Mexico is still suffering from its worst drought in 70 years. Flooding in the Thai capital, Bangkok, killed over 500 and displaced or damaged the property of 12 million others, while ruining some of the world’s largest industrial parks. The World Bank estimates the damage in Thailand at a mind-boggling $45 billion, making it one of the most expensive disasters ever. And that’s just to start a 2011 extreme-weather list, not to end it. ...

These days, big government gets big press attention -- none of it anything but terrible. In the United States, especially in an election year, it’s become fashionable to beat up on the public sector and all things governmental (except the military). The Right does it nonstop. All their talking points disparage the role of an oversized federal government. Anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist famously set the tone for this assault. "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government,” he said. “I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." He has managed to get 235 members of the House of Representatives and 41 members of the Senate to sign his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” and thereby swear never, under any circumstances, to raise taxes.

By now, this viewpoint has taken on the aura of folk wisdom, as if the essence of democracy were to hate government. Even many on the Left now regularly dismiss government as nothing but oversized, wasteful, bureaucratic, corrupt, and oppressive, without giving serious consideration to how essential it may be to our lives.

But don’t expect the present “consensus” to last. Global warming and the freaky, increasingly extreme weather that will accompany it is going to change all that. After all, there is only one institution that actually has the capacity to deal with multibillion-dollar natural disasters on an increasingly routine basis. Private security firms won’t help your flooded or tornado-struck town. Private insurance companies are systematically withdrawing coverage from vulnerable coastal areas. Voluntary community groups, churches, anarchist affinity groups -- each may prove helpful in limited ways, but for better or worse, only government has the capital and capacity to deal with the catastrophic implications of climate change.

Consider Hurricane Irene: as it passed through the Northeast, states mobilized more than 100,000 National Guard troops. New York City opened 78 public emergency shelters prepared to house up to 70,000 people. In my home state, Vermont, where the storm devastated the landscape, destroying or damaging 200 bridges, more than 500 miles of road, and 100 miles of railroad, the National Guard airlifted in free food, water, diapers, baby formula, medicine, and tarps to thousands of desperate Vermonters trapped in 13 stranded towns -- all free of charge to the victims of the storm.

The damage to Vermont was estimated at up to $1 billion. Yet the state only has 621,000 residents, so it could never have raised all the money needed to rebuild alone. Vermont businesses, individuals, and foundations have donated at least $4 million, possibly up to $6 million in assistance, an impressive figure, but not a fraction of what was needed. The state government immediately released $24 million in funds, crucial to getting its system of roads rebuilt and functioning, but again that was a drop in the bucket, given the level of damage. A little known state-owned bank, the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank, also offered low-interest, low-collateral loans to towns to aid reconstruction efforts. But without federal money, which covered 80% to 100% of the costs of rebuilding many Vermont roads, the state would still be an economic basket case. Without aid from Washington, the transportation network might have taken years to recover.

As for flood insurance, the federal government is pretty much the only place to get it. The National Flood Insurance Program has written 5.5 million policies in more than 21,000 communities covering $1.2 trillion worth of property. As for the vaunted private market, for-profit insurance companies write between 180,000 and 200,000 policies in a given year. In other words, that is less than 5% of all flood insurance in the United States. This federally subsidized program underwrites the other 95%. Without such insurance, it’s not complicated: many waterlogged victims of 2011, whether from record Midwestern floods or Hurricane Irene, would simply have no money to rebuild.

Or consider sweltering Texas. In 2011, firefighters responded to 23,519 fires. In all, 2,742 homes were destroyed by out-of-control wildfires. But government action saved 34,756 other homes. So you decide: Was this another case of wasteful government intervention in the marketplace, or an extremely efficient use of resources? ...

When thinking about the forces of nature and the nature of infrastructure, a slightly longer view of history is instructive. And here’s where to start: in the U.S., despite its official pro-market myths, government has always been the main force behind the development of a national infrastructure, and so of the country’s overall economic prosperity.

One can trace the origins of state participation in the economy back to at least the founding of the republic: from Alexander Hamilton’s First Bank of the United States, which refloated the entire post-revolutionary economy when it bought otherwise worthless colonial debts at face value; to Henry Clay’s half-realized program of public investment and planning called the American System; to the New York State-funded Erie Canal, which made the future Big Apple the economic focus of the eastern seaboard; to the railroads, built on government land grants, that took the economy west and tied the nation together; to New Deal programs that helped pulled the country out of the Great Depression and built much of the infrastructure we still use like the Hoover Dam, scores of major bridges, hospitals, schools, and so on; to the government-funded and sponsored interstate highway system launched in the late 1950s; to the similarly funded space race, and beyond. It’s simple enough: big government investments (and thus big government) has been central to the remarkable economic dynamism of the country.

Government has created roads, highways, railways, ports, the postal system, inland waterways, universities, and telecommunications systems. Government-funded R&D, as well as the buying patterns of government agencies -- (alas!) both often connected to war and war-making plans -- have driven innovation in everything from textiles and shipbuilding to telecoms, medicine, and high-tech breakthroughs of all sorts. Individuals invent technology, but in the United States it is almost always public money that brings the technology to scale, be it in aeronautics, medicine, computers, or agriculture.

Without constant government planning and subsidies, American capitalism simply could not have developed as it did, making ours the world’s largest economy. Yes, the entrepreneurs we are taught to venerate have been key to all this, but dig a little deeper and you soon find that most of their oil was on public lands, their technology nurtured or invented thanks to government-sponsored R&D, or supported by excellent public infrastructure and the possibility of hiring well-educated workers produced by a heavily subsidized higher-education system. Just to cite one recent example, the now-familiar Siri voice-activated command system on the new iPhone is based on -- brace yourself -- government-developed technology.

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