There was a lot of good stuff in my latest reading of Rick Santorum’s It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. Here are two items:
1. On Page 62, Santorum says: “…in many states, convicted felons can never vote, practically ensuring that large numbers of black men are permanently disengaged from civic life. That is why I have supported state laws and even voted for federal laws allowing felons to vote again, provided they have been crime-free for five years.”
Some may have issues with Santorum bringing up race when talking about felonies, but Santorum does present statistics about how crime hits the African-American community hard. For Santorum, strong social capital can be a panacea to this problem, and that entails civic participation. I applaud Santorum’s stance for restorative justice (if that is the right phrase), which respects the humanity even of felons and seeks ways to discourage them from committing more crimes. Redemption was a salient theme in my reading of Santorum last night, for Santorum tells a moving story about a druggie who decides to become a good father and makes a turn-around in his life.
2. On a similar note, here’s a passage from page 75: “For decades, the [liberal] village elders have talked about the need to address ‘root causes’ of our social problems. For decades, conservative criticism of liberal policy has argued that the focus on ‘root causes’ was merely a cover for a liberal resolution not to enforce basic laws of public order. But there has been something even more out of whack with liberal policy: it has never really understood what the real root causes are.”
For Santorum, the real root causes of our social problems stem from the disintegration of the two-parent family, and Santorum especially focuses on the absence of fathers. For Santorum, the two-parent family provides children with security so that they can go out into the world with trust rather than suspicion. Santorum also notes that grandparents are a blessing for children who have two parents, for grandparents are generous and are easy for kids to talk to.
In terms of policy, what does Santorum believe should be done to strengthen or restore the family? Well, on the one hand, Santorum thinks that government involvement in areas undermines the social capital, for it encourages people to turn to an impersonal bureaucracy rather than their neighbors. Santorum favors a concept in Catholic social thought called “subsidiary”, and the idea here is that “all social challenges should be addressed at the level of the smallest unit possible, preferably the family” (page 68). Santorum acknowledges that sometimes the smallest unit that can truly handle a problem is the federal government, and that’s why he supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Santorum also speaks positively about the New Deal. But my impression is that, overall, he thinks that federal involvement should be the exception rather than the norm. And he believes that the government has done more harm than good and has not addressed the real problem of family disintegration. Santorum notes that welfare, for example, primarily goes to single-parent families, and he also refers to a statement by Jason DeParle (a New York Times reporter who covers welfare issues) that the families he studied have no problem finding day care (contra liberals who think that federally-subsidized day care is a solution) but rather finding fathers.
On the other hand, Santorum does believe that there are things that the government can do to strengthen the family. He supports the government paying for people to receive counseling in regards to marriage, for he believes that the government should encourage marriage. He supports faith-based initiatives, and he co-sponsored with Democratic Senator Evan Bayh a measure to give $50 million annually to “community- and faith-based programs that promote and foster healthy fatherhood” (page 81). Santorum supports abstinence-only education, and he cites studies about its effectiveness and the effectiveness of abstinence-pledges (from such publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association and Family Planning Perspectives). And, while he was initially an opponent of Americorps and still thinks (as of 2005) that it has some waste, he now believes that it is positive in that it encourages social capital.
I think that Santorum has good points, but also that he’s pretty selective about what data he chooses to focus on, since there are studies about the ineffectiveness of abstinence education and pledges. What I appreciate is (1.) how his approach to crime goes way beyond “lock em up”, (2.) how he was willing to admit that he was wrong (or not fully right) on Americorps, and (3.) how he worked with a Democrat in an attempt to fashion a pro-family policy.