Politics and election speculation can work together to create the perfect atmosphere for a book release by a public figure — Bill Clinton pulled it off with “My Life” and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted the same with “Living History.”
Enter Sen. Rick Santorum. The Pennsylvania Republican’s bid for re-election in 2006 is already the most closely watched race in Washington, and his “never say never” answer to whether he’ll run for president in 2008 only keeps those rumors flying.
So, not long after his first book, “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good,” hit Washington bookstores during the Fourth of July weekend, his opponents were sifting through the 430 pages at warp speed — culling passages in which the Republican criticizes public schools and America’s “divorce culture” and argues that more families should consider whether both parents really need to work.
Washington-area conservative women’s organizations are ecstatic that an official with Mr. Santorum’s public stature is giving a voice to their pro-family agenda.
“I absolutely think that it’s critical for people in leadership positions to try to address these cultural issues because, as we all know, part of changing the culture is having a good national conversation,” says Carrie Lucas, director of policy for the Independent Women’s Forum.
“I think this is a major development,” says Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute. “To have someone in an official platform say that the family is a central part of the foundation of America is very, very significant. It’s a milestone in our culture, something that’s needed very much right now.”
Many conversations on the Internet about the book focus on a section in which Mr. Santorum advocates parents spending more time at home with their children. Part of the book’s central theme is that fostering the traditional family headed by a married man and woman can solve many of society’s ills.
“In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might find they don’t both need to,” Mr. Santorum writes. Many women, he says, have told him that it is more “socially affirming to work outside the home than to give up their careers to take care of their children.”
That ideology, he says, has been shaped by feminists who demean the work of women who stay at home as primary caregivers.
“What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave their children in the care of someone else — or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon — find themselves more affirmed by society? Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism,” Mr. Santorum writes.
“Sadly, the propaganda campaign launched in the 1960s has taken root,” Mr. Santorum says. “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Rep. T.J. Rooney said such statements would alienate female voters. He described the excerpts he had seen as a “mind-bending read” sure to create fodder for the campaign against Mr. Santorum in 2006, when he is expected to face off against state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., a socially conservative Democrat.
“References to how families are compromised when both parents work outside the home, how it takes a societal toll on Pennsylvania families or American families, it just shows a complete lack of understanding of the real world in which the vast majority of Pennsylvanians reside,” Mr. Rooney said.
Conservative backers disagreed with Mr. Rooney’s analysis, saying that those who would consider voting for Mr. Santorum already have an understanding of the importance of family.
Even when it comes to courting the vote, they say, many feminists are starting to realize the power and fulfillment a family brings, and Mr. Santorum’s public proclamation of his opinion is just the next step.
“All he says is that feminism has it wrong,” Mrs. Lucas says. “But many prominent feminists have realized the rhetoric went too far and have tried to undo that legacy. They know that true happiness will come from personal accomplishments, not just from careers, and I think that’s something that’s commonly recognized.”
Rather than alienating women, Mrs. Crouse says, Mr. Santorum’s pro-family position would draw female voters.
“Right now, we have more single women between the ages of 26 and 40 than ever before. This is a national crisis,” she says. “And they would say they want to be wives, they want to be married, but one of the crises facing them is finding men who are marriage material.”
This story is based in part on wire service reports.