- - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

By Rick Santorum
Regnery, $27.99, 210 pages

This is a serious book. It is not so much a polemic against the Obama administration, though it does offer an alternative to conventional wisdom guiding current White House policies.

In “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America that Works,” former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum expands on the theme of his previous book “It Takes a Family”: If the Republican Party can’t appeal to blue-collar voters, the Pennsylvanian warns, it will never recapture the White House — and it won’t deserve to.

Of course, he steers clear of the class hatred routinely espoused by today’s Democrats, but the grandson of a coal miner says his discussions with middle-income people during previous campaigns (added to his own family background) have validated his concern that millions of “blue-jeaned workers” who once had good salaries and pensions “now seek part-time jobs at big-box stores or have even been enticed into public assistance.” They are amenable to the Republican Party’s message of hope, provided it is expressed in language to which they can relate. Tax cuts only for the CEO won’t cut it.

Again, that is no endorsement of President Obama’s divisive “top 1 percent” rhetoric. Mr. Santorum thinks the entrepreneur should be rewarded, especially if his responsibilities require long hours to keep factory machines humming and office lights on and, not incidentally, maintain the solvency and profitability to support a workforce whose jobs are not sent overseas.

However, the author has seen ghost towns (including some in his home state) where trade policies, in his opinion, have hurt more than helped the economy. Therein lies a big part of Mr. Santorum’s recipe for GOP success: Campaigns should emphasize jobs and the needs of the employee, right along with the case for reducing, or preferably killing, the U.S. corporate-tax rate, which is huge by world standards.

Mr. Santorum acknowledges that in some places, the factories have been replaced by “office parks, high-tech manufacturers, and of course, Walmarts, Cinemark theatres and Home Depots.”

In other venues, the old factory locations are now home to oil and gas development made possible by “hydraulic fracturing.” North Dakota has cashed in on that boom in producing energy from rock. “North Dakota shouldn’t be alone,” the author writes.

Yet, even though the United States has become “the Saudi Arabia of shale rock [necessary for the fracking industry],” the Obama administration, “incredibly enough” is trying to sideline the fracking revolution by its refusal to permit construction of the Keystone pipeline, which would create “thousands of new jobs.”

The Santorum agenda is anything but boilerplate. Take the chapter on education. The former (and possibly again in 2016) presidential candidate argues that we should recognize that expecting the federal or even state governments to run our schools is a bad idea — a “relic of the late 19th century,” he opines. That was when people were leaving the farm to work in factories in the dawning industrial age as they left the locally run one-room schoolhouse for “education factories that mass produced citizens in conformity with state rules.”

The senator tackles another sacred cow. Says he: “Not everyone has the aptitude or can afford to go to a four-year college. For many kids, a job or vocational training may be the better option.”

He adds, “I’d much rather my children know how to fix an eighteen-wheeler or enlist in the Navy than spend $150,000 to marinate in four years in the toxic ideology of academia while never missing a weekend party.” (Mr. Santorum and his wife, Karen, are home-schoolers. They have seven children.)

Speaking of “toxic ideology,” Mr. Santorum despairs that while teaching from the Bible is forbidden in most American public schools, the most frequently assigned history textbook was authored by “an anti-American Marxist named Howard Zinn.” (Indeed, upon his death in 2010, Zinn was revealed in an FBI file to have been an active participant in many Communist Party activities for years, including lecturing at Communist Party functions.)

If Mr. Santorum had discussed these education views as prominently in 2012, it likely would have “stirred the pot.” That intellectual grenade will enter the debate mix if he again seeks the presidency.

Self-government is not necessarily easy, the former senator believes. Certainly, not when so many powerful forces are arrayed against it, many of them using your tax dollars in the process.

If Mr. Santorum tries for another run in 2016, it will be noted he lost a senatorial re-election bid in his state in 2006 and failed to secure the 2012 presidential bid. Does he deserve another shot at it?

Supporters think that after eight years under Mr. Obama’s “transformation,” Americans may be ready to embrace such beliefs as: “Family is not something to be tinkered with or redefined by government.” “Parents, not government, know what’s best for their children.” “Doctors, not government, know what’s best for their patients.”

That’s just for starters.

Wes Vernon ended his broadcast career after 25 years with CBS Radio. His column appears at Renew America.com.

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