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March 2, 2012

A courageous precedent

Current GOP candidates are failing to live up to their party’s audacious beginnings.

Just four contestants remain on the VH1 reality show that the Republican presidential primaries have unfortunately become. Part of this past week’s debate called on each of the candidates to describe himself in just one word—and for once, they got something right.

Rick Santorum, for example, picked “courage.”

Though it’s a strong word that’s prone to political misuse, “courage” might just be Santorum’s new middle name. He’s fearless in the face of popular opposition, unafraid to issue stringent ultimatums on practically every aspect of social and civic life. From abortion to contraceptives, education to inequality, and race to religion, Santorum won’t hesitate to tell you exactly what he believes.

Moreover, he believes that his views should be imposed on everyone else in the United States, including our now-deceased founding fathers. As he told ABC News in a recent interview, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute.”

Ask Santorum about contraceptives, and he will tell you that “it’s not OK” because “it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” (For more information on “how things are supposed to be,” please contact God.)

Talk to him about abortion, and he’ll tell you that it’s “murder,” even in the case of rape or incest. “You need to make the best out of a bad situation,” he explains.

On the surface, Santorum embodies all of the qualities of a strong conservative candidate—he’s candid, he’s committed, he’s religious. He has a very real (and very frightening) chance of winning the nomination. He’s courageous and he knows it (though, despite having wiggle-wiggled his way to seven kids, he’s still not very sexy—and he probably knows that, too).

But Santorum’s courage is completely and utterly misguided.

Rather than commit himself to “expanding opportunities to promote [economic] prosperity,” “developing a flexible and innovative workforce,” or “meeting college costs” by making college more affordable—goals outlined explicitly in the GOP’s 2008 platform (the most recent one until the Republican National Convention this summer)—Santorum has chosen to take a stance against equal opportunity, against innovation, and against affordable college education.

Indeed, it seems that Santorum, along with the Republicans’ three other presidential prospects, didn’t get the memo. Not one of these candidates is electable, and not one of these candidates deserves to be president. Instead, these primaries have devolved into a four-man race to out-conservative and out-radical one another, making for an unpalatable set of options.

Despite the blatant problems of Santorum’s “courageous” approach, it was nonetheless courage that got the Republican party started in the first place.

Founded in 1854 by a circle of ex-Whigs frustrated with the flagrant flaws and blatant un-electability of their political party, the Republican party took just two presidential elections to send a man to the White House. Lincoln’s 1860 triumph marked the end of his party’s remarkably quick growth from a third-party also-ran to part of an enduring two-party system in just six years.

So who says that it can’t be done again?

Though we’ve spent the better part of this election cycle fixating on the ways in which Republican voters can “make do” with current options, perhaps sticking to the current status quo isn’t the best course of action altogether. It’s certainly not the Republicans’ only option; notwithstanding its “conservative” character, the GOP has a strong and proud history of shaping itself to fit the ever-changing concerns and circumstances of its constituents.

It will take a lot of courage for current Republicans to put their time and trust (and trust funds) into a third party—a courage very different from that behind Santorum’s relentless bashing of all things secular or Romney’s shameless flip-flopping. It takes courage to depart from an apparently “safe” but ultimately self-destructive status quo: a commitment not just to electing a candidate, but to using the political framework to implement policies that will carry these United States toward a more peaceful, productive, successful, and innovative future.

In the words of their own presidential prospect Rick Santorum, “You need to make the best out of a bad situation.” If the Republicans don’t, Santorum’s misguided mania might just be the only kind of “courage” they have left.

Anastasia Golovashkina is a first-year in the College majoring in economics.

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