Santorum preaching to the choir

Santorum preachingWho was the intended audience of Rick Santorums speech last night?The speech was primarily a personal one about his family, God, his grandfathers reasons for immigrating, Gods grace, hard work, his best friend/wife, his many children, and God. If you closed your eyes during the speechas many in the Eastern time zone probably didyou might have thought you were listening to an election speech for your local chapter of the Knights of Columbus.As interludes amid the themes of God, family, and hard work, there were points about flat taxes, less regulation, manufacturing, and Santorums concern for the poor (though he used the phrase, those who are not doing well in our society). He also compared President Obama to Mussolini and Medicaid to fascisma trope that may fire up a few voters but sounds inappropriate to most of them and positively insulting to some.What confuses me is whom he thought he was addressing with this speech. With Perry and Bachmann effectively out of the race, he now has secured the vote of those who vote primarily as social conservatives. But that alone cant win him the nomination, much less the presidency. Even if Santorums focus on traditional family values were to secure the vote of every single heterosexual married Republican in the country, that would not be nearly enough votes to win the presidency. Barely half of U.S. adults are married, according to recent data. A Republican state legislature (NY) legalized same-sex marriage, with State Sen. Mark Grisanti (a Catholic and Republican) speaking in its defense. Its legal even in Iowa. Regardless of Santorum's ideals, American culture is changing, and nostalgia does not win a national election.Dont get me wrong, there are things that Christians rightly admire about Rick Santorum. And more liberals ought to acknowledge the fact (as President Obama has forcefully done) that single-parent households are a leading indicator of economic distress and social problems. I happen to find Mike Huckabees combination of social conservatism and populism more convincing and appealing, but at least, among the current field, Santorum is a Republican who thinks society should be judged in part by how the poor are doing. That makes him unique in this particular race for the nomination. Last night, which was the first time that most people outside of Iowa were paying attention to Rick Santorum, he had a chance to pivot his message toward that part of his profile. He had a chance to show people that he is something more than a social conservative culture warrior. But beyond the core of God-family-hard work, his ideas were thin and did not engage a broad audience.In short, during his first opportunity for a nationally televised speech, Santorum preached to the choir. And thats not just a metaphor: while waiting for the votes to come in, the crowd was singing Amazing Grace.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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