Judiciary

Rick Santorum: Indispensable Senator

Unfortunately, I am not a Pennsylvania voter. If I were, I would do what has become my family tradition. I would drive or fly to my home state to vote with my father.

We became citizens in the bicentennial year 1976, and I was very proud when I first voted with him. But I know Pennsylvanians. They are fair and sensible. I’m a Pennsylvanian by marriage. I married into a patriotic family from Beaver Falls. So the least I can do is write this piece because the election of Sen. Rick Santorum is important to my three-year-old son, with whom someday I will go to vote.

My insights might be helpful for a few reasons. First, I used to be a high-level staffer in the Senate and I worked shoulder to shoulder with Rick Santorum. But my insights are not that of another senator or his paid staffer. I am also an active Catholic, from a working class family, and I used to be a Democrat. Don’t tell anyone, but I volunteered for Teddy Kennedy in 1980 and for John Glenn and Gary Hart in 1984.

Pennsylvanians may think that voting for Bob Casey Jr. is a viable alternative to Santorum because Casey is Catholic and pro-life. You are wrong. Casey has already told you that. He said the life issue will not be central to what he will do in the Senate. New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer’s has told you also. Schumer told big liberal donors that Casey would vote with him to block judges. And as Schumer added, “that is the whole ball of wax.”

That is the truth. Soon after he was first elected, I heard Arkansas’ Democrat senator, Mark Pryor, tell conservative leaders that he would filibuster judges. He was a new guy, he told them, and the filibusters were a party-line vote and he couldn’t buck his leaders. But enough about Casey.

As a staffer, I came to meet the vain and vainglorious, all of them senators. I came to learn that most senators are quite replaceable. As a leadership aide, the distance between senators and staff is shortened and you see senators off their guard. You sit with them in the cloak room and talk. You see them interact at leadership meetings, or do the job of leaders—build a team.

Only one Republican senator was clearly not replaceable. In fact, he was the indispensable man on all of the issues that I think Pennsylvanians and those concerned for our children care about: Santorum. It isn’t just that Santorum has a heart. Others have a heart. It isn’t just that Santorum is comfortable with hard issues. It is that, in addition to those attributes, Santorum has, from the beginning, put himself at risk as a leader. He is a hard worker, on hard issues from autism to poverty, from AIDS to parental consent, from judges to Iran.

The Senate is a strange place where too often decisions and history are made depending on whether someone is in the room. I am not the only leadership aide that sweated out the roulette wait hoping that Rick Santorum would be in the weekly leadership meeting. Simply put, without him many things would not be championed by anyone else, or at least not as effectively. The truth is that most Republican senators I know are cowards, if not downright craven. Not Santorum.

The definition of a politician is someone who is always working to get himself re-elected, while a statesman is someone who is working for the sake of the next generation. As the third-ranking leader, Santorum showed me he was not around just to get re-elected. His job was to let colleagues, with opposing viewpoints, know what ordinary people think.

Of course, a senator who is a leader also puts himself under fire. A leader speaks to the press more often, while others hide. And they are targeted. It is all the more difficult when, as Santorum does, you speak in the language that the media does not recognize, or say the obvious that no one else dares speak.

Santorum is in charge of building the team, and because he asks senators to take one for the team from time to time, he has to stand by them in moments when loyalty counts. In a leader, loyalty counts. For a leader, as Rudy Giuliani says, it is “the vital virtue.” The Pennsylvanians I know understand that.

Loyalty counted in the re-election of Sen. Arlen Specter. As one who doubted Specter, the loyalty Santorum gave has been repaid two-fold. Specter could not have done a better job in getting Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito confirmed.

A few months ago, I listened to Santorum speak about what he has worked on. After speaking at length, Santorum had not taken any credit or even mentioned his role in making the judges issue a matter that resonated in the elections in 2002 and 2004. He had not taken credit or mentioned the smooth confirmations of Roberts and Alito.

As the leader of the largest coalition of Americans that worked on judges, I can tell you that no Republican senator has done more to make the confirmation of these two justices possible and no senator is more responsible for fighting to restore the courts to their proper role. Santorum did it with typical cojones and the best staff in the Senate.

I think Santorum can win this election because the Pennsylvanians I know would not fire a hard worker to reward a rich kid for his father’s name. They would not choose a politician over a statesman. It would be unfair and not sensible.

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