U.S. GOVERNMENT Senator dares to release his book
Santorum's published opinions are available as fuel for his opponents.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
PITTSBURGH -- Advisers to U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., challenged him on the timing. Should he really release "It Takes a Family," his new book of prescriptions for curing what he sees as a broken culture, at the outset of a difficult re-election campaign?
Santorum listened, then moved ahead anyway.
The two-term senator seems to thrive on controversy. It's almost a habit for him, talking without a filter and holding firm when his critics start howling. But his latest venture -- publishing a book -- pushes his political risk-taking to a new level, prompting some allies to question whether it is worth it.
"One of my fellow congressmen from Pennsylvania asked me, 'Why are you doing it now? Why not wait until after the election?'" Santorum said Friday. "Because people will read it now, and they won't read it after the election. I really do want people to read this. I believe this."
Although the book outlines his conservative philosophy in detail, attention has focused on excerpts in which he challenges two-income families and points to "radical feminism" as a reason women feel the need to work outside the home.
Robert P. Casey Jr., Santorum's leading Democratic opponent, and his campaign staff see such assertions as a gift in proving their case in the 2006 election that the senator is out of step with most Pennsylvanians.
Santorum considers his 449-page book a common-sense blueprint for strengthening families.
And there he was Friday, on the first day of a publicity tour -- which will bring him to bookstores in the coming weeks, as well as scheduled appearances on the "Today Show" and the "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Monday -- talking up his ideas and shooing aside any suggestion that he was making trouble for himself.
"My staff says I take a political risk every time I open my mouth and say what is on my mind," Santorum quipped, after signing copies at a suburban Pittsburgh bookstore.
Even so, he added, "my opponent has plenty of ad material. And, you know, I gave them a little more. Nobody has enough money to run all the stuff they'd like to run against me. So my feeling is, I don't worry about it."
His willingness to unload his thoughts comes as no surprise to supporters. But the timing has left some political pragmatists wondering, particularly now as he rebounds from a spate of critical publicity, most notably for his leading role in Congress to prevent the death of Terri Schiavo.
"The frankness with which he lays out his beliefs is sometimes difficult to deal with, with some of my people," said George Bochetto, a Philadelphia lawyer who raises money for Santorum in southeastern Pennsylvania. "It is going to be tougher and tougher to raise money."
Drawing the most criticism is his suggestion that families of moderate and higher incomes should reconsider whether both parents need to work. Santorum argues that government should make this choice easier by reducing their tax burden. And he goes on to point to feminism as a contributor by making a career seem more socially acceptable.
"I am calling for neutrality," Santorum said. "We should be affirming parents who want to stay home and those who choose to work."
Berwood Yost, a pollster with Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., sees Casey using these excerpts to turn female voters in the Philadelphia suburbs against Santorum.
"I think, is this suicide in southeast Pennsylvania?" Yost asked. "Politically, it makes the situation much more difficult in a part of the state he needs."
With "It Takes a Family," Santorum said, he is trying to focus attention on decades of policies that have undermined families. Liberals get most of the blame, although he does criticize conservatives for their handling of poverty, calling them "cheap liberals" who have not "given a damn from a public policy/government perspective."
His rhetoric, while riling critics, has stirred his supporters, too.
"Oh, gads, yes. I think we need more of this," said Dorothy Murphy, an assistant at the National Character Education Foundation, as she waited in line to get her book signed. "We need to bring our country back to the idea of family and character."