My opinion of the Republican "leadership" in Congress is not printable in a family
newspaper. Greed (as in earmarks) and political cowardice (as in the refusal to
tackle the immigration problem) have been the hallmarks of the "do nothing" 109th
But in the muck, some diamonds shine. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa), and his
challenger, State Treasurer Bob Casey, debated each other on NBC's "Meet the Press"
program Sunday. Here's how the Washington Post, no admirer of Sen. Santorum, began
its coverage of the debate:
"Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa), battling for re-election in a state where President Bush
is not popular, gave a full-throated defense of the president yesterday and said the
United States must prevail in the Iraq war.
"In his first and perhaps only debate with Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr.,
Santorum lived up to his reputation as a feisty, unapologetic conservative, even
though it has caused him problems in moderate-voting Pennsylvania."
The Post reporter, Charles Babington, didn't address Bob Casey's performance until
the 5th paragraph:
"Moderator Tim Russert tried to pin Casey down on whether he still believes he would
have voted to support the Iraq invasion, knowing what is now known about Saddam's
lack of unconventional weapons."
The 6th paragraph began: "Russert also pressed Casey on how he would fulfill his
pledge to balance the federal budget. Casey said he would seek to repeal the recent
tax cuts for persons making more than $200,000 a year, and retain a tax on very
large estates, which Santorum opposes. But he would not identify federal programs
he would be willing to cut."
The Post story gives the impression that Sen. Santorum was direct and forthright,
Mr. Casey vague and evasive. That was my impression, too.
Of course, how one views winners and losers in political debates is colored by
ideology. Liberals were pleased with Mr. Casey's performance, conservatives
delighted with Sen. Santorum's.
Most journalists who wrote about the debate called it a draw. Since most
journalists are liberals, I take this to mean they think Sen. Santorum won.
For what it's worth, the nonpartisan Politics PA ran an online poll on who was the
victor. When I checked it Monday afternoon, Sen. Santorum was leading, 63.6 percent
to 36.4 percent.
I suppose the real test will be if there are more debates. Sen. Santorum, who is
trailing in the race, wants at least three more. If he doesn't get them, we'll know
who Bob Casey thinks won the debate.
Though I'm not terribly fond of most Democrats, I like Bob Casey. He seems like a
decent guy. He hasn't joined the cut and run caucus on Iraq. And he said he
supports Sen. Santorum's efforts to impose sanctions on Iran. Bob Casey is much
more of a Truman Democrat than a McGovern Democrat.
But the vague answers Mr. Casey gave to Mr. Russert's questions made it easy for
Sen. Santorum, in the Post's Mr. Babington's words, to portray Casey "as a
bob-and-weave politician unwilling to take stands on tough issues."
The only policy prescription Mr. Casey offered for the war on terror was to "double
the size of the special forces."
Mr. Casey is hardly the only Democrat using this talking point, but those who imply
this can be done quickly, easily and cheaply either are idiots, or think you are.
It takes about a year (depending on his speciality) to train an Army Green Beret,
two years to train a Navy SEAL. Washout rates are high. The only way rapidly to
increase the number of special operations forces is to dramatically lower standards.
But what is most dishonest about this talking point is that Mr. Casey knows, or
ought to, that expanding special forces has been a DoD priority for years. So the
only "change" he advocates is continuation of existing policy. It speaks volumes
about the Democratic party to note that Mr. Casey is one of their stronger
candidates this year.
By contrast, Sen. Santorum's responses to Mr. Russert's frequently loaded questions
were direct and detailed. This impressed Michael Smerconish, a radio talk show host
in Philadelphia who disagrees with Sen. Santorum on the Iraq war and on abortion.
"In our poll-driven political climate, dominated by blow-dried politicians with
their fingers in the wind (Santorum) stands for things," Mr. Smerconish said. "And
even when he stands for things with which I disagree, I come away admiring his
unwillingness to placate dissenters."
Sen. Santorum may not win his uphill race, but he deserves to. And if he does pull
this race out, he may be destined for higher things.