Santorum offers authenticity, consistency

Here’s one way to interpret those Iowa caucuses.

Iowa Republicans went 2-to-1 for authenticity over phoniness.

Even if you find Ron Paul’s libertarian views wacky, you have to grant that he says what he thinks and sticks with it.

The same is true of Rick Santorum, and his combative, Catholic conservatism.

Each man’s no-apologies candor looks grand next to Mitt Romney, who so blatantly will say anything, pretend anything.

While I disagree with Santorum on a lot, I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for the man.

So much so, I hired him once.

In October 2006, Santorum was running to keep his Senate seat. By then, the polls were clear: Santorum would be swept out by a Democratic tide. Rick had battled plenty with the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board, which I led at the time. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades we’d endorse him. Still, he showed up for his endorsement interview; a lot of candidates would have found excuses.

I’ll never forget that afternoon. As dusk fell on Broad Street, Rick Santorum told us with calm but impassioned defiance how wrong we were about everything that mattered, and how damaging the triumph of our viewpoint would be. It took guts, smarts and real conviction to pull off that aria.

I remember thinking: He’s not my favorite senator, but he would make one heck of a columnist.

So, after he lost, I offered him the job. It took a year of wrangling to get the deal done; by that time I had left the board. My successor took the heat from blue partisans who cancelled subscriptions because the paper allowed a conservative voice to foul “their” oped page. (It’s remarkable how close-minded people who call themselves liberal can be.)

Rick did not prove as good a columnist as I’d hoped. His gig ended when he declared for the presidency. As the GOP base went through its anybody-but-Mitt flirtations with several clownish candidates, I wondered whether Santorum would ever get his moment He surely deserves it more than the awful Newt Gingrich.

You can sharply disagree with someone, yet still recognize he is a thoughtful, ethical person. (Just as you should admit that some people who vote your way are immoral jerks.)

I know my gay friends will never agree. How could they, given Santorum’s iron stance against homosexuality? But in Rick Santorum, there is, along with the anger and rigidity, an intellectual consistency deserving of respect. I don’t expect his moment of success on the presidential trail to last, but I’m glad it happened.

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