Santorum’s Gospel Of Doom And Gloom

Rick Santorum's stump speeches have becoming increasingly dark.

As he’s risen in the polls, Rick Santorum’s stump speeches have drifted away from the economic populism that made him popular in Iowa and now seems to be centered on the missing of convincing Americans that things are bad and getting worse:

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – As Rick Santorum makes his way toward a two-man race with Mitt Romney, he has ratcheted up his rhetoric, displaying an increasingly angrier tone on the stump, and painting a doomsday picture of this country that leaves his supporters with a terrifying image of the state of the nation.

The former Pennsylvania senator has almost completely pivoted the focus of his stump speech from his GOP rivals to President Obama.

And he’s introduced a new metaphor that aims to reignite the terror Americans felt during World War II by comparing Republican primary voters to the “greatest generation” and today’s failings of European financial systems to the crumbling of Europe’s cities as Adolf Hitler gained power in the 1940s..

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – As Rick Santorum makes his way toward a two-man race with Mitt Romney, he has ratcheted up his rhetoric, displaying an increasingly angrier tone on the stump, and painting a doomsday picture of this country that leaves his supporters with a terrifying image of the state of the nation.

The former Pennsylvania senator has almost completely pivoted the focus of his stump speech from his GOP rivals to President Obama.

And he’s introduced a new metaphor that aims to reignite the terror Americans felt during World War II by comparing Republican primary voters to the “greatest generation” and today’s failings of European financial systems to the crumbling of Europe’s cities as Adolf Hitler gained power in the 1940s.

“Remember, the greatest generation for a year and a half, sat on the sidelines while Europe was under darkness, while our closest ally, Britain, was being bombed and leveled, while Japan was spreading its cancer all throughout Southeast Asia,” Santorum ominously told a packed, enthusiastic crowd at the First Redeemer Church in Cummings, Ga., Sunday, before traveling back to Ohio to campaign here today.

The audience at the church interrupted Santorum at least four times with wild applause, loving the red meat he was throwing to the conservative  crowd. “We’re a hopeful people,” he continued. “We think, well, you know it’ll get better. After a while you find out some things about this guy over in Europe who’s not so good of a guy after all. … Sometimes, sometimes it’s not OK.

“It’ll be harder for this generation to figure it out. There’s no cataclysmic event,” Santorum concluded.

While Santorum conceded that Obama’s policies were not quite as horrific as Hitler’s war in Europe, the rising GOP front-runner cautioned that the president is “fundamentally restructuring America.”

This Rick Santorum is certainly a change from the one that we saw in the run up to his surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses. That Rick Santorum concentrated mainly on a message of economic populism that stressed his own family’s blue collar roots in Pennsylvania coal country, and it’s own that quite obviously ended up working very well for him in the Hawkeye State. Now that he’s back at the top of the Republican field again, indeed the latest Gallup Tracking Poll has him with a ten point lead over Mitt Romney, Santorum has doubled down on the social conservatism that he had most surpressed over the past several months, and he’s picked up on the same themes about America that one hears from Fox News Channel and conservative talk radio on a daily basis. In this world, America is not just in an economic downturn we are a nation being led to destruction by a President determined to “fundamentally restructure America.” It is an America where the outcome of one election will determine the fate of the country, and where the people on the other side of the aisle aren’t just wrong, they’re evil.

It’s not surprising that Santorum would turn to this kind of rhetoric in a Republican primary campaign, but I have to wonder what good it’s going to do the GOP when we get to General Election time. There’s little evidence that the American people respond positively to candidates whose entire campaign revolves around telling people how bad things are and how evil the other guy is, especially when there’s a more positive alternative in the race. Voters aren’t going to flock to the candidate whose message boils down to “we’re screwed,” if there’s a candidate out there offering a more hopeful vision of the future.

What’s most striking about this kind of rhetoric, though, is the extent to which it differs from the man that conservatives like Santorum continue to cite as their great icon, Ronald Reagan. When he ran in 1980, and even in 1976, 1968, and 1964 , Ronald Reagan was an optimist who spoke of America as the “shining city on the hill,” and who, even in the depths of  the Carter Malaise believed that the country’s best days were ahead of it. These are themes that appeared throughout his major campaign speeches in 1980 and remained a recurring theme throughout his Presidency, right down to his Farewell Address in January 1989.  Ronald Reagan was succesbecause he brought that message of optimism at a time when the American public was becoming increasingly pessimistic. Near the end of his Presidency, Reagan succeeded because  he felt his greatest accomplishment was that he made Americans feel proud of their country again. Given the state of things in the late 70s that was no small accomplishment and, along with his actual political successes and the role he played in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion, it strikes me as being one of the gifts that he gave America, and something we should be thankful for. Most importantly, Ronald Reagan was a likeable guy. Even his opponents would admit in the end that it was hard not to like him even if you vehemently disagreed with him.

Can you really say that about people like Rick Santorum? It’s becoming harder and harder to do so the more he doubles down on the red meat conservatism and, as long as he continues to preach that gospel of gloom and doom, the less good he does for his party and for the nation.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug all this doom and gloom is not unique to Santorum. It’s standard wingnut boilerplate. The deficit is going to 9 times annual GDP according to Paul Ryan (the Treasury Sec quipped can’t you extend the chart to the year 3000). We’re overwhelmed by illegal immigrants and homosexuals. PP is running abortion mills. The marxist Kenyan is going to create a communist state. What’s new about all this? Romney says much the same but in a slightly more sophisticated way. We’ve got radio talk show guys telling conservatives not to be downhearted because the economy is recovering. Don’t lay it all at Santorum’s door he’s just one of many Republican messengers parrotting the same message of doom and gloom.

  2. Alanmt says:

    He reminds me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who occasionally come to my door with messages about how bad things are getting in the world. These messages don’t have an audience in me, and I usually give the poor missionaries a dissertation on hope and a historical perspective about how things are better now than they ever were at any time throughout human history before they find a way to disengage and move on. But their messages do have an audience – the elderly who fear their impending death and see the decline of their bodies echoed in the world around them.

    Santorum’s message has an audience as well: the Christianist base who see satan in those who act or think differently and progress as his machinations, a departure from truth and goodness. But as you have pointed out, I don’t think it plays well to a wider American audience.

    Santorum’s reference to World War 2 reminds me of a fascinating fact about the American troops of the war. Of the major powers, Americans soldiers were quickest to break under pressure. But on the other hand, they were also the quickest to rally. The Germans and the British and the Russian troops held out longer, but when they broke, they were done fighting. The Americans usually recovered their morale and came back to the fight.

    When I think about our recent modern challenges and the citizens’ responses to them, I kinda think we still have that character. I think it comes with our special brand or tradition of freedom and our essentially practical character. Santorum’s appeal to dread and his quasi-religious imaging doesn’t tap into this liberty- and practicality-based resilience.

    No one liked Denethor either. And for good cause.

  3. Liberty60 says:

    I just finished reading Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and recognize Santorum’s tactics.

    Its standard organizing- “Sharpen the contrast” where you use hyperbole and exaggeration to force a divide and rally the faithful.

    Just saying “Obama is pursuing incorrect policies” isn’t good enough- he has to be made into the AntiChrist, Hitler, and all four horsemen put together.

    Fear and rage are pretty reliable motivators.

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Alanmt:

    But on the other hand, they were also the quickest to rally. The Germans and the British and the Russian troops held out longer, but when they broke, they were done fighting.

    Er…no. The Heer time and time again showed miraculous powers of recovery starting in the winter of 1941/42 in Russia and continuing right up to the end of the war when they were simply overwhelmed by allied numerical and material superiority. The American or British armies were never subjected to the sort of stresses imposed on Germany.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    None of the Clown Car Posse has a positive message. It’s all about anti-Obamaism…that’s all they have. Repeal. Undo. Fight the same fights we already fought for the last four years. Obama has been laying out his program for moving forward ever since the Faux Debt Ceiling Kerfuffle, most forcibly in Osawatomie. Judging by his approval numbers it’s being accepted. Republicans need to offer an alternative view. Good luck with that. ast I checked tax cuts for the rich are not popular.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    Michael Tomasky:

    It’s not a new candidate the right needs. It’s a new electorate.

  7. Brummagem Joe says:
  8. anjin-san says:

    The DOW just broke 13K – clearly investors think Obama is a communist satan.

    Given the almost mindless worship of market forces on the right, you would think they would pay attention to things like this. And this:

    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/two-charts-that-terrify-republicans.php

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Santorum has been buffing up his small government bona fides…

    “…If government is going to get smaller, then people have to get bigger. And that means they have to stretch out more, they have to do more things…But how beautiful is that. How beautiful is that that you’re going to have to do more to help those in need in our society?”

    Turns out Santorum gives less to charity than the other candidates…and the Obama’s give the most, based on percentage of AGI, at 14.2%. The Romneys were just behind at 13.8%. The Gingriches 2.6% and the Santorums gave 1.8%.
    Actions speak louder than words.

  10. @anjin-san:

    The DOW has some optimism in it, but a lot of it is also the Fed forcing savers into riskier investments. A Shiller PE/10 of 22 is probably overbought.

  11. Hey Norm says:

    @ Anjin-San…
    The Dow hitting 13,000 only means something if a Republican is President. If a Democrat is President it is a harbinger of Socialism.

  12. @Hey Norm:

    Or a “Republican” Fed acting the same all the way through?

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    The DOW has some optimism in it, but a lot of it is also the Fed forcing savers into riskier investments.

    How is the fed forcing people into riskier investments? And don’t tell me it’s by holding interest rates down. Any investor who doesn’t have a sensible mix of different assets in his portfolio is a fool.

  14. anjin-san says:

    @ JP

    What % of investors in the market are “savers” who have had to leave interest driven investments in search of better returns? This is not a snark, I have no idea. I do kinda doubt these folks are driving the market though…

  15. Brummagem Joe says:

    @anjin-san:

    What % of investors in the market are “savers” who have had to leave interest driven investments in search of better returns?

    About 65% of daily trading is proprietary by banks, hedge funds etc. Any sensible “saver” is going to have probably 65% of his assets in equities in which case he’s done rather well over the last few months. I’d agree with the comment that the market is moving into overbought territory but we probably need to see a larger percentage of stocks exceeding their 200 day moving averages before we see a pullback. At the moment it’s around 70% of them. I suspect this rally has a little bit further to run before we see a pullback and some consolidation around present levels. Where it goes from there depends on the economy, no middle east explosions etc.

  16. anjin-san says:

    @ Brummagem Joe

    Thanks. A consolidation at roughly the level of the pre-crash market strikes me as a good thing. I got back in the week Obama took office and that has worked out pretty well.

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    @anjin-san:

    I got back in the week Obama took office and that has worked out pretty well.

    I delayed mine a bit longer and it’s worked out fairly well.

  18. john personna says:

    @Brummagem Joe, @anjin-san:

    I’m just recalling what Ben Bernanke said himself about his policy:

    To some extent on risk taking, to some extent, part of the reason for the policy is to move people away from very conservative liquid positions slightly more into riskier positions that involve investment and lending and so on that would help promote strength in the economy. We don’t want to go too far, and we’re very attentive to that, and we have greatly expanded our ability to monitor the financial system and to watch out for problems and to try to address them. I’ve been in many conversations with insurance companies, pension funds, and so on.

    Now, you can change subjects to proper diversification, and how investments you made in 1985 might protect you from this Fed policy, but there it is.

  19. john personna says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Any sensible “saver” is going to have probably 65% of his assets in equities in which case he’s done rather well over the last few months.

    Most advisers would condition this with the “saver’s” age.

  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    Now, you can change subjects to proper diversification, and how investments you made in 1985 might protect you from this Fed policy, but there it is.

    Er…you missed this bit of Bernanke’s testimony….completely inadvertently I’m sure

    With respect to say savers, for example, it’s true that low interest rates reduce the returns that savers get on their savings, but I would make the general point that savers just don’t necessarily hold say Treasury bonds. They also hold corporate debt, stocks and a variety of other securities. And the returns of those securities depend very importantly on the strength of the economy. So we’re trying to strengthen the economy. We’re helping to improve the returns to savers.

  21. john personna says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    WTF are you on about? Seriously?

    That was the paragraph before that said they held a mix, and then the paragraph after said he was trying to move them, as part of the strategy?

    Do you just want an argument? You have a problem.

    Not least because the paragraph I included documents my only claim. That is, that it is a Fed policy to pump equities (and corporate bonds).

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    Most advisers would condition this with the “saver’s” age.

    Indeed they would…so what’s your point. There is not one magic figure and 65% in equities is a fairly conservative allocation.

  23. john personna says:

    (Seriously, “we own other things” is not a disproof that “Any sensible “saver” is going to have probably 65% of his assets in equities in which case he’s done rather well over the last few months.”)

  24. john personna says:

    Grr. wrong paste buffer.

    (Seriously, “we own other things” is not a disproof of “part of the reason for the policy is to move people away from very conservative liquid positions slightly more into riskier positions that involve investment and lending and so on that would help promote strength in the economy.”)

  25. john personna says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Indeed they would…so what’s your point. There is not one magic figure and 65% in equities is a fairly conservative allocation.

    So .. you agree with me that there isn’t one number, but argue with me that if there was one, 65% would be it.

    Idiot.

  26. john personna says:

    (I’m out of here. I hope Drew shows up for you Joe. I really do. You guys should get a room.)

  27. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    WTF are you on about? Seriously?

    What I’m about is pointing out it’s not as simple as you’re suggesting. Who the hell keeps all his savings in cash (aka. very conservative liquid positions ). Toomey was essentially making the same one dimensional argument that you are and Bernanke was pointing out as I am to you that most “savers” savings are in fact much more diversified than cash or t bills.

  28. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    Idiot

    Of course there are different numbers so what was your point other than lapsing in hysterical ad homs which seems to be your normal reaction the moment anyone questions anything you say.

  29. de stijl says:

    Doug,

    You left out another fun part of Santorum’s speech on Sunday where he implicitly compared Obama to Hitler in his WWII analogy:

    We think, well, you know, it’ll get better. Yeah, he’s a nice guy. I mean, it won’t be near as bad as what we think. This will be okay. I mean, yeah, maybe he’s not the best guy after a while. After a while you find out some things about this guy over in Europe who’s not so good of a guy after all, but ya know what, why do we need to be involved? We’ll just take care of our own problems,” he said.

  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    @de stijl:

    where he implicitly compared Obama to Hitler in his WWII analogy:

    This is not new for Republicans either.

  31. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    (I’m out of here. I hope Drew shows up for you Joe. I really do. You guys should get a room.)

    While you’re out you might want to look up the meaning of the word forcing

    but a lot of it is also the Fed forcing savers into riskier investments.

    There’s nothing compulsory about this.

  32. JohnMcC says:

    The surreal Mr Santorum actually was talking to “conservatives” in Ohio and criticized the “greatest generation” for waiting until Pearl Harbor to confront Fasciism? Has he never heard of Sen Robert Taft, jr? It was the mid-west ‘Old Republicans’ who were most opposed to Pres Roosevelt’s halting efforts to help the British in the period from ’39 to ’41. They were the ‘anti-war’ crowd of their day (as well and the ‘Gold Standard’ crowd and the ‘Roosevelt is a Socialist’ crowd).

    Nothing ever changes with these strange people except the lies grow larger.

  33. jukeboxgrad says:

    joe:

    all this doom and gloom is not unique to Santorum. It’s standard wingnut boilerplate.

    Of course you’re right, and you gave some great examples. I’d like to add one of my favorite examples. Speaking of gratuitous hysteria backed by no evidence, let’s recall that McCain said this:

    ACORN … is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

    As WP said:

    If ACORN or any other group has engaged in a scheme to submit phony registrations, by all means that should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. What Mr. McCain’s alarmist attack ignores, however, is the enormous gulf between improper voter registration — whether fraudulent or merely erroneous — and actually committing fraud at the ballot box. Evidence of fraudulent voting is scant, though there is always a risk. But there is a far greater risk of citizens entitled to vote being turned away from the polls — and the real threat to the “fabric of democracy” is the McCain campaign’s effort to stir up unfounded suspicions of massive voter fraud, casting unwarranted doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

    I think it’s a remarkable example, because the speaker was not just Rush or Sean or Bill, but the candidate himself. A supposed ‘moderate.’ And the claim he made, using extreme language, was so out of proportion to the underlying reality (since “evidence of fraudulent voting is scant”).

    So Santorum is just following in the footsteps of McCain, and many others. The GOP is now the party of hysteria and lunacy.

  34. @Brummagem Joe:

    You actually went for the semantic defense? “force” is the wrong word?

    Well in today’s news:

    The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is approaching the cheapest level ever compared with bonds as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s zero-percent interest rates drive investors and companies from cash.

    Don’t be [more of a] d*ck.

    I still don’t find much reason to spend time here. Nothing in February politics is terribly interesting, arguments are recycled, and comment threads devolve to nits and nonsense.

  35. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    Don’t be [more of a] d*ck.

    I still don’t find much reason to spend time here. Nothing in February politics is terribly interesting, arguments are recycled, and comment threads devolve to nits and nonsense.

    Well that’s a relief. You won’t have to dirty your hands arguing with and screaming at the various idiots, dicks, and untermenschen who are so far below your intellectual level. It will leave you with so much more time to contemplate your navel.