He may have been an underdog. He may have run a disorganized, underfunded campaign. He may have let loose a few comments that caused his supporters embarrassment.
But Rick Santorum provided a stirring example of what a Catholic running for elected office can be.
While many self-identified Catholics in the nation’s political leadership have adopted a “personally opposed but …” position on abortion and set aside Catholic teaching and natural law tradition on marriage, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania offered an unapologetic, morally consistent articulation of the inalienable dignity of human life from conception to natural death and defended the right of children to have a mother and a father in the home.
Santorum didn’t hide behind a privatized understanding of faith, and that made him a target for a host of special interests.
Contrary to the unfair attacks of his critics, his stubborn — and sometimes awkward — articulation of Catholic moral teaching didn’t make him a theocrat. Indeed, a Catholic who seeks to govern or legislate needn’t ignore what his Church teaches — because the Church wants what all good government should aim for: the common good.
Santorum’s faith informed his political views and clearly inspired his devotion to his family, especially its most vulnerable member.
From the start of his shoestring campaign, he and his wife, Karen, sought to join the common good of their family to the struggle for the nation’s common good, a vision that inspired many of his supporters to back his campaign.
It is the family that is under siege in contemporary American life — from heavy financial and tax burdens leading both parents to work outside the home to ideology-driven school systems usurping parents’ roles as their child’s primary educators to a redefinition of marriage and a growing demand for government to replace the family’s role in an era of radical individualism.
Catholic teaching has so much to offer by way of answering those ills, and it takes a courageous public servant like Rick Santorum to inject the wisdom garnered over 2,000 years into a political reality that is little more than 200 years old.
Announcing the suspension of his campaign on April 10, Santorum said people had advised him to give up on what appeared to be an inevitable defeat.
“You can’t win,” they told him. But, he said, “We were winning in a very different way. We were touching hearts. We were raising issues that, quite frankly, a lot of people didn’t want to have raised.”
That was true even when he was in the Senate, leading the fight for a bill to ban partial-birth abortion.
Yes, it was a long shot, and Santorum supporters must now wake up from a dream of a pro-life president to the reality of the political game of compromise. But Santorum’s presence on the political stage has raised the bar for other candidates.
The presumptive Republican nominee has an uneven record regarding life issues. He must now prove to Santorum’s supporters that his new stance arises from tough moral convictions, not political expediency.