Santorum Rising

No, not that Santorum. Come on people. Senator Rick Santorum, who is taking his turn as the Not-Romney republican candidate du jour. If Santorum wins in Michigan, he may be more than just the Not-Romney of today; he could be the Not-Romney who gets to run against President Obama. Many Obama supporters are nearly gleeful at this prospect.  Santorum, the wisdom goes, is too extreme for this country. He could never win the general election. But what if he could? What if oil prices rise throughout the summer, as they usually do, and the economy stalls again, as it might due to events entirely outside of our country’s control?  (Hello Greece!) Then can we imagine Not-Obama sweeping the midwest, in addition to the nearly locked-in south?  That is a not-insane scenario, at least according to Nate Silver.

Much could be said about why people, regardless of political persuasion, should think very seriously before deciding that Santorum as Not-Romney would be a good thing. The focus here is solely on what it would mean for our country’s commitment to clean air, water, and land. In short, it would be a near end to that commitment. (Though, as Dan Farber points out, Ron Paul as Not-Romney would mean a certain end. But the moment of Paul’s Rising was both short and low, and now seems about over.) Santorum thinks anyone with even the most moderate inclination toward regulating pollution, including our very moderate President, is a “radical environmentalist.”  Santorum does not think we have any obligations to the earth and its inhabitants, but rather only an obligation to “husband” the earth’s resources. It is not clear what the distinction is between “husbanding” them and “stewarding” them, but one could guess that the husband approach more closely resembles the pre-1970’s free-for-all, which resulted in ordinary folks paying extraordinary health and safety costs for our failure to regulate the many pollutants that are inevitable by-products of industrialization. Santorum not only denies that climate change is happening and is caused by humans (a nostrum shared by all of the republican candidates except Gingrich), but explains his denial in very child-like terms:   “I believe the earth gets warmer, and I also believe the earth gets cooler, and I think history points out that it does that.” It is not enough, apparently, to ignore the wide consensus among thousands of scientists. It is better to have no clue about the debate whatsoever, and to phrase it all as boiling down to one’s own personal “beliefs” about what is happening to the climate. (This is for a separate post, but as some journalists have pointed out, this is a strange way of talking about a physical phenomenon, even one that we only know about through abstractions. Do people discuss whether they “believe” in gravity? In nuclear fission? The only other scientific issue that is discussed in these terms is evolution.)

We could go on. The point is, whatever else Santorum means, it also means an abandonment of our responsibilities to the land, air and water that must sustain us and the generations that follow. What Romney thinks about these issues is purposefully obscure. But at least on the environment, Romney himself may be a more appealing Not-Romney than Santorum.

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