Rich Santorum Is Right About Labor

Rick SantorumMany will be surprised, but those who read me closely will know that I have a certain fondness for Rick Santorum. Yes, his conservative Catholicism is ridiculous. And generally his policy positions are terrible. But his economic rhetoric is quite compelling. He has a strong populist streak in him—and it is real, not like the pretend populism of so much of the conservative movement. As I recall, his grandfather was a coal miner, and regardless, he comes from the working class and values it.

Yesterday, Santorum spoke at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference. And he attacked the Romney campaign’s use of the “you didn’t build that” meme. He said that it was wrong to put only business owner up on the stage at the Republican National Convention to counter it. “One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single—factory worker went out there. Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.” Damn right!

There are a couple of problems, however. First, of course, is that the “you didn’t build that” meme was always trumped up nonsense. Obama was talking about the public infrastructure that makes business possible. It was a mistake to try to make the comment into something that it was not. The public never accepted the narrative that Obama was against business for one very simple reason: Obama is not against business. In fact, he is arguably the most pro-business president we’ve ever had.

The other problem is that Santorum is being charmingly naive if he really believes that the conservative movement has any room in it for labor. As I’ve written about with regard to libertarians, conservatives simply idolize the Businessman. They see the worker at best as a kind of necessarily evil. Sometimes their rhetoric tries to appeal to labor. But after Reagan, I think that labor has learned its lesson.

Santorum, unlike Reagan, I think actually does value labor. I think he is fundamentally a decent guy who is looking for ways to contextualize his conservative ideology so that he isn’t a horrible person. And he is quite correct to try to introduce the importance of labor into the conservative narrative—hopeless though I think that effort is. Because regardless of the conservative love for the Romantic notion of the Job Creator—symbolized by the half-dimensional John Galt—labor is far more important to business success than capital. Labor can exist without capital; and without a large group of buyers there would be no point to capital investment. So Santorum should be applauded for his rhetorical efforts on the part of labor. There are a lot of Democrats I know who could learn a thing or two from him.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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