Santorum Rhetorically Aligns with the Tea Party, But Substantively Rejects Free Market Principles

By: March 03, 2012

On February 25, 2012, at the Chattanooga Tea Party’s Liberty Forum, Rick Santorum delivered one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard on the nature of the Constitution and the future of our republic. For those of you who missed it, you can watch all 50 minutes of it here. As Mark Fitzgibbons noted in his American Thinker article this past Friday, the speech marked “Santorum’s Intellectual Evolution to a Strong Constitutional Conservative.”

Santorum deserves great credit for engaging with the Tea Party movement and rhetorically aligning with our three core values: (1) constitutionally limited government, (2) fiscal responsibility, and (3) free markets.

Unfortunately, Santorum subsequently demonstrated that it’s one thing to rhetorically align with those values and quite another to do so substantively.

Prior to hearing Santorum’s Chattanooga speech, I had criticized him severely for his poor economic policy. Specifically, I agreed with the Tax Foundation when it gave his tax policies a D+, citing his especially egregious proposal to try to pick “winners and losers” by giving all manufacturers special tax breaks. Earlier last month, before the Chattanooga speech,  Santorum announced his “Economic Freedom Agenda,” which included a proposed that while all other corporations should  pay income tax at a rate of 17.5%, manufacturing companies should pay no corporate income tax at all.

This Hamiltonian strategy of promoting an industrial policy in which the federal government picks winners and losers is antithetical to the tea party’s third core value of free markets. As I argue in my new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, there is great evil in a tax code that authorizes the government to take money from certain groups of citizens and give it to other groups. Santorum’s proposal to offer special tax breaks for manufacturers is but another example of two centuries of politicians trying to take from one group and give to another. Before 1913, they used tariff laws. Since 1913, they’ve used the federal tax code.

Every time the federal government promotes policies that subsidize the activities of one group over another, our country’s scarce resources are misallocated.  We end up using too much corn to produce ethanol, so food prices go up. We subsidize solar companies who make products no one wants, and they go bankrupt. And we give high income earners tax credits to buy electrical vehicles manufactured by state-run General Motors, and there’s so little demand for Chevy Volts, production has to be halted.

After the Chattanooga speech, Senator Santorum gave us reason to hope that his intellectual evolution to constitutional conservativism had moved beyond mere rhetoric and into the realm of action. In last Monday’s Wall Street Journal,   Santorum noticeably omitted his “zero income tax on manufacturing” proposal, mentioning  only “repatriated” manufacturing profits earned in foreign countries by domestic manufacturers.

Many of us in the Tea Party movement took notice. Had Santorum decided to align with our core value of free markets?

Alas, this omission of proposed manufacturing tax breaks appears to be nothing more than a weak attempt to avoid criticism from the many free market conservatives who read the Wall Street Journal.

Santorum finally confirmed last week that he stands by his Hamiltonian views of offering manufacturing tax breaks at the 1:22 mark in this interview with John Harwood of the New York Times and CNBC:

What are we to make of this unfortunate decision by Senator Santorum?

Time to turn our attentions to Governor Romney as well as Senator Santorum. After all, Governor Romney finally started engaging with local tea parties in his hard fought Michigan primary victory.

Where Santorum has actively engaged with the Tea Party to great effect, the response to Governor Romney has been tepid at best. Romney has steadfastly refused to repudiate RomneyCare, supported the TARP bailouts, and aims low when it comes to spending cuts (his official position calls for cutting federal expenditures to 20% of GDP, but only recently he cautioned against making any immediate spending cuts.)

While Senator Santorum has done well with Tea Party friendly rhetoric, his specific proposals have been little better than Governor Romney’s. Rhetorical flourishes are meaningless unless accompanied by the corresponding actions.

The race for the Republican nomination is not over quite yet, and the Tea Party needs to give both of these candidates yet one more chance to align with our core values.

Given the abysmal state of the Republican Party’s get-out-the-vote infrastructure, it’s going to be up to the Tea Party movement to drag the Republican Presidential nominee across the finish line to victory. As the eventual nominee  will be relying upon us to secure their Electoral College majority in November, Governor Romney and Senator Santorum should begin to align both their rhetoric and their substantive policies more closely with our core values.

Let’s hope that both these candidates begin to do just that.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

 

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