The Thing Santorum Got Right

October 19th, 2011 at 6:00 pm David Frum | 33 Comments |

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In my column for The Week, I discuss the increasingly difficult prospects for the American Dream, and how only Rick Santorum is willing to talk about this problem:

Rick Santorum is not exactly an odds-on favorite in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. And perhaps that’s why it was Santorum who felt free to articulate an important truth in the GOP candidates’ debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

“Believe it or not, studies have been done that show that in Western Europe, people at the lower parts of the income scale actually have a better mobility going up the ladder now than in America. “

The American dream is still alive. It’s just more likely to come true in Denmark than in the USA. In fact, the American dream is less likely to come true in the USA than in any other major economy except the United Kingdom’s.

The freezing of income mobility is distinct from, but probably related to, two other important trends in American life: The stagnation of middle-class incomes and the widening of the gap between rich and poor.

Click here to read the full piece.

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33 Comments so far ↓

  • Oldskool

    That was the most surprising thing anyone said last night. How dare he say something so unpatriotic, so truthful. Surely a sign of the apocalypse when the faith-based start using reality speak.

  • Graychin

    Will we be seeing Santorum at OWS?

  • ConnerMcMaub

    This is a standard liberal talking point that US mobility trails behind Europe. It’s true which is why I was stunned Santorum used it.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    yeah, but Santorums conclusions as to what should be done is simply flat out wrong. Recognizing someone as being sick but then proposing to bleed them isn’t exactly something that inspires confidence. The reasons why mobility is higher in Denmark are manifold, social cohesion, small population, etc. but there are other advantages, workers can switch jobs without fear of losing health coverage, the safety net is bigger and better designed and frankly, the people are nowhere as stupid as so many Americans are. It is common to meet someone from Denmark who speaks fluent English, without even so much as an accent, Michelle Bachmann wants to force Puerto Ricans to speak English in Puerto Rico or will…I don’t know what exactly…but I doubt she even knows Puerto Rico is part of the US, after all according to her Libya is not in Africa and Africa is a country.

    • Graychin

      Good point.

      Santorum also recognizes that many single-parent families live in poverty, and his answer is to limit access to family planning.

    • overshoot

      Don’t forget one of the biggest factors in upward social mobility: inexpensive education. The WWII GI Bill was a big driver in the most mobile period in US history. Now, a 4-year degree costs as much as a house, even before the crash.

      In contrast, most European countries offer free or nearly so postsecondary education.

    • Primrose

      One of my frustrations with the education system is that we don’t teach other languages until maybe middle school, when we should teach it in elementary school, by 1st grade.

      If we have to limit language instruction, we should teach in elementary school and either skip middle school or skip high school, outside of an honors class or two. It frustrates me that my kids won’t learn another language, not really.

  • NRA Liberal

    Hey, it’s a start. When the likes of Santorum are willing to abandon the lies and happy talk about the current system working for everyone, then change is certainly in the offing.

  • willard landreth

    Doesn’t matter because he then says this stupid shit:

    Rick Santorum Pledges To Defund Contraception: ‘It’s Not Okay, It’s A License To Do Things’

    Frum should do a poll and find out if all or just most republican males suffer from Erectile Disfunction.

  • Saladdin

    Much ado about nothing. He ain’t gonna be the nominee. Heck, he can’t win his own state.

  • overshoot

    “America, however, is a society of widening inequality, hardening class lines, and stagnating living standards for most people.”

    It took me a while to realize that DF thinks that this is a BAD thing. Once again proving that he’s totally out of touch with the POG.

  • beowulf

    He’s running for Vice President. He’s stressing social conservatism because he figures (correctly) that if Romney is nominated, social conservatives will want a true believer in the VP slot, he’s willing to pretend to be that true believer. :o )

    Just kidding, I like Santorum. And frankly, the single best way forward for Republicans to address income inequality involves first walking towards social conservatism, so he’s coming at it in the right way. Joseph V. Kennedy’s book Ending Poverty suggests an income support plan that’d also encourage conservative social values: a guaranteed income ($15k to $20k per adult) for any citizen who’s willing to sign and abide by a contract they’ll play by the rules of society : 1. “work full time at a position that adds value to society,” 2. “complete high school and two years of additional education,” 3. “save 15% of your income,” 4. “do not have children before the age of 21,” [this one will cause legal problems, would have to be aspirational and not contractual b.] 5. “do not take drugs,”. 6. “do not commit crimes,” and 7. “pay taxes.”

    The second best way (less efficient but its off-budget) is the the Universal Living Wage campaign’s diabolically ingenious plan to index each metro area’s minimum wage to its rental housing prices. As the system phases in, each city would get to pick their poison, low wages or high rent but not both.

    • overshoot

      “diabolically ingenious plan to index each metro area’s minimum wage to its rental housing prices”

      And I immediately thought of Vail.

      I hope they’re not using MSA as “metro area.” Maricopa County may be a single MSA, but low rent in South Phoenix isn’t much help to someone whose job is in Cave Creek. And Cave Creek uses a LOT of housekeepers and landscapers.

      • beowulf

        “The concept is simple. It is based on the premise that if a person works 40 hours a week, then he/she should be able to afford basic housing. We use two existing Federal guidelines to determine what the Universal Living Wage should be. The first guideline (a HUD standard also used by banking institutions across America) dictates that no more than 30% of a person’s gross monthly income should be spent on housing. The second guideline, the Fair Market Rents (FMRs) are established by HUD throughout the country for each municipality and all other areas. Therefore, the Universal Living Wage will vary per area in accordance with the FMR…”

        The idea is to phase in ULW over 10 years to give local govts time to flood the market with affordable housing or watch its local businesses pay a minimum wage like Australia’s, whose A$15.51/hr (US$15.85) minimum wage is why they have the sky-high unemployment rate of, errr, 5.2%. Let’s see, Vail’s (Eagle County) ULW would be $17.02/hr, 30% of $885/mo FMR.
        Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ MSA ULW would be $12.81/hr, 30% of $666/mo FMR. Those rents are for efficiency apts, if you pegged 1 BR apt rent, add approx. $2/hr.

    • Primrose

      “And frankly, the single best way forward for Republicans to address income inequality involves first walking towards social conservatism”

      How precisely is dividing women into frigid good girls and liscentatious bad girls (that’s what this so-called traditional values actually means) going to solve income inequality?

    • hisgirlfriday

      Santorum will not be Romney’s veep. A Massachusetts Mormon and a Pennsylvania Catholic Republican ticket could actually lose the South.

      It’ll be good Baptist Herman Cain as Romney’s veep.

  • armstp1

    The key difference with most of the rest of the industrialized world is not only is it much easier to move up in social mobility than in the U.S., but in the U.S. when you do move up the rewards are much much greater. It may be harder to get ahead in the U.S., but if you do you have a much better chance of becoming a billionaire. The extremes have always been more extreme in the U.S.

    The problem with all those on the “right” is they live in a fantasy world where they think they will all be rich and billionaires. They think they all have that chance. That is why they cannot believe in anything, but the fantasy of the most free market or that government is always bad and the private sector is always good. It all comes back the fantasy that you cannot stand in their way of becoming a billionaire or you “commie socialists bastards” cannot stand in my way of becoming rich. However, the reality is that for 99% their lifestyle is being gutted. Their healthcare is the worst, their education is bankrupting many, their jobs are killing them, etc.

    Why would you not want to live in a world of 5-6 weeks of vacations, good healthcare for all, sane workers rights, environmental policies that actually work, good childcare, etc. etc.

  • Emma

    A serious, national discussion about income inequality is permanently banned in the U.S. It will never happen. Now I must ask you all to be quiet and go about your business. Nothing going on here. Scoot!

  • jjack

    Any mention of the poor, income inequality, or declining class mobility is “class warfare” — on the upper class, of course. There are no poor in America. There are only the lazy and the soon-to-be-rich, if they would only work even harder, “sacrifice” even more, and give up the healthcare they don’t have. Also, the upper class needs another tax cut. Now quit whining or we will ship your few remaining Walmart jobs over to China.

  • hisgirlfriday

    As much as Rick Santorum’s anti-gay bigotry, homeschool fetishism and lack of respect for women to make their own reproductive choices bugs me (some women have to take birth control pills for medical reasons so get out of my womb, OK?)…

    I do like that he constantly points out the connection between the integrity of the family and economic security in the debates.

    Conservatives who care about true family values would do well to more often set aside the morality of the sanctity of marriage and all that preachy jazz to remind liberals how our economy is better off and our children are better educated and cared for when they grow up in two-parent stable homes. And it’s a great luxury if you can afford it to not have to have both parents work when the kids are young and have a parent giving that child individual attention rather than shipping them off to daycare and only seeing the kid for a few hours each night.

    I think many women, at least young women, have gotten past the point where they feel like they feel like they have to work to prove a point about their comparative worth or intellect as a gender like my mother’s generation did. But wages just aren’t there to support a family on one income nowadays and I think that’s one reason this country feels poorer than it used to.

    The question is, what can people like Rick Santorum offer women who would like to get out of the rat race and raise a family, but can’t afford to hop off the hamster wheel even for a few months after they give birth?

    Given Rick’s newfound respect for Western Europe would Rick take a page from places like Denmark and support required paid maternity leave for women to allow working mothers more time to be home with children yet still have the needed income to provide for them?

    • Cforchange

      “I do like that he constantly points out the connection between the integrity of the family and economic security in the debates. ”

      Certainly this remark is true but you wouldn’t like it if he was in charge. Social issues triumph. He probably ushered in this serious conflict in the GOP where matters of fiscal nature are tossed aside to push forward social purity as he and his ilk see it.

      For all his blather about family and economic security – he never did anything to improve these conditions for Pennsylvania. He’s strictly a preacher.

  • WestQuake

    Rick S. is acknowledging the reality faced by many American families: with the mortgage on their home greater than its value, they are shackled to their present city or town (unless they are willing to abandon their credit ratings and the equity they contributed to the house) and are prisoners to the health care provided by their employer. The teenage kids in those families are in an even worse situation as jobs are not available (“we don’t hire people who aren’t already working somewhere else”) and their parents are practically bankrupt so the prospects of a college degree are remote. Little wonder that available cash is “invested” in lotteries as the only way to get ahead.

    The result of Rick S.’s heretical views are expected: the true believers of Gramps’ Old Tea Party will rain down truckloads of frothy mix…

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  • LFC

    “Believe it or not, studies have been done that show that in Western Europe, people at the lower parts of the income scale actually have a better mobility going up the ladder now than in America. “

    Somebody needs to tell Rick that for his party, this was a feature and not a bug. I guess he doesn’t remember Tinkle Down Economics.

  • kuri3460

    This was probably the only kernel of truth that was discussed at the GOP debate, and even if Santorum only mentioned it thanks to the principle that leads blind squirrels to occasionally find nuts, give him credit. It’s a lot better than “if you’re not rich, it’s your fault”.

  • Cforchange

    How ridiculous that Santorum now concludes that American lacks opportunity. He was fired by his Pennsylvania constiutuents for ignoring this very problem. The seeds for todays massive crisis were planted during his time as senator. He did nothing for Pennsylvania as he was too busy sticking his nose in the private affairs of the Schaivo family from Florida.

    So he was distracted and ineffective when he was employed by the people and now he asks for a super promotion. Keep pray’n Rick.

  • fzriely

    Because European socialism works! Just kidding…not really…!

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