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George F. Will: For Rick Santorum, the fight goes on

Published: October 27, 2013
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Looking to 2016, Santorum rightly says Republicans “have got to work on the hopeful and optimistic side” of politics. But he wants to compel a troubling conversation the nation would rather not have.

“At any given moment,” wrote George Orwell in 1948, “there is a sort of all-prevailing orthodoxy, a general tacit agreement not to discuss some large and uncomfortable fact.” Today that fact is family disintegration: 41 percent of American children are born to unmarried women, including nearly half of first births, 53 percent of Hispanic children and 72 percent of African-American children. In 2015, these facts will be discussed in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report.

In March 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a 37-year-old toiling in the Labor Department's office of policy planning and research, published “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” It said that in inner cities “the center of the tangle of pathology” was the fact that 23.6 percent of black children were born out of wedlock, compared to just 3.07 percent of white children.

Moynihan knew he was handling dynamite — he had only 100 copies printed, all marked “For Official Use Only” — but was stunned by the way discussion was shut down by accusations of “racism” and “blaming the victim.” Santorum says that if Republicans will not speak for the many millions of voters concerned about social issues, “We'll be more competitive in states we lose and will lose states we should win,” and “we will become the Whig Party and be done.”

Before the 2012 Iowa caucuses he participated in 381 town hall meetings. One can, however, be a novelty only once, and although Santorum is a young-looking 55, in 2016 he will have younger rivals. Furthermore, he may not strike many Republicans as the answer to the party's problems with female voters and blue states. Nevertheless, there are gallantry and dignity in his steadfast determination to tack against the prevailing wind.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP