Kathleen Parker: Clash of the nice guys

BY KATHLEEN PARKER Published: January 10, 2012
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Business crucial issue

Despite his many fine qualities as a devout and devoted family man, and no one disputes his constancy in this realm, Santorum's strengths are his weaknesses when it comes to the nation's top job. He may be the Catholic's Catholic, but the crucial issue this election year is business, not abortion. Though an effective senator — Santorum was instrumental in welfare reform even as he was a champion of the poor — he has mostly served in government. And though he touts his worker heritage, especially his immigrant grandfather who worked in the coal mines and his own childhood in Pennsylvania's manufacturing belt, Santorum hasn't any executive experience to compare with Romney's.

People who worked with Santorum in Washington have marveled at his new maturity. Gone is the sometimes-arrogant Santorum, though he remains bellicose at times, promising, for instance, to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Perhaps humbled by defeat and personal loss, he is today a kinder, gentler version of his earlier political incarnation. He also has suffered some of the cruelest attacks of anyone in the blood sport of politics, some so vile that they don't merit repetition here. Suffice to say, those who have attacked him personally couldn't hold up Santorum's socks in a contest of personal honor.

Nevertheless, the primary focus of the Republican Party is to nominate someone who can defeat Barack Obama. Pennsylvania is crucial to Obama's re-election, and there's no ignoring that Santorum lost his Senate seat in 2006 in his home state by a huge margin — 17 points. At the moment, some pollsters' hypothetical matchups show Obama tied or trailing Romney.

Santorum clearly has an important national role to play, especially in the debate about who we are, but Romney remains the GOP's best bet.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP