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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Santorum’s Dubious Working-Class Creds

The latest polls show a Huntsman surge, and Santorum tanking in NH, so Santorum’s 15 minutes may be up sooner than later. But we shouldn’t let this political moment pass without a comment on the ‘Santorum as working-class hero’ snowjob.
Google Santorum +”working-class,” and you’ll pull up headlines like “Santorum fits working class bill,” “Like Rocky Balboa, Rick Santorum is a working class hero” and “Santorum: The Blue-collar Candidate – The former senator touts his working-class roots” etc. The conservative echo chamber is parroting the meme with impressive message discipline. Top conservative pundits, including Brooks, Will and Krauthammer have jumped on the Santorum as working-class hero bandwagon.
It’s not hard to understand why. One of the largest swing constituencies, the white working-class has trended toward the GOP in recent elections. According to Wall St. Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel

…Barack Obama did better than John Kerry or Al Gore with these voters, though even he earned just 43% of their vote…That was Mr. Obama’s high point. In 2010 a record 63% of this bloc voted for the GOP. And there are signs that, whether out of calculation or desperation, Team Obama may be abandoning them altogether–instead looking for 2012 victory in a progressive coalition of educated, socially liberal voters, combined with poorer ethnic voters, in particular Hispanics.
The white working class will make up as much as 55% of the vote in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Front-runner Mitt Romney knows it, as does Mr. Santorum. Their fight in New Hampshire and beyond will increasingly be over who can earn more points with this group. Their styles are very different, if equally damaging to the conservative growth message.

Santorum is making a hard-sell pitch for the blue collar vote, as Strassel reports:

Mr. Santorum surged in Iowa as the “I’m One of You” candidate. On the stump, and in his victory speech in Iowa, he’s highlighted his working-class roots. He kicked off his campaign near the Pennsylvania coal mines where his grandfather worked, and he talks frequently of struggling steel towns…He’s the frugal guy, the man of faith, the person who understands the financial worries of average Americans. He’s directly contrasting his own blue-collar bona fides with those of the more privileged Mr. Romney.

In reality, however, Santorum’s working-class creds are awfully thin. His father was a clinical psychologist and his mother was an administrative nurse — clearly more of an upper middle-class upbringing than a blue collar culture. Yeah, he had a grandfather who was a miner, but it’s not like he grew up in a mining family as the GOP meme-propagators would have us believe.
Worse, much of his career in public office has been dedicated to serving as an eager bell-hop for the wealthy. More recently, as the Washington Post reported,

Santorum earned $1.3 million in 2010 and the first half of 2011, according to his most recent financial disclosure form. The largest chunk of his employment earnings — $332,000 — came from his work as a consultant for groups advocating and lobbying for industry interests. That included $142,500 to help advise a Pennsylvania natural gas firm, Consol Energy, and $65,000 to consult with lobby firm American Continental Group, and its insurance services client.

And, as Marcus Stern and Kristina Cooke recently reported for Reuters,

As a senator, Santorum went further, playing a key role in an effort by Republicans in Congress to dictate the hiring practices, and hence the political loyalties, of Washington’s deep-pocketed lobbying firms and trade associations, which had previously been bipartisan.
Dubbed “the K Street Project” for the Washington street that houses most of these groups, the initiative was launched in 1989 by lobbyist Grover Norquist, whose sole aim, he said, was to encourage lobbying firms to “hire people who agree with your worldview, not hire for access.”
…Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal government watchdog group, named Santorum among three “most corrupt” senators in 2005 and 2006, accusing him of “using his position as a member of Congress to financially benefit those who have made contributions to his campaign committee and political action committee.”

Santorum has won some blue collar support by promoting his message of “industrial renewal,” and supporting protectionist measures, as John Nichols reports in The Nation. But, as Nichols, says, “There is no reason to overplay Santorum’s commitments. He is an economic conservative who would side more often with Wall Street than Main Street.”
In 2002, for example, Senator Santorum received a 15 percent rating from the AFL-CIO. Not many Senators had a lower score.
Republican strategists are so desperate for a candidate who can relate to the blue-collar “Reagan Democrats” that casting an arch conservative, silk-stocking lawyer like Santorum as a working class hero seems a reasonable stretch. If Santorum does recover from his latest poll dive, it shouldn’t be too hard for Dems to expose his policy agenda as more anti-worker than not.
Note from James Vega:
Using exactly the same, utterly and shamelessly idiotic “grandfather’s history plus general geographical area” theory of social class, Mitt Romney can claim to be “the authentic descendent and representative of Mexican-American autoworkers” – his grandfather lived in Chihuahua, Mexico most of his life and Romney himself grew up “in the shadows of the automobile factories of Detroit”
Newt, on the other hand, can polish his credentials in the African-American community by claiming to be “a scholar of African society whose congressional district was a short distance from Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement”

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