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Santorum, the exorcist candidate

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POSTED March 11, 2012 6:30 p.m.

Rick Santorum has become the alternative to Mitt Romney because the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania comes across as, to use his words, “the conviction conservative” in the GOP presidential primary. While Romney burned through millions in big-donor contributions, Santorum ran a bare-bones campaign. In December, The New York Times ran a graphic on the candidates’ entourages. Team Romney traveled with a 30-seat plane, a campaign bus, security, advance staffers and an average of four other aides. Santorum’s fleet and crew consisted of a Dodge Ram pickup and the occasional staffer.

He’s the underdog — the grandson of an Italian immigrant coal digger — who believes his humble roots can gain him traction in Middle America. Santorum has written that he stands up to “the ‘Bigs’ — big news media, big entertainment, big universities and public schools, big businesses and some big national labor unions, and of course, the biggest Big of all, the federal government.”

Problem: He has no business being the GOP presidential nominee.

The 2012 general election ought to be about the role and finances of the federal government, but Santorum is mired in a traditional values war.

In a 2008 speech at Florida’s Ave Maria University, Santorum described the war as not a political or a cultural war, but “a spiritual war. And the father of lies has his sights on what you would think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on — a good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America.”

I’ll defend to the bitter end Santorum’s right to his deeply held religious beliefs. But a man who wants to be president and represent the American people shouldn’t talk like an exorcist.

In an October interview with the blog “Caffeinated Thoughts,” Santorum claimed, “I’m not running for preacher.” He actually said that after he asserted that contraception is “not OK, because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Do not make the mistake of believing that Santorum’s religious beliefs always skew right. As a senator, he supported legislation to allow convicted felons to vote.

When a super political action committee that supports Romney released misleading ads that suggested Santorum voted to allow felons to vote from prison, Santorum challenged Romney in a South Carolina debate: “I would ask Gov. Romney, Do you believe people who were felons, who served their time, who’ve exhausted their parole and probation should ... be given the right to vote?”

Romney gave the politic answer for a GOP primary: No. Not Santorum; he believes in personal redemption.

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger picked up Santorum’s “big” ax as he wrote of an Ohio crowd’s enthusiasm for Santorum’s criticism of the mandate-heavy Obamacare. “People could live with big. It’s too big that’s getting to them,” wrote Henninger as he lauded Santorum’s stand as a salvo for “personal freedom.”

But Santorum is not big on personal freedom. He wrote in his 2005 book, “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good,” that the Framers wanted freedom more “for the common good” than they did for individuals. He also praised Judeo-Christian thinkers for calling “the liberal kind of freedom by its real name: slavery to sin.”

Sin? That would make for a great stump speech if Santorum were running to be America’s ayatollah.

As for Romney, he may be a “big,” but he has enough humility to understand that a president’s job is not to scold and sermonize, but to persuade and to lead. And you don’t get elected telling voters how sinful they’ve been.

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