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Santorum’s words unnecessary, unproductive

John Sandberg | Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Of the things that we as voters ask of candidates for public office, a couple stand out among the rest. However futile our requests may be, we hope that office seekers will “tell it like it is” and maintain a sense of civility in the process. We don’t ask Candidate X to give us a narrative of his time in the Peace Corps when he was asked to explain a past mistake. Nor do we care to hear Candidate Y publicly call her opponent a bozo.

By these criteria, Rick Santorum is batting .500. No other GOP candidates is more of a straight talker than Santorum (with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich, but at this point most will agree that he is a 2012 after-thought,) yet none strike the juvenile tone of the former Pennsylvania Senator either.

Most disconcerting of all is that the frequency of these remarks by Santorum has recently increased. We will have to wait and see in the coming week or so just how big of an effect his failure to win the Michigan and Arizona primaries will have on his campaign. But if the past week is any indication of things to come, we can expect Santorum to resort to the low-minded brashness that is quickly becoming his trademark.

After President Obama described higher education as “an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford,” Santorum responded on Saturday by calling the President a “snob” because he “wants every American to go to college.”

There are plenty of things about which to criticize President Obama. His desire to make education affordable is not one of them, and calling the man who rose from a single-parent home to the Oval Office a “snob” is not the way to do it.

Mitt Romney is an easy political target on many levels. This makes calling him both a “joke” and a “bully” seem like a weak attempt to gain attention. Yet this is exactly what Santorum did in the days leading up to the recent primaries. Although they were far from the most vicious attacks that the campaign has seen, they were not insightful either. So why make the attacks at all? What did Santorum gain from it, and how was Romney’s momentum affected? More importantly, whose vote did Santorum win by making such silly comments?

Case number three: Santorum revealed on Sunday that John F. Kennedy’s speech on the separation of church and state made him “want to throw up.” Similar to the incident regarding President Obama’s quote on higher education, Santorum again misinterpreted what was said by someone else and gave a crass response. Nevertheless, if he insisted on bashing one of the giants of U.S. history, he could have done so in a more thought-provoking and less crude manner.

Santorum has since said that he wishes he could “have that line back” regarding the JFK speech.

In any case, the remark provides another example of the diction which he is utilizing in his attempts to win votes.

Negative politics, as unappealing as they are, persist for one reason: When done right, they work.

Yet Rick Santorum’s style of attack is juvenile and uncalculated. His style will not work. Each time Santorum resorts to uncouth criticism is a wasted opportunity for him to reveal to voters the value-based, educated person that he is. It is strange to me that he doesn’t seem to have this figured out.

In a campaign, words matter. Appearing educated and well-versed matters. They are not the only things that matter, but they matter nonetheless. This is why Santorum’s style of speaking falls short. His attacks on opponents are both unnecessary and unproductive. They do not reflect the intelligence required to convince people you’re Presidential material and they do nothing to show voters why the other candidates are unqualified.

Blunt statements laced with playground-style insults may win a few seconds worth of TV time or make great viral video material. But that which is popular is not presidential. In time, perhaps soon or perhaps not until November, American voters will be smart enough to tell the difference.

John Sandberg is a sophomore political science major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at jsandbe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.