Sanctus Santorum

Article excerpt

RETAIL POLITICS

This past March, an interviewer for Christianity Today asked Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) what he thought of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, which posits that conservative politicians have whipped up working-class anger over social issues as a smoke screen for a real agenda to benefit large corporations. Santorum leapt on the question as if he'd been waiting for it. "That's just the kind of derogatory, elitist pablum," he declared, "that you get when people don't realize that there's a lot of people who don't put their treasure in this world and look for something more than just 'How much more money I can make?' They understand that life is more than a bank account. That's the postmodern view of the world, which is, 'It's all about me; it's all about how much I can get now for me.'" He concluded, "Thank God for Kansas."

Postmodernism aside, Santorum could be a poster boy for Frank's thesis. The day after the interview was published, he became the first member of Congress to visit the media scrum outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo lay dying. The senator, who had pushed for congressional intervention to keep Schiavo alive, noted that "I was in Tampa, I was 15 minutes away, and having worked on this case, I just felt an obligation to go by and pay my respects to the family."

Santorum didn't mention why he happened to be 15 minutes away. He had come to Tampa in part to attend a fundraising lunch organized by one of his corporate benefactors, Outback Steakhouses. And he'd flown in on the jet of another major donor, Wal-Mart.

Indeed, while Santorum has become perhaps the Senate's most outspoken member on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay rights, much of his day-to-day work involves matters of interest to corporate America. This year has been typically busy. Santorum authored a bill that would relax overtime regulations and exempt numerous businesses from minimum-wage rules, a move particularly dear to the restaurant industry (thus the Outback Steakhouses event). He sponsored measures aiding campaign contributors, such as the private weather company AccuWeather (which would benefit from Santorum's proposed privatization of the National Weather Service); the fire-sprinkler industry; beer brewers; and the tomato grower Procacci Brothers, which is being accused of migrant-housing violations in Florida. And he has been pushing hard for Wal-Mart's agenda, which includes tort reform and changes in overtime rules-Wal-Mart faces a slew of lawsuits over sex discrimination and alleged overtime violations-as well as reform of charitable giving laws and a permanent repeal of the estate tax, which would benefit the billionaire heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Wal-Mart's political action committee gave $10,000, the maximum allowable PAC donation, to Santorum in 2004, plus another $10,000 to Santorum's PAC. …