Rick Santorum in Iowa. Don't Tell Him He's Losing.

I was at Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA this week for the Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics. This interdisciplinary conference brought together political scientists, historians, and other specialists to present research on the presidency and presidential politics.

The event drew little attention from the media or campaigns, despite the location and timing -- but academics are used to this. Larry Lessig spoke on Thursday night. On Friday, Rick Santorum spent over an hour speaking to a few dozen scholars and a few dozen Dordt students -- not more than 150 in all. This was not his stump speech. Rather, Santorum offered some personal reflections on the experience of running for president and the pros and cons of Iowa's outsized role in the nomination process.

Rather than unleash a stream of 20 tweets containing my reaction to Santorum's presentation, I thought it better to offer a more sustained reflection here for the 3 or 4 of you who might find this beneficial or interesting.

When I was 17, I attended a student leadership conference at an American Baptist college in suburban Philadelphia. One day, the organzers bused our group down to Washington for a tour of the Capitol and other sites. The day included a talk by Pennsylvania's junior U.S. Senator. In a briefing room in one of the Senate office buildings, Rick Santorum spoke to our group about public service, the political process, and the role of faith in politics. To be honest, I don't remember much from that day. But considering how my own interest in religion (which had been perfunctory) and politics (which had been ambivalent) intensified in the years following and continuing throughout my personal and professional life, I can't help but wonder what seeds may have been planted that day in July 1998.

With Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa

With Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa

As my political and religious liberalism intensified dramatically in the mid-2000s, I began to regard Santorum with disdain, taking cues from whatever fahshionable elites I was reading at the time. I'm sure I rolled my eyes at Santorum's book, "It Takes a Family." When sex columnist Dan Savage led the effort to create Santorum's infamous Google problem, I probably thought it more clever than obnoxious.

These years later, however, I have a more balanced view of Santorum. I find his devotion to family, Church, and country admirable even though I still disagree with him about many important issues. I think that, by and large, Santorum has been singled out for criticism unfarily by the cultural left. This is not to say the left shouldn't criticize him. I just don't think it's right that he has become a punchline when his views don't seem to differ markedly from most other Republican polticians.

I am also intrigued by the theme of his 2014 book, Blue Collar Conservatives. My interest is less in how the GOP can do more for working class whites than in how Santorum's faith could influence his politics. The idea of the book shows a desire on Santorum's part to do something politically beneficial. But the timid policy proscripions and the failure of the book to change the conversation (let alone its author) reveals, at least in my view, a missed opportunity for religious conservatives in politics to show a little more respect for (or at least a little less disdain for) the broad ecumenical Christian perspective on economics. (For instance, Satnroum favors a modest minimum wage increase, but he seems opposed to changing or even challenging the way the the state and the market distribute the wealth and income our economy creates.)

In the Q & A at Dordt College yesterday, I enjoyed hearing Santorum give unscripted and thoughtful comments on number of issues.

On the subject of America's global leadership, Santorum echoed familiar conservative themes. He is very worried about radical Islam, of course. But he said little that would endear him to Muslims in this country or anywhere else. I can't give exact quotations, but it was stuff like, The West has been fighting radical Islam for a thousand years... Mohammed's kingdom was political and Jesus' was not... Etc. His foreign policy comments were not particularly novel or interesting, in my view.

On the subject of immigration, Santroum gave one of the more thoughtful and coherent defenses of the nativist view. It was a mostly ecominc argument, stressing that our economy and society should use immigration stragetically so that citizens and a proper number of newcomers have the best shot at prosperity. Santorum claimed that the United States will receive 100 million immigrants by 2050 and suggested that the dynamics of our economy, social welfare programs, and workforce participaion rates may struggle to function at optimal levels.

One young man asked Santorum about Pope Francis. I was interestd to hear his answer, because I found that after a brief flirtation with expressing strong disagreement or disapproval with the pope, Republican presidential candidates have realized that it is unhelpful to critize someone with such moral authority. And while the conservative media continues to publish some breathtaking attacks against Pope Francis that evidently generate a lot of clicks and pageviews among the kinds of people who will vote in GOP primaries, candidates and elected officials themselves do not attack the pope as fiercely. Santorum expressed appreciation for the way Pope Francis has connected with people who are not religious or who have abandoned faith or the church. He said that, while he was initially taken aback by some of the things the pope said, he now realizes that A) the context of Francis' remarks are not always presented well in the media and B) the pope is speaking to various audiences with different kinds of speech and rhetoric. Santorum said he disagrees with some of the pope's policy proposals, of course, but I found his overall attitude toward the pope to be fairly respectful and appropriate for a Republican Catholic politican -- or any politican, for that matter.

Santorum complained that the media only gives softball questions to Democrats. So I asked him the softball question of the day: "Mr. Santorum," I said. "You served two full terms before running for president. But they say that every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Given the experience of Obama, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio, what do you think of politicians using the Senate as nothing more than a platform for their presidential ambitions?" I really set him up to slam Rubio, but Santorum demurred. Only a few senators are running, he said. But then he reflected further. In his second term, he said, people began to talk to him about running for president. "I was in my 40s. It was flattering, but on some level I still didn't feel ready." Without signaling out Rubio or Cruz for specific criticism, Santorum did go on to say that we should prefer a president with more experience and wisdom than young, ambitious, celebrity-politicans typically possess.

I would have liked to ask Santorum about how his faith influences his economic views. After the Georgetown Jesuits slammed Paul Ryan in 2012 for his claim that GOP budget priorities align well with Catholic social teaching, something quite remarkable happened. Ryan took the critcism to heart, met with Catholic leaders, disavowed his erstwhile Ayn Rand discipleship, and genuinely tried to learn more about Catholic social teaching. Now, this does not mean Ryan changed his positions on any key issues. But it does indicate that he has a teachable spirit and a sincere willingness to at least hear his critics, particularly when they argue from his own faith tradition. Santorum, as far as I know, has not responded in the same way to that kind of criticism.

Overall, though, I find Santorum to be a compelling figure. He finished a fairly strong second in the 2012 nominating contest. I don't fully understand why he is not a more desirable candidate for conservatvie Republicans. And, while his prospects do not look promising at this point, I would not underestimate him. He seems to genuinely enjoy retail-politics campaigning, and money matters less in Iowa than in most other places. If he is still in the race on caucus night, I expect him to receive more support than his polling numbers reflect.

Ever the optimist, Santorum pointed out that many Iowa caucus goers do not make up their minds until the last moment. "I don't care if I'm not your first choice," he said. "As long as I'm your last choice."

In memoriam: William Milton Lamb (1923-2015)

“If the Lord Is Willing and I Am Able”

Jacob William Lupfer

A Eulogy for
William Milton Lamb
February 23, 1923 — July 13, 2015

Osceola Memory Gardens, Poinciana Chapel
The Reverend Garry Lamb, Officiating
July 17, 2015 — 11:00 a.m.

My name is Jacob William Lupfer. I am one of William Milton Lamb’s four grandchildren. I grew up in Kissimmee but have lived away much of my adult life. My bride and our two young children are at our home in Baltimore, but they send their deepest sympathies to the family. The friends here today honor our family by your presence, and we thank you for your thoughtfulness and compassion in our grief. I am grateful to my mother and to Bro. Garry for inviting me to share some reflections about Milton Lamb. To do so is one of the great honors of my life.

My grandfather — Pa Pa, we called him — was a decisive and principled man. He had a well honed sense of right and wrong, and well formed ideas about exactly what activities would fill his days, weeks, and years. Once he had arrived at an opinion or devised a plan of action, there was no dissuading him.

Often I heard him announce his intention to do something by saying, “If the Lord is willing and I am able…” Did you ever hear him say that? “If the Lord is willing and I am able, I will go to my Army reunion next year.” “If the Lord is willing and I am able, I will plant the spring garden next week.”

It always struck me, especially coming from a man who was so confident in his judgments and sure of his actions. Yet somewhere in that phrase — “If the Lord is willing and I am able…” — contained an acknowledgement that he was not, after all, the master of his fate or the captain of his soul.

Now, when it came to Milton Lamb’s plans, the Lord was usually willing and he was usually able! But with that little saying, he subjugated his intentions to God’s will and to his own human limits.

Some of you knew my Pa Pa in his younger years, when he was a schoolboy, then a soldier, and then a working man. I would have loved to know him as a young man. I heard many stories — sometimes the same ones over again — about growing up in a large family during lean times. Later, people wrote books about the “greatest generation,” the Americans who overcame the Great Depression and defeated totalitarian regimes before building a society of shared prosperity and broadening conceptions of equality. I was proud to know my Nanny and Pa Pa as members of that greatest generation. Their entire lives embodied their commitment to what T. S. Eliot called “the permanent things:” faith, family, the dignity of work, the fellowship of friends. From my earliest memory, I knew there was a lot of goodness and love in that little Lancaster green farmhouse where my Nanny and Pa Pa lived.

One of my greatest advantages growing up here was the experience of living near all my grandparents. Now that I am raising my own children far away, I am even more grateful that I saw my grandparents often when I was a boy. In Osceola County, the Lupfers were town people and the Lambs were country people. My Lupfer grandparents taught me things they learned from their books and their travels. My Lamb grandparents weren’t big readers. Except for Pa Pa’s military service and later trips to Army reunions, they rarely went further from Osceola County than Cook County, Georgia, where they kept a home in their later years.

Even so, I learned so much when I was in their care and in their company. My Nanny and Pa Pa lived by virtues that I always found to be true, no matter how many books I read or how widely I traveled. They taught me the value of a strong sense of place. With deep Florida pioneer roots on both sides of the family, my grandfather knew this land better than anyone. I knew my native Florida was flat, but I never gave much thought to the lay of the land or to the native plants. But my Pa Pa knew all this. He knew where the high places and low-lying areas were. He knew how rainwater drained through the soil and sand, and what would grow there. He knew his way around the lakes and the swamps and the islands. He loved and respected the land. He worked it with his own hands, whether drilling wells, digging post holes for fences, or tending his groves and his garden. I could never tell the difference between, say, 91 degrees and 96. But Pa Pa would sit in the shade on a hot day when he knew it would be even hotter the next. Just as he knew this land like the back of his hand, he could feel the weather in his bones. He knew instinctively which winter mornings would have a frost. And, any season of the year, he could tell you exactly what time the dew would dry off the grass. I guess after ninety-two winters and ninety-two summers, you notice some things. But he taught me to pay attention.

My Pa Pa taught me to be trustworthy and loyal. He said when you meet someone, should look him in the eye and say your full name as you shake his hand. Even in a world governed by legal contracts and dishonest people, your name and your handshake were your honor. Reputations for fairness and integrity are hard earned and easily lost, so always keep your word and treat others with respect.

He was a laborer as much as a businessman, but he took his dealings seriously. In the old farm house, he kept his desk tidy. There was an almanac calendar above the desk that charted the phases of the moon. It later hung in the kitchen in the mobile home after they moved across the street from the old place. He penciled in rainfall totals each day. For many years, he used a rain gauge that my father’s firm, Lupfer-Frakes Insurance, sent to clients one Christmas. Of course, there was never a computer on his desk — he often said his brain was his computer. And, to the very end of his life, his memory was sharp. I’m convinced this is because he was a deliberate and thoughtful man who practiced healthy habits of mind as he grew old.

Pa Pa wasn’t a big music lover, but I remember Nanny listening to gospel music and Johnny Cash tapes. They tuned in faithfully to listen to the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast on Saturday nights.

My Pa Pa taught me that it was virtuous to live frugally, and no sin to live comfortably. But he never lived extravagantly and he always stayed well within his means. He enjoyed good food — after all, Ethel Lamb cooked for him for 55 years. He referred to supper as “the evening meal.” Lunch was “the noon meal,” and he did not like to start eating at 11:59 or 12:01. But he enjoyed food and other pleasures in moderation: a chaw of Red Man chewing tobacco in his recliner or a cold beer after an afternoon spent working outside.

Even so, he wasted few hours and even fewer dollars in his life on the vain fashions and mindless entertainments that were the irresistible yet inevitably unsatisfying products of our consumerist society. Quite against culture and often at greater effort and expense, Pa Pa bought American-made goods whenever he could. He demonstrated the value in owning things that were worth repairing rather than just throwing away. I could not help but be impressed by his sadness upon not being able to find a snap-button Western-cut shirt that was made in the U.S.A.

He was not an intellectual, but he had an abundance of common sense in an age where it often wasn’t so common. As my life experiences put me in touch with scholars and specialists in many fields, it often occurred to me that my Pa Pa knew more about life and had more common sense than the experts. “If you want to go into business, he would say, “Start a restaurant or a barber shop, because people have to eat and they have to get their hair cut.” How can you argue with that? “If we are strong militarily, other countries won’t attack us.” Some of his attitudes found expression in bumper stickers on his truck: “Gun control is knowing how to hit your target” and “Protect Florida’s most endangered species — the native.” His patriotism impressed me, and not only because he was justly proud of his veteran status. He loved America unconditionally, but he did not hesitate to say when he thought she had been wrong. He cherished our founding principles of life, liberty and property, and never tired of defending them to anyone who would listen.

Pa Pa taught me the value of community. He was never an activist, but he was a good and dutiful citizen, once campaigning unsuccessfully for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners. He contributed to various causes, and was always as willing to roll up his sleeves as to write a check. For years, he was the trustee of the Pleasant Hill Cemetery, where we will lay his body to rest today. This was actual work, not just sitting on a board. He coordinated cemetery work days, dutifully maintaining the hallowed ground in which his pioneer ancestors lie, and which, if the Lord was willing and he was able, would one day receive his own body.

Milton Lamb was a good neighbor and he had good neighbors. He was a good friend, and he had good friends. Many decades after their service, my Pa Pa and his Army buddies from the Second World War stayed in touch and gathered for reunions. Once, he told me about repairing a damaged friendship when the other person was dying. As stubborn as my Pa Pa sometimes was, in this case, he regretted that he waited so long. Principles were important to him, but people were always more valuable and merited a higher devotion.

Over the years, he took joy in his neighbors. Whether for a brief season or the better part of a lifetime, he so loved the people around him. Milton and Ethel befriended Lamar and Ann Griffin of Adel, Georgia as soon as they bought a place there. The couples had a great fellowship and visited back and forth over the years. Rudy and Lovie Zimmerman, who lived on Reaves Road, often came over to play cards in the evening. Of course, Lamb nieces, nephews, and cousins from near and far were always welcome guests. And when you did have the pleasure of being a guest at their dinner table, they preferred if you came early or stayed late. As often as not, you would leave with a bag of citrus from their grove or mason jars of vegetables from their garden, the fruits of the earth and of their kind and generous hands.

My favorite Lamb family food tradition (besides Ethel’s legendary chicken and dumplings) was at Christmastime. Who wants a boring old baked ham for Christmas Dinner when you can have barbecue ribs? Pa Pa bought the finest racks of spareribs and prepared them lovingly for the grill. He called them “skinny boy’s ribs,” a reference to the Kissimmee barbecue restaurant, Fat Boy’s. Over the years, he enjoyed many meals there with friends and with his beloved wife. Even when he dined there alone, he was sure to run in to an old timer or some other familiar face.

On Pa Pa’s table sat a leather bound King James Bible. To be honest, I never saw him read it. But when I looked closely once, I noticed that it was very well-thumbed. The edges of the pages, ruffled and discolored with dirt and oil from his fingertips accumulated through the years bore silent witness to the times Pa Pa sat quietly and alone, reading the Scriptures and inwardly digesting them. Likewise, his prayer before every meal was barely audible. (“Lord, give us humble and thankful hearts for this and all our blessings.”) In addition to bowing his head, he covered his face with his hand. His faith was between him and God, and he never felt the need to show it off. His reverence reminded me of the words of the Lord himself, who said “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray…that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But…pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:5-6).

After Pa Pa became a widower in 2001, his relationship with his great-grandson, Darren Lamb, became central to both of their lives. Pa Pa enjoyed something of a new childhood with Darren — one filled with BB guns, fishing poles, 4-wheelers, and even a couple new pickup trucks along the way. Darren brought life and joy to Pa Pa, who provided Darren guidance and support as he grew from a boy into a man.

In his final years, Pa Pa continued to live independently, thanks in no small part to the service and friendship of Shirley Lanier. His decision to move to a newer house in Polk County surprised all of us who had known him over the years. What would he do with a yard so small it didn’t need to be mowed with a tractor? How long would it take a libertarian-minded homesteader to run afoul of a neighborhood association with codes and covenants? On describing the property to me, Pa Pa seemed absolutely mystified about the hedges people planted in front of and between their houses. “I can’t imagine why they plant so many plants that don’t bear anything.” As it turned out, you can take the man off the farm but you can never really take the farm out of the man. As late as this spring, Pa Pa had a handsome little garden spot outside his suburban home with a few neatly planted and meticulously weeded rows.

Of all the friends, relatives, and neighbors who cherished Milton Lamb over the years, I want express special gratitude to a few on behalf of my mother and our entire family. Before, and especially since, my Nanny died, Kevin and Susie Paras looked after my Pa Pa with exceptional love and care. Kevin helped keep the place up, sweating alongside and often in place of Pa Pa over the years with the devotion of a son. Susie was always the first to stop by and check on him when he was ill, always willing to help him with anything he needed. Susie and Kevin were both family and neighbors, and yet their devotion to Milton Lamb was extraordinary. Over at the new Auburndale house, Don and Pam Elrod were the best neighbors anyone could’ve asked for. Pam regularly prepared meals to share with my Pa Pa. Don and Pa Pa became fast friends, and Don looked out for Pa Pa’s best interests.

Considering the span of my Pa Pa’s life, it is amazing to think how much the world changed from 1923 to 2015. One thing that stayed remarkably constant across those 92 years was Milton Lamb. His steadfastness could be frustrating at times, especially for those of us who occasionally took on the fruitless task of attempting to change his mind about some opinion or course of action. But in the end, I choose to view his intractable nature not as obstinacy, but rather as an admirable blend of constancy, conviction, self-reliance, and commitment to principles.

Recently, Pa Pa decided that if the Lord was willing and he was able, he would move back to his mobile home on Ham Brown Road. But as soon as he arrived there, his health declined irreversibly. A man who had overcome two heart attacks and numerous hospitalizations with a fierce will to live quickly realized, and accepted, that his life would end soon. This time, Milton Lamb knew, the Lord was not willing and he was not able. And my Pa Pa accepted that. Family and dear friends gathered, “I love yous” were exchanged, and William Milton Lamb died peacefully in his sleep late in the evening of July 13, 2015.

Today, we gather to witness to our faith: to the Christian hope of resurrection, to the belief that the souls of the righteous find their rest in the mystery and eternity of God, and to the truth St. Paul taught in his Letter to the Romans: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” (14:8). We trust that God received William Milton Lamb into the arms of his mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints of light (Book of Common Prayer), a multitude no man may number (Rev. 7:9), whose hope was in the Word made flesh. Christians await God’s future, when he “shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

All this is the Lord’s work, to be accomplished in the fullness of God’s time.

For us, thankfully, the task is simpler. All I ask is that you remember William Milton Lamb. Remember his goodness. Teach your children the virtues he lived by, as I will teach mine. In great ways and small, each of us can honor his memory in the unfolding of our lives.

And if the Lord is willing and we are able, we shall.

UMC General Conference Delegates' Built-In Institutional Bias

With another Annual Conference season wrapping up for U.S. United Methodists, we have seen yet again the good, the bad, and the ugly of The UMC's connectional polity. As in every year before General Conference, elections dominated AC agendas.

Many others have spoken passionately and eloquently about the need for balance among GC delegates: an equal number of men and women, sufficient inclusion of ethnic minorities, a chance for younger people to serve the Church in this way, etc.

Delegates and visitors at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader and Bishop John White are on the screens. Photo credit: Kathleen Barry/UMNS

Delegates and visitors at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader and Bishop John White are on the screens. Photo credit: Kathleen Barry/UMNS

I want to make a different point. Having observed several GC delegation election cycles (both up close and from afar), I notice a bias that (to my knowledge) few people have commented on or found problematic.

General Conference delegates skew hugely toward clergy's interests and the interests of the Church as an institution.

First, consider the clergy delegations. I would love to see solid data on this, but anecdotally it seems that district superintendents and conference staff are hugely overrepresented. Now, it may be true that these clergy are uniquely more qualified to be GC delegates because of their inside knowledge and their more visible and prominent career success. But I have met enough layfolk (and clergy) who view many of these positions with skepticism and feel that the people who hold these jobs have enough authority and prestige day-to-day that clergy delegations should not stack the deck with cabinet members and church bureaucrats.

But my main point concerns laity, not clergy. How many lay delegates are clergy candidates, employees of UM churches/entities, or the spouses or children of clergy? Though all of these people are, in fact, laypeople, they bring a very different perspective than laypeople with no vocational or financial interest in The UMC as an institution. Their desire to serve and lead is admirable. But it is foolish to think that, in the aggregate, the dozens (or 100+) of current and future church employees, as well as clergy's close relatives, are the same as laypeople who lack such intimate connections to the institutional church. The UMC should think about what difference, if any, these insider lay delegates make at GC.

These issues are quite different from the usual concerns about demographic representation. They are also somewhat separate from concerns about lay and clergy delegates who are elected quadrennium after quadrennium. People should understand the arguments for and against having the same delegates attend many General Conferences. I am inclined to think there is value in having experienced leaders who know the process and can teach first-time delegates. But, of course, the presence of so many veteran GC delegates prevents new people from being elected in the first place.

While there are, of course, other factors, name recognition and reputation seem to matter most. Perhaps this is what helps so many clergy relatives and well-known seminarians get elected to lay delegations. The Church should be aware of this dynamic and consider the implications.

One constant knock against mainline churches is that they often seem less compelling, creative, flexible, and innovative in their disciple-making because so much money and energy is consumed in nursing along an institution. In my view, so many insider lay delegates may tip the balance at GC too much toward institutional maintenance.

A final note: I am not a United Methodist. Everything I have said here could be completely wrong. Like untold millions of people raised in UM churches, I never made my way back to The UMC after I left. I study and write about institutional Christianity. My primary frame of reference for the observations above is the Florida Annual Conference, which I attended a few times in the mid-2000s. I still maintain an interest because I have a number of clergy friends there and in other jurisdictions. I have observed similar dynamics in other annual conferences. I wish nothing but the best for The UMC as it strives toward Wesley's goal: "To revive the nation, particularly the Church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land."


Santorum 2016: Right Message, Wrong Messenger?

By all usual metrics, Rick Santorum should be well positioned to compete for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Yet as the former Pennsylvania senator and 2012 runner-up announced his candidacy last week, his chances seem remote.

It would be a mistake to write him off. When the last election cycle begin, Santorum was an unknown candidate with a Google problem. He went on to win 11 primaries and caucuses.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) announcing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination May 27, 2015 in Cabot, PA. Photo:  AARON JOSEFCZYK,  REUTERS

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) announcing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination May 27, 2015 in Cabot, PA. Photo: AARON JOSEFCZYK,  REUTERS

Throughout 2011, Santorum struggled to gain traction. A series of other conservatives catapulted ahead in the polls, only to fade from the race amid gaffes (Rick Perry), scandals (Herman Cain), and general cluelessness (Michele Bachmann). Backed by billionaire financier Foster Freiss, Santorum held his own in debates and built a robust organization in Iowa.

After Santorum’s surprise win in the Iowa caucuses, a group of religious right leaders convened at a Texas activist's ranch to consolidate their support behind one candidate in hopes that social conservatives' unity could thwart the allegedly moderate Mitt Romney in his path to the nomination.

Santorum received the religious right's nod over Newt Gingrich and Perry. But Gingrich won the South Carolina primary and Romney secured the nomination.

If history is any guide, Santorum should expect significant support this time around. As he is fond of pointing out, every GOP nominee meets one of three tests. "One, they were vice president. Two, they were the son of a former president. And three, they came in second place the last time and ran again and won." 

Yet Santorum has a different image and appeal than past nominees who received the nod on their second attempt. He was a grassroots favorite, whereas Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Bob Dole were establishment figures.

Santorum has not held elected office since he lost his bid for a third Senate term in 2006. But he has won twice as many statewide elections as Mitt Romney. Santorum also has three times as much Senate experience as Marco Rubio and Rand Paul (not to mention Barack Obama), and six times more experience than Ted Cruz. Sure, Santorum's foreign policy qualifications are thin, but that hardly hurts him in a field filled with national security novices.

Santorum may have spent the past 8 years as a politician without an office, but he has continually honed his message. His 2014 book, Blue Collar Conservatives, chides the GOP for doing so little to help working people. Against conservative orthodoxy, Santorum now supports a small increase in the minimum wage. He peppers his speeches with rhetoric about how Republicans sound like all they care about is giving rich people a tax cut. (Though there is plenty of doubt about whether Santorum’s policies would actually help struggling families.)

His belief that marriage is between a man and a woman is well known. While frontrunners Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have faced questions about their social conservative bona fides, Santorum's are impeccable. His new economic populism, however modest, sets him apart from his rivals. The rest of his appeal has plenty of red meat for the anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare, and anti-immigrant factions of the party.

A devout Catholic and father of seven, Santorum and his family often attend Latin Mass at their Northern Virginia parish. Santorum agrees with the Church on abortion and marriage. But like any good Republican, he opposes Pope Francis on a wide range of non-sex-related issues. Santorum’s populist economic rhetoric may make him the least bad of the bad Catholics in the race.

In a field crowded with polished candidates in addition to the presidential-campaign-as-FOX-News-audition tier, the GOP seems content to pass on Santorum.

Yet a party the public thinks cares mostly about rich people’s interests should think twice before ignoring the only candidate with a populist economic agenda.

In 2012, Rick Santorum had to wait for other candidates to falter in order to make his rise. He may not be so lucky this time. But with Foster Friess’s millions and an unshakeable belief in his message, Santorum may stay in the race long enough to be a factor once again.

Quick Thoughts on Political Polarization and the Catholic Church

Today and tomorrow at the University of Notre Dame, an ideologically diverse group of Catholic leaders is gathering to discuss how political polarization affects the Catholic life in the United States. Under the theme, "Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal," the conference has the potential to start conversations, improve thinking, and change the tone of political engagement by laypeople, priests, and religious.

Though I am not Catholic, I am increasingly convinced that, compared with secular political ideologies and other churches' political teachings, the Catholic Church's social teaching is the most comprehensively and authentically "Christian" ethic, and the one most oriented to the common good. The Catholic Church is at the heart of ecumenical Christian consensus on political issues.

Other ethical systems are much more bound to specific eras, locations, and political or economic frameworks. Yet Catholics, like all Americans, experience the effects of ideological and partisan polarization. It's too simplistic to naively hope that a Christian Democrat party will magically emerge in the United States. (Would today's partisan Catholics support a "Catholic" party even if one existed?)

Our two-party system is a reality that is unlikely to change any time soon. Party loyalty is strong, usually fixed by early adulthood and relatively stable across the life span. Partisanship is much more strongly correlated with ideology than with ethno-religious identity, as in the past. Catholics must figure out how to be faithful citizens in a partisan framework that challenges them more acutely than it challenges many other religious adherents.

Conservative evangelicals can be faithful Republicans because their churches affirm social/sexual conservatism but are mostly weak (if not silent) on matters of economics, deferring to markets and accepting (if not outright sanctifying) the way The Market distributes resources in society. Mainline Protestant denominations' political teachings line up neatly with the Democratic Party's platform across a range of issues.

Orthodox Christians, black Protestants, and moderate evangelical traditions also cut across the two major parties. But since the Catholic Church is the largest and most universal, I am especially interested in how the Notre Dame conference shapes Christian engagement with the realities of partisan and ideological polarization in the Church.

I am not very proficient at Storify, twitter essays, or even blogging, but here are some preliminary thoughts.

I may not have the opportunity to write more about the #UnaEcclesia conference. But I send my best wishes to all who participate. I look forward to studying and discussing how Catholics embrace (and challenge) partisanship.

Thoughts on a Walker Percy Passage from 'Love in the Ruins'

Ever since my brother gave me a copy of Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book during a tumultuous period in my life, Walker Percy has been one of my absolute favorite writers. Percy was without parallel in his keen perception of the modern self's estrangement from itself. He understood the fragmentation and alienation that changes in technology, economics, and morals would bring to American society. What I find so stunning is that Percy arrived at these conclusions and distilled them in his writing at a time when others were just beginning to recognize them. Many of the cultural and social phenomena I study and write about are things that Percy intuitively grasped 30, 40, 50 years ago.

When I finish a Percy book, I tend to read it again and again rather than move on to the next one. But last week I began reading Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World (1971) for the first time. In the span of 50 pages or so, I repeatedly paused to re-read, read aloud, or tweet out poignant passages.

Usually I light up most when Percy hits on what he considered the theme of his literary work, "the dislocation of man in the modern age." But a passage that struck me in Love in the Ruins was when the main character and narrator (Dr. Thomas More) recalled a happier time, before his daughter (Samantha) died and his wife (Doris) left him for a "heathen Englishman."

The best of times were after mass on summer evenings when Samantha and I would walk home in the violet dusk, we having received Communion and I rejoicing afterwards, caring nought for my fellow Catholics but only for myself and Samantha and Christ swallowed, remembering what he promised me for eating him, that I would have life in me, and I did, feeling so good that I’d sing and cut the fool all the way home like King David before the Ark. Once home, light up the charcoal briquets out under the TV transmitter, which lofted its red light next to Venus like a ruby and a diamond in the plum velvet sky. Snug down Samantha with the Wonderful World of Color in the den (the picture better than life, having traveled only one hundred feet straight down), back to the briquets, take four, five, six long pulls from the quart of Early Times, shout with joy for the beauty of the world, sing ‘Finch ‘han dal vino’ from Don Giovanni and ‘Holy God We Praise Thy Name,’ conceive a great heart-leaping desire for Doris, go fetch Doris, whose lip would curl at my proposal but who was nonetheless willing, who in fact now that she thought of it was as lusty as could be, her old self once again, a lusty Shenandoah Valley girl, Apple Queen of the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester. Lead her by the hand beyond the azaleas where we’d fling ourselves upon each other and fall down on the zoysia grass, thick-napped here as a Kerman rug.
— Walker Percy, "Love in the Ruins" (1971)

So much life and joy in this passage! One could argue that God needn't be a part of someone feeling such deep and abiding love for family and connection with the universe. But here, in Thomas More's case, Percy shows that sharing in the divine life can be the source of immeasurable joy.

(Also, not a bad argument for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.)

As the novel progresses, we see that Thomas More is mostly lost and miserable when he lives apart from God (as a "bad Catholic"). Dr. More slides into a life of drunkenness and womanizing. Though he never stops believing, he cannot be forgiven because he lacks contrition and purpose of abandonment.

As someone whose Christian upbringing was more often dour than ecstatic, it is hard even now for me to imagine that the kind of joy Percy describes here is humanly (or divinely) possible, let alone what God actually intends.

Love in the Ruins is brilliant. Highly recommended, and all the more so if you, like me, have experienced spiritual malaise.