Why Rick Santorum needs big government

His ideas may rouse conservatives, but they won't necessarily make them better off.

By MSNMoney partner Mar 19, 2012 2:25PM
 U.S. News & World Report on MSN MoneyRick Newman, U.S. News

Among the people surprised by Rick Santorum's success in the presidential campaign is Rick Santorum. The former senator has clearly struck a nerve among conservative voters that Santorum himself may not even fully understand.

Santorum's early focus on moral and social issues has evolved into a broader rant about bossy government, curtailed freedoms and fading opportunity. On the stump, Santorum's biggest applause lines tend to come when he bashes President Obama's healthcare reform law, complains about too much regulation, and argues for more personal responsibility and less government caretaking. "I believe in people having the opportunity to take care of themselves," he often tells voters.

His pitch is clearly working. Though running on fumes compared to Mitt Romney's corporatized machine, Santorum has now won nine nominating contests and shocked the former Massachusetts governor by nearly knocking him off in Ohio, a key battleground state. Six months ago, practically nobody guessed that Santorum would be prolonging, and perhaps derailing, the coronation of the presumed GOP nominee.

Santorum is channeling voter angst about falling living standards and national decline. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal argues that Santorum's frequent use of the word "freedom" is a catch-all code word for everything that bothers conservatives, especially a government that seems too big and imposing, and ineffective besides. The solution to this assault on freedom, of course, is to roll back regulations, kill Obamacare and shrink government's role in everyday life.

Fair enough. But that leaves a vital question unanswered: After getting government out of our lives, then what?

Conservatives rosily assume that prosperity is being strangled by an overgrown federal bureaucracy and that pruning back government will allow businesses and their workers to flourish once again. Many moderates and centrists agree with conservatives that the U.S. government has grown unsustainably large and needs to shrink. But it is folly to think that a smaller government alone will somehow reinvigorate the U.S. economy.

The two biggest forces transforming the economy, driving jobs overseas and pushing down wages are globalization and the digital revolution. Shrinking the size of government won't do anything to reverse those trends. Santorum talks about taking steps to return American manufacturing to its glory days, but the kind of targeted stimulus that would require actually runs counter to his broader idea of smaller, laissez-faire government.

Repealing Obamacare is another red herring. The Affordable Care Act has many flaws and the jury is still out on whether it will do more good than harm. But health reform passed in 2010 because of a huge and legitimate problem: Far too many Americans lack health insurance and access to basic medical care. Repealing Obamacare would leave that problem even worse than it was when Obama took office, because high unemployment and corporate cost-cutting have increased the number of Americans without health insurance to about 50 million, four million more than in 2008.

So let's say Santorum got his way and was somehow able to repeal Obamacare. Then what? There's no evidence the free market will provide a solution to the crisis of the uninsured. Would we simply continue to make do with 50 million uninsured Americans? Or would conservatives, who have long opposed any kind of government solution to inadequate healthcare, suddenly come up with a better plan than Obama's? (By the way, these are good questions for Mitt Romney, too.)

Obamacare will be a key fault line in the general election in the fall, because it has become a proxy for public dyspepsia in general. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 38 percent of respondents who are opposed to Obamacare said it's because of negative feelings toward Washington in general, and worries about the overall direction of the country. Only 27 percent of people who opposed the law said it's purely because of what's in the law itself. So a lot of people are taking out their frustrations on a piece of legislation that they don't know much about, and which hasn't actually affected them yet.

Even if Obamacare were to benefit many of its detractors, they might still complain. That's how it works with Medicare and Social Security, two programs that are as popular as ever, even though attitudes toward government have soured significantly. When asked their views of government spending, many Americans, it seems, exempt these programs for retirees from consideration.

The irony of Santorum's policies is that actually enacting them might make many of his core supporters worse off. Santorum enjoys strong support among blue-collar workers and lower-income Americans, for example, which are groups that stand to benefit from nanny-state programs like federal extensions of unemployment insurance--and yes, Obamacare, once it goes into effect in 2014.

For Santorum, the best government may be a big, unwieldy one that stays exactly as it is, because it gives him a bogeyman to campaign against. If he were ever to "free" people from the oppressive yoke of government, it might feel good for a while. But if that's all he did, before long, many people would wonder why all of the old problems are still there.

Rick Newman is the author of "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success," to be published in May. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

More from Rick Newman

Mar 21, 2012 9:55PM
Having heard a few of Santorums' interviews, I have heard too much religious direction for "all" people to follow. He would be better served to practice his religion instead of sounding as if he wants to enforce it.
Mar 21, 2012 8:12PM

As someone who has never been unemployed or failed to pay my own fair share for healthcare for myself and my family, I am 100% in favor of Obamacare.  I think in 10 or 20 years we will look back and wonder why we did not do it sooner.  This is not about personal responsibility, its about effectiveness.  The US spends more on healthcare, and receives less tangible benefit (infant mortality rate, average life expectancy) than any other industrial nation on Earth.


The 'health insurance' companies could care less about your health; they are for-profit insurance monopolies, that's all.  They routinely drop people in poor health when they can.  They erect 'pre-existing condition' barriers that you must scale with documentation from a previous employer.  They maximize profit and spend 20% or more of every healthcare dollar on paperwork.  People who praise their healthcare either have never really used their healthcare (an extended hospital stay or illness for example) or they are retirees with gold-plated healthcare benefits from yesteryear; those benefits aren't generally available anymore.  Failing health is a leading cause of family bankruptcy in America. 


The healthcare industry has had decades to deal with the problem of the rising cost of care; they have failed to bring any useful solutions to the table.  They fly around in corporate jets, reward their stockholders, count their money and fund anti-Obamacare propaganda.  Some industries that have a defacto monopoly, like utilities, need government regulation.  Even Hayak and Keynes agreed that providing some kind of catastrophic healthcare was one reasonable function of government.



Mar 22, 2012 2:45AM
We spend an average of twice what the rest of the world spends on healthcare, and get worse results for it. How is it that anyone thinks that we dont need health care reform. Doctors told us in the 90s that tort reform would reduce healthcare costs, well the results are in folks it didnt. I spend a ridiculous amount of money on health insurance for my family, and every year it goes up and up...much faster than inflation...why! If Obama care is going to hurt the growth of businesses than we need to address that but to say we dont need healthcare reform in this country to someone in my shoes seems crazy.
Mar 22, 2012 1:15AM

Medicare is well run by all measures, and so is the adminstration of the VA hospital system.  Maybe these government-run institutions should form the template for healthcare reform in America, but the medical lobby is too strong... so Obamacare is at least a step in the right direction.


I'm not going to worship the private sector.  My experience in several positions in large and small companies is that they are generally in it for themselves... profit motive is great, but it moves all the jobs to Asia.  Innovation is great, but the bottom line always looms, and corporations will always serve the bottom line.  The CEO is thinking about his bonus, not about lowering the cost of his product to you.  Capitalism is great, but I'm not so sure that healthcare is a good place for rampant capitalism.  It obviously is not working well.


I appreciate the airbags and other safety features in my car.  I appreciate clean air and clean water.  I appreciate labor laws that don't lock people in sweat shops for 12 hrs a day.  None of these things came about through the natural innovation and profit motive of the private sector, or through smaller government.  They are normal functions of government.


So criticize government when it ignores corruption on Wall Street or wages unfunded $1T wars, but lets get past the election year postering and give government its due.

Mar 21, 2012 7:37PM
If Santorum does get the nomination{very doubtful} That will assure Obama of at least a 15 point victory.
Mar 21, 2012 10:14PM
A Santorum admin won't be a whole lot different than Obama. They are both big government types and from the advisors they pick they will get the same advice.
Mar 27, 2012 11:17AM
Finally, someone has hit this right on the nose! If only the teapubs would realize this, and stop their crusade against Obamacare, as they like to call it, we truely could get things done. Their fear mongering is getting very tiresome! And the teapubs, as well as the dems will both benefit by this health care plan!
Mar 21, 2012 9:30PM

Are you saying the government will be more efficient at providing healthcare for people than private companies? Maybe you think that because the government has done so well at staying on budget...or done so well at managing our Social Security contributions...

If anything costs will increase dramatically if you get the government acting like a big insurance agency. Do you know why healthcare costs are rising? Improved (but more expensive) healthcare and greater demand thanks to population fluctuations. Thanks to capitalism in the drug market we now have drugs for cancer and AIDS and other illnesses that we only dreamed of years ago. That all costs money.

I agree a safety net needs to be available to those without healthcare, but Obamacare doesn't address the costs of healthcare. That's why I'm not in favor of Obamacare, but in favor of a system where there is more personal responsibility. Otherwise, I think we will look back 10 or 20 years and think why didn't we cut our entitlements back. We knew we had to, but now we've ended up like Greece. 
Mar 20, 2012 3:29PM
"After getting government out of our lives, then what?"

I realize that it can be scary for some people to have to provide for themselves - to make individual decisions and to live with the consequences of those decisions. It's called "personal responsibility" and too many people refuse to give it a legitimate shot these days. But the question isn't about what will happen when the government gets out of our lives. The question is, why is the government currently involved in our every day lives, especially to the high degree that it is involved?

"Conservatives rosily assume that prosperity is being strangled by an overgrown federal bureaucracy and that pruning back government will allow businesses and their workers to flourish once again."

This isn't a rosy assumption. It's a demonstrated fact that has been proven time and again throughout history. Less government = less regulation and taxation. And less regulation and taxation means more money for the actual productive elements of society. Those that produce are the ones that create the wealth in society. If they are more free and can keep what they earn, then yes, prosperity will rise. The current policies of our government have driven businesses and jobs out of this country, which has taken a large degree of prosperity with it. 

"So let's say Santorum got his way and was somehow able to repeal Obamacare. Then what? There's no evidence the free market will provide a solution to the crisis of the uninsured. Would we simply continue to make do with 50 million uninsured Americans?"

This is not a question for government to answer if the government's only solution is to take from one to give to another. If you are uninsured, that's not my problem. You have no right to force me to pay for your insurance or your health care. The government certainly does not have that right. The idea that the "free market" won't take care of this "crisis" isn't exactly an accurate notion. First of all, the market is not free. There is no laissez-faire capitalism in the United States - and there never has been. We absolutely do not have that today. Secondly, it can only be a "crisis" if you do not have insurance. And of those who don't have insurance, it is only a "crisis" if they are in dire need of help to pay for large medical bills. But if they didn't want a plan, or couldn't afford one, why is it everyone else's responsibility to ensure that they get one? Why should one group of individuals be forced to provide for another?

In other words - Why is it OK to make one group of people the slaves to another group? 

I thought that slavery was immoral - or at least frowned upon. Is it safe to assume that it really isn't if it serves your political ideology?
Mar 21, 2012 11:29PM
1791....the American government was $75 million in debt.

1914...the American government was $2.9 billion in debt.

1944.....$201 billion of debt.....and today the American taxpayers for this fiscal year October-February have already paid  $186,670,292,515.87 in interest on over $15 trillion of debt.

Stop thinking a party can run the government..... party is what put this great union in debt.......and the spending will only stop when We the People put themselves in charge and put a stop to the spending that the government started back in the beginning.



"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasure. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage." Alexander Tyler

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives and liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State." - James Madison

You people had better understand what "few and defined" means.
Mar 22, 2012 2:13AM
"Capitalism is great, but I'm not so sure that healthcare is a good place for rampant capitalism."

No - you're right. It should be a refuge for rampant socialism. That's a much better idea.
Mar 20, 2012 1:11PM

There will always be a tension when caring people see anyone lacking care.  However, limited resources always dictates that there will be some in society who receive less care than others.  The question is how many and how much less?  50 million uninsured sounds like a lot, and it is, but that doesn't mean it is our duty to make that number zero.  It is not PC to say this, but many kids have chosen to drop out of school.  Many more have chosen not to apply themselves.  No the schools did not fail them.  They and their families failed them.  Part of the consequence of that is they do not have access to all that society has to offer in terms of quality of life.  Then there are those who have lost benefits due to a bad economy.  They need a government that allows businesses to create opportunities.


Obamacare is already coming in at twice the cost we were told it would with first year overruns of over $100 billion, and that's before the costliest provisions kick in.  Government is lousy at this sort of thing.  Liberal columnists like to point out how private enterprise fails but rarely will they shine a light on the greater failures of government.  A healthy, growing economy as we once had will bring more benefits to more people than can a socialist redistribution policy.


In either case, there will always be some number who go without.  A fiscally conservative, smaller government, with policies to bring manufacturing home will be the path with the fewest people left behind.  And then, maybe those of us who already do so, along with some more prosperous neighbors, can privately support the truly needy.

Mar 22, 2012 9:29AM

Honestly this article sounds like it was written by someone unable to articulate a coherant argument in favor of Big Government but wanted to try anyway.


"So let's say Santorum got his way and was somehow able to repeal Obamacare. Then what? There's no evidence the free market will provide a solution to the crisis of the uninsured."


There is no "crisis of the uninsured". That is just a liberal talking point used to scare people who are responsible who either by buying insurance or making sure they have enough money squirreled away to cover medical expenses out of pocket should they have an emergency.  The "crisis" is that there are a lot of irresponsible people who do not want to take care of themselves and their debts.  They just expect someone else to foot the bill when they get sick and hope the hospitals will see them as a charity case, write down the debt and then charge the responsible people more to make up for the losses.


The solution to this problem is to make the irresponsible pay their debts and make them responsible.  You hold them accountable.  This is made difficult however by government which meddles in the free markets and encourages health care providers to take care of sick deadbeats free of charge, to them anyway, and find someone else to bill instead.  Of course making people responsible for their own expenses sounds cruel to liberal minded folks who think that they can keep passing on bills to other people.  They will whine and moan that the irresponsible without insurance or means to pay out of pocket will not seek medical care if their wages can be garnished (if that is the means to be instituted to get them to pay) to pay for the services they consume or some such tripe.  Well, that is their choice.  What is more important to them?  That's liberty.  That is the free markets.  You make a choice.  If you life is that worthless to you that you do not want to seek and pay for your own care then maybe the world is better off without you.


It is time for everyone to put their big girl panties on and grow up.


Now as for Santorum, his problem is that, like all the other GOP candidates (including Ron Paul), he actually loves big, unconstitutional government.  He just doesn't like as much of it or like it in the same areas as Barack Obama does.  America is going to get the choice of two demons in November and that is a scary prospect.


Mar 21, 2012 9:05PM

Paying for Gov provided health care is the big unknown. I would assume gas prices would be taxed to acquire more revenue. It really does not bother me at the moment as my wife and I will be out of the workforce in a few short years. The folks that will get soaked with the brunt is our young folks. That concerns me form a level of fairness or lack there of. I would hope part of the payment from the "lower" wage sect is taken from the earned income credit.

 I find it humorous that some folks really believe this will be repealed. A super majority of votes{66.7} I think, is needed. That will not happen. Only hope for the repeal it crowd is the Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional. Ha Ha.

Mar 22, 2012 1:55AM

"This is not about personal responsibility, its about effectiveness."

That doesn't exactly help your argument. Governments are generally inefficient and slow-acting. But I wholly disagree - this is entirely about personal responsibility. Who is responsible for your own health other than yourself? And if you are not solely responsible for it, what kind of liberties are you willing to sacrifice by putting your health decisions in the hands of other individuals? 

"The 'health insurance' companies could care less about your health; they are for-profit insurance monopolies, that's all."

I wouldn't say they're "monopolies," considering the numerous companies that exist and compete with each other. But if there are monopolies in any certain area, they're most likely created and/or perpetuated by the government in that area. And perhaps health insurance companies don't care about your health. I don't really see how that affects the service they are offering. 

The purpose of providing insurance is to give the purchaser a plan that will cover unforeseen expenses - or today, one that will cover routine doctor visits and preventative care - with a calculated risk by the provider that most people will not experience a catastrophic illness or injury. The provider mitigates their risk by selling their plans to a large number of generally healthy people who wish to have that protection. And of course profit is their motivation - why would they take such a business risk for nothing at all? The hope of the insurance company is that they will receive more money from all of their customers than they will pay out in claims. That's the only way they make money, and thus, legitimize their business model. If they cannot turn a profit, then they shut down...and nobody has any coverage.

Now, what do you suppose happens when an insurance provider is forced to take on clients that already have moderate to severe health problems? If they know that they will be paying out much more in claims from the start, will their prices need to increase or decrease? And who will be affected by those price changes? 

Of course, the answers are that their prices will necessarily increase and that everyone will be paying more for their current coverage - especially if the government gets involved and forces the provider to give those with pre-existing conditions coverage at a "reasonable" or "fair" price. 

Insurance is supposed to be exactly that: insurance. It isn't health care itself. The more regulations you impose on it, the less effective and more expensive it becomes. The more it is used to pay for every day doctor visits, the more expensive it becomes. The more people with existing illnesses and injuries that are forced into the plans, the more expensive it becomes. The further that coverage gets away from individuals and individual plans, the less effective it becomes for individual needs. Minimum coverage laws established by local, state, and federal governments make it both more expensive and less personalized. 

Long story short...government muddles the true market price and effectiveness of the insurance and makes the provider's goal less attainable: to offer the best individual coverage for the best price to the consumer. If health insurance isn't what it should be, you can thank government intervention for that. Or, you can thank yourself for choosing a lousy insurance company. Either way, we - the individuals within society - are responsible for it. If we want it to change, then we have the power to change it. However, if your plan to change it involves forcing me to participate against my will, then your plan is a failure.

Mar 22, 2012 11:51AM
Exactly right, Mr. Jackson - across the board.

And Santorum is Obama is Romney. Someday, people will realize that both sides of the aisle are bringing us to the same place, just by different routes. 
Mar 21, 2012 10:08PM

Anyone that thinks that when you hand over your healthcare to the government your healthcare is all that you're handing them is a fool. Your health will then become a government responsibility as well. What when and how much you eat affects your health. Did you eat what the proper amount of the government recommended foods? Did you get the government required exercise? Did you sleep the government required number of hours? Was the person you slept with cleared for STD's? Were you?


If you support government controlled health care, you had better be prepared to answer these questions.

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