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Santorum Speaks to Room of Supporters, Others

The event was supposed to be intimate. Rick Santorum was coming back to Penn State, to speak with members of the College Republicans, a group he revived during his years at the university.

The group rented out a “quaint venue,” in the words of vice-chair Anthony Christina, in 106 HUB, a small room that could easily fit the 40-some members of the College Republicans who’ve been to meetings early this semester, with room to spare for press.

But by Tuesday afternoon, the word was out that a presidential candidate would be holding an event on campus, and sure enough, by 7:00, the line to the room sprawled across the main floor of the HUB. There were the loud grumbles from College Republicans members–that an event meant to cater to them had been taken away from them, by media publicity.

Sure enough, within minutes, the 50-person capacity was reached, and just fourteen were members of the group the meet-and-greet was intended for. Dozens more students, were turned away at the door–but many chose to congregate in the hallway just outside 106 HUB, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santorum, to hear his stump speech, or to ask him a question.

When the candidate entered, he wasted no time getting down to business. After listing some of his Penn State ties–openly asking whether he was the first alumnus of the university to run for president–Santorum jumped right into his stump speech, telling the story of his grandfather’s escape from Italy, under Mussolini, in pursuit of freedom in America. He called 2012 “the most important election since 1860,” saying it would “determine who we are as America.” And sure enough, on display was his particular brand of social conservativism that galvanize supporters and opposition alike.

Rather than tout the Constitution, as he derided the Tea Party for doing, Santorum suggested that we look to the Declaration of Independence for answers. The Constitution, Santorum argued, only existed to protect the Declaration of Independence, which he called the “real heart and soul” of America.

“America was founded on a moral premise,” Santorum said, “that rights came down to us from God, our creator.” Life, he argued, must be protected in all its forms–alluding to abortion, of which he is a staunch opponent, and liberty, too–regarding his clear position against government regulation–in order for Americans to truly pursue happiness.

And a frequent talking point was American exceptionalism, which Santorum seemed to bask in, especially as he suggested that America’s founding was a truly transformative moment in the history of the world.

“For 1800 years, those who had power did little for the improvement of the human condition. Then America happened.” ‘America’ was defined as “believing in free people, rather than top-down government control.” And according to Santorum, that way of life is in jeopardy.

“I’m in this race because I believe we are at a turning point in American history, where government control will become absolute.” These comments were especially directed at the “Obamacare” legislation, which he continually argued against, as perhaps the shining example of government outreaching its bounds, and creating an atmosphere of entitlement.

Santorum recounted a story, when he was speaking with Fox News contributor Juan Williams, who suggested that Obamacare would get the populace “hooked,” and used that as a launching pad into a spirited diatribe against President Obama and his government.

“That’s how the ruling class sees you, as people to hook, people to addict, people to control, because you feel entitled to get something from the government,” said.

The closing lines of his speech echoed earlier religious overtures. Referring to the French revolution, which Santorum deemed a failure, he argued, because it was expressly “anti-God.”

“We will not long survive if we do not live by a Judeo-Christian code that makes our country great,” he said.

After the half-hour long speech, Santorum engaged with many students in a town-hall style, answering their questions for more than an hour. Most lent their way to simple ruminations by Santorum–slight variations of his stump speech, or further explanation of already-known policy stances.

When asked about foreign policy, Santorum said he found it “disgusting” that President Obama was planning his troop withdrawal from Afghanistan based on political considerations rather than what was best tactically, and he identified potential tax cuts, to help spur job growth–such as removing corporate taxes from companies who would keep manufacturing jobs in America. When asked if he considered himself a viable candidate, Santorum stressed his belief that the field was wide open, that Rick Perry was the “flavor of the month,” and that three planned debates would help differentiate the candidates.

But some fostered spirited debate, between the former Senator and students in the crowd, especially those dealing with Santorum’s social stances, such as on gay marriage. When asked how he didn’t see the 14th Amendment as guaranteeing marriage to gay couples, Santorum replied by saying that “When we say marriage is not unique, we destroy it.”

“Marriage is what marriage is,” Santorum said, “and it’s existed before government, before the Constitution, and before western society.” The burden of proof, he argued, had to come from those who’d change marriage laws, proving that it would lead to the betterment of society.

That, predictably enough, drew the hecklers. Ashante Kirby was the most vocal of a group of law students who interjected and created a lively, back-and-forth dialogue with Santorum on the issue.

“Let’s talk about the Constitution, which you’ve clearly never read,” she said, asking how it ensured freedom when it dictated that slaves, her “people,” were worth 3/5 of a person.

The question-and-answer period didn’t end there, but for the most part, the fireworks did. Santorum fielded more questions–about FEMA, nuclear power, NASA, and Medicaid, and said he couldn’t fathom why President Obama has the support of the young generation.

“Wake up,” he said, “This guy is bankrupting your generation and creating an economy where you can’t get a job. He’s playing you for fools.”

Anthony Christina thought the event went well, but also bemoaned the fact that many College Republicans were turned away the door–though the turnout didn’t come as a surprise. Even so, “this reflected Senator Sentorum’s style of politicking, in small groups, a sort of town-hall venue.”

“There were no real surprises, tonight,” Christina said, and that was true. Everyone–supporters and protesters alike–got to interact with a man who, in the words of Dennis Green, was who they thought he was.

About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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