Please, Santorum, Don't Hurt 'Em

IF WE ALLOW GAY MARRIAGE NEXT THING U KNOW PEOPLE WILL BE MARRYING GOLD FISH, Miley Cyrus tweeted.

She was protesting news that the president of Urban Outfitters has contributed to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, and taking some liberty with arguments Santorum's made about the importance of protecting traditional marriage.

Such is pretty much the media life of Rick Santorum. When Keira Knightley took Daily Show star Jon Stewart's advice to use Google to identify the Republicans who participated in the first primary debate last month, the British actress reported: "I just Googled Santorum. I feel like my innocence has been taken away."

Santorum has more than his share of outspoken, vitriolic foes. And the insults and injustices of the political arena -- and the 17-point loss he took in his last election, for re-election to the Senate in 2006 -- are not keeping him from running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States this year.

The question on the minds of many who are aware of Santorum's campaign: "Why would he bother?"

Well, he would bother because he believes, as so many who have showed up at tea party rallies in the last two years do, that America is in existential jeopardy if we fail to make some swift and hard choices, rooted in who we are and who want to be. He would bother because he has experience working in Washington, working with people of a variety of views, moving legislation forward that provides humane solutions to problems sometimes created by well-intentioned government programs. He would bother because he loves people and policy, and sees the connections between the two.

On marriage, by the way, he has said that: "If we do not, as a party and as a people, stand behind the institution of marriage and understand its essential role as the glue that holds the family together, we are going to destine our children and destine the future of this country for a lower standard of living and less free and prosperous country."

Santorum, who was a leader in truly changing the abortion debate in the 1990s, does not discuss issues like the dignity of human life and marriage to be divisive or intolerant but he because believes they're integral to our founding, our divinely ordained rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

They're essential, too, to why he bothers with politics at all; the dignity of human life, for him, is not a talking point, or confined to one issue.

Now, I'm an unabashed fan of Santorum, and he's a friend of mine. So don't take my word for it. Consider what David Brooks, not known as a so-called hardline conservative, wrote on the eve of Santorum's 2006 election loss: "If serious antipoverty work is going to be done, it's going to emerge from a coalition of liberals and religious conservatives. Without Santorum, that's less likely to happen."

U2 front man Bono, who, of course, is known for his work trying to help the long-suffering people of Africa, told Brooks: "I would suggest that Rick Santorum has a kind of Tourette's disease; he will always say the most unpopular thing. But on our issues, he has been a defender of the most vulnerable." Not through reckless, unaccountable, redundant and otherwise misappropriated spending, through but good and responsible stewardship.

On Friday mornings for the last two years, Santorum has regularly guest-hosted Bill Bennett's nationally syndicated morning radio show.

On one of the final shows before his presidential launch, a caller from Atlanta offered that he had not been particularly fond of Santorum before the radio stint, thinking he was "just another politician talking about conservatism." But, "listening to you, it has become obvious that you not only understand the issues, but you live the issues."

Given a fair shot, and a lot of hard work -- which anyone who knows him knows he's committed to -- it might not just be an Atlanta caller who re-evaluates Santorum.

But can he win? I think this is the Republicans' election to lose. Santorum has won elections in his time in a heavily Democratic state, where he outpolled Republicans on the presidential ticket. "When you look at his record and his biography, from the way he talks about social, economic, and national security issues, he stands for what Reagan Democrats liked in Reagan," his senior adviser, Seth Leibsohn, points out.

Since Santorum is bothering to run, for the sake of republic, he's worth taking a look at. (Conservative eminence grise George Will, by the way, has also said as much.) For his record. For his plans. For who he is and why he does it. For America.