Okay, first a confession. After driving eight hours home from a vacation on Saturday, I settled into my armchair to catch the final moments of coverage of the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa, surely one of the most bizarre spectacles in a presidential campaign season that promises to be full of them. As the cable news shows recounted highlights of the candidates’ pitches to their paid-for voters, Rick Santorum’s caught my attention.
Santorum was on a stage with his wife and four of his seven children–the sons, who range in age from about 18 to 10. Santorum thanked the boys for all the telephone canvassing they had done on his behalf, and joked to the crowd that there probably wasn’t a person present who had not received a phone call from one of them.
I was curious about the boys. It’s quite possible that in the tightly-knit, “family values” world of the Santorums, they are actually quite dedicated to their father’s campaign and the views he espouses. Or it’s possible that their smiles and phone calls were extracted as part of a negotiation over something else they wanted (sports car, TV in bedroom, Iphone?) Or it’s possible that the Santorums simply imposed their parental will–“you WILL go to Iowa, you WILL call potential supporters and you WILL be polite.”
No matter which scenario is closest to the truth, there’s one candidate in the pack who might identify with the Santorum boys, and that’s Mitt Romney. George Romney, Mitt’s father, first ran for public office when Mitt was 15. In her self-published memoir, Elly Peterson recounted how Mitt would sometimes accompany Peterson and his mother, Lenore Romney, when they campaigned around the state on behalf of the Michigan gubernatorial candidate. She recalled how the religious convictions of Romney senior could be a source of amusement for the rest of the family. On one trip near Traverse City, she recounted:
“We consulted the maps which showed a road that looked like it went over the water. In talking about it, Mitt kept returning to the fact that the road had to be okay because the map showed it.
Finally, his mother, in exasperation, said, ‘Oh, Mitt, you know good and well a road will not go over water unless there is a bridge.’
‘Oh, that’s right,’ Mitt comes back, ‘Dad isn’t here!’ ”
As it turned out, Mitt missed out on his own father’s failed presidential campaign five years later because he was off in France, performing Mormon missionary service.
One wonders whether the Santorum boys think THEIR father walks on water…or whether, off camera, you could find them off in a tent at the Iowa state fair, making snarky comments over a fried butter stick.
No matter which, they are certainly not experiencing the summer of a typical American teenager….for better or for worse.