Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/26/2005 | John Grogan | Has Santorum turned a new leaf?: "John Grogan | Has Santorum turned a new leaf?By John Grogan Inquirer ColumnistWill the real Rick Santorum please stand up?
It used to be easy to know where Pennsylvania's junior U.S. senator stood. He was a red-state kind of guy in blue-state Pennsylvania, a conservative Republican Catholic who wore his religion on his sleeve and whose faith played a major role in his public-policy positions. Agree with him or not, you had to admire him for standing by his convictions. He never shied away from trumpeting his beliefs.
In many ways, he's still that man.
And yet, the bravado seems tempered. The ideology softened.
We heard it when he distanced himself from the Bush administration on Iraq. And we heard it again - loud and clear - last week when he very publicly retreated from the intelligent-design movement he once championed so vocally.
After a federal judge in Harrisburg struck down the Dover Area School District's attempt to add intelligent design into the science curriculum, Santorum surprised me.
I was expecting him to play to his Christian base. I expected him to grandstand about activist judges advancing secular agendas and to champion alternative theories to evolution.
After all, this is the man who in 2002 wrote that intelligent design "is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." This is the man who, with help from a leading intelligent-design proponent, sponsored the Santorum amendment to the No Child Left Behind law in 2001, designed to help school districts teach alternatives to evolution.
Behind the design
This is the man who sat on the advisory board of the conservative Thomas More Law Center, which defended the Dover school board and turned the case into a national referendum on creationism in the classroom.
But Santorum did not do that. Instead, he said he disagreed with the school board for mandating intelligent design in science classes. He criticized the law center, saying it "made a huge mistake in taking this case." And he announced he would resign from the Thomas More board.
Wow. Was this the same Rick Santorum who once blamed the Catholic clergy child-abuse scandal on Boston's liberal culture?
Could it be that Santorum is mellowing? Could he be maturing as a statesman and rethinking some of his past positions? Could he be learning that moderation is the better part of wisdom?
Or is he simply making a politically expedient - and temporary - realignment in preparation for a bruising reelection campaign next year?
It might be all of the above.
Santorum can read the poll numbers as well as anyone, and he knows he faces a formidable challenger in State Treasurer Robert P. Casey.
Like Santorum, Casey is a practicing Catholic who opposes abortion.
A pull toward center
With the abortion issue moot, and Casey more moderate on other social issues, you can't blame Santorum for feeling the pull toward center.
George Bush and John Kerry both felt it in 2004, moving toward center to try to win over fence straddlers. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been continually shifting her center of gravity since she stepped out of her role as first lady and began pursuing her own political ambitions.
Could Santorum have the Hillary chameleon gene?
Knowing he has the far right locked down, it makes political sense to shift a few notches to the left to woo from Casey those he previously had taken for granted, such as the reader named Mike who sent me an e-mail last week stating: "I am a practicing Roman Catholic, I believe in God, but I think the Dover folks over-reached trying to include [intelligent design] as part of a public school curriculum."
Santorum once could reliably count on voters like Mike on Election Day. Not so anymore.
The Casey camp, predictably, accuses Santorum of flip-flop expediency. The Santorum camp, predictably, insists that the senator's positions are consistent and not politically influenced. The truth almost certainly lies somewhere in between.
Whatever his motivation, I kind of like the senator's new sensibility.
Moderation becomes him."