Rick Santorum can appeal to those those blue-collar workers that brittle rich guy Mitt Romney can't reach because… wait, why exactly? It's not because of Santorum's "blue-collar roots." They're not any stronger than Romney's.
The candidate's wife, Karen Santorum, played up these roots in Decatur, Ala., on Sunday, sounding just a little bit like a class warrior. "He's the blue collar guy, especially being the son of an Italian immigrant, and a grandson of a coal miner," she said, WAAY 31 reports. "He understands firsthand, I think, the way most Americans live -- not just the rich." She's echoing the analysis of reporters before almost every primary:
- "But Santorum's blue-collar roots and his willingness to talk openly and unapologetically about his faith made him an early favorite to win the Buckeye State…" Washington Examiner, March 7.
- "Rick Santorum asked the Alabama crowd here to deliver him a win in this state Tuesday and pitched to them he’s a better choice than either of his opponents because of his working class background and blue collar roots," ABC News, March 8.
- "Not too many presidential candidates come to Steubenville, Ohio, much less hold their victory party in Steubenville, Ohio… This is our roots," Rick Santorum, March 9.
But Karen Santorum doesn't seem quite accurate when it comes to the understanding "firsthand" part of her speech. Santorum himself is definitely not a "blue-collar guy." Santorum has his bachelor's, his MBA, and his J.D. After doing all those fancy white collar graduate studies, he worked for politicians and as a lobbyist. Official biographies do not note any prior jobs that involved working with his hands. Now that he has a woman problem, he likes to mention that his wife is a nurse and lawyer. And then there's where he lives. "Santorum bought his $2 million, five-acre home in the tony Washington suburb of Great Falls, Va., in August 2007 through a trust in a deal aided by a high-profile tax lawyer who serves as an officer for one of the largest homebuilders in the country," the Washington Examiner's Steve Contorno reports. Santorum was underwater on his mortgage but he was able to refinance.
Ah, but what of his blue collar "roots"? Santorum basically grew up in a shack by the railroad tracks, right? No. "We always lived on the campus of the veterans hospitals. It was called the domiciliary," Santorum told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after his father died last year. "I always joked that I spent my childhood living in public housing." But let's be clear -- it was no Cabrini Green. Santorum's dad was a psychiatrist with the Veterans Administration. His mother was an administrative nurse, and, as Santorum likes to say now, she was "a professional who actually made more money than her husband." In the 1950s, you had to live in a pretty liberal social circle for that not to be stigmatizing, not to mention the fact that Santorum's mom was four years older than her husband. Santorum's parents retired to Crescent Beach, Florida, where the average household income is $95,724.
That's why Santorum talks about his grandfather so much -- he actually worked in coal mines. But that's not much of a claim to poverty. Who's grandparents -- aside from the descendants of railroad magnates -- didn't have to work hard? Rich snooty Mitt Romney's father was actually poor -- meaning Romney is one generational step closer than working-class street cred than Santorum is.