September 3rd, 2012 | Cross Campus

MEDANSKY: Santorum’s for real, y’all

Republican Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa in 2011. The former presidential candidate will be on campus tomorrow for a Yale Political Union debate.
Republican Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa in 2011. The former presidential candidate will be on campus tomorrow for a Yale Political Union debate. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Rick Santorum loves “Juno.”

I know this because I saw Rick Santorum address scores of young conservatives — and, ostensibly, the trolls that love them — at the Young America’s Foundation annual summer conference, where I ate, to the organization’s credit, the most delicious dinner of my summer. (Nothing says “the dangers of contraception” and “the blah people” like convention center-quantities of pesto puffs, tiramisu and those little unidentifiable fruits on the cheese plate. I digress.)

Founded in 1969, the Young America’s Foundation does more than organize dinners with high-profile guests for starving DC interns. They’re a powerhouse in the young conservative and libertarian movement, organizing dozens of internships, conventions, retreats and conferences for right-minded college kids. They also produce an annual list of the top ten most conservative colleges nationwide—on which Yale has, alas, never appeared. But perhaps they’re working to change that: YAF is sponsoring Rick Santorum’s appearance at the YPU today, lending their national cache — and likely their checkbook — to the event.

Anyways, here are some hot insider tips on what to expect when he comes to campus tomorrow. First, as I said, Rick Santorum loves “Juno”—you know, that scene where the young pro-life protestor tells Ellen Page “her baby has fingernails!” He likes this because it reminds him of the youthful vigor of the anti-abortion movement, which, as we all know, was conducted via hamburger phone in 2007.

Rick Santorum also loves America, because being an American is unique: unlike anything else in the whole wide world. I had the cringe-worthy honor of being present when Santorum told a crowd of people that being American isn’t like being Jewish, or Arabic. (Seriously, he said that, basically verbatim.) And the equally cringe-worthy honor of watching that crowd of people applaud the remark. Cringes all around.

Young liberals seldom take the conservative political elite seriously, and that’s especially true for Rick Santorum, who frequently descended into self-parody during his quest to become the Republican nominee for president. He hated evolution, and taxes and secular humanism. He loved God, country and sweater vests. It seemed as though Santorum had the demeanor of an awkward youth pastor—shy, convicted, a bit confused.

Yet I can attest from my experiences this summer that Rick Santorum has grown up. A lot. He’s rehearsed his lines, sharpened his arguments and ditched that tacky sweater vest. He’s a big kid now: a new man. So if Yalies want to protest his positions and challenge his convictions, they’ll need to take him more seriously than the man with the surname synonymous for a side-effect of anal sex. Rick Santorum is ready for us this time.

What can we expect from him? Less God, that’s for sure. Rick Santorum knows his audience is bigger than Bible-thumpers now; he’s a public figure. When I saw him speak, his ability to switch quickly from impassioned preacher to cool politician was striking. Rick Santorum won’t be phased by our surprise kiss-ins and witty chants, though he might have been six years ago. Time on the campaign trail has toughened him, and it shows.