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Jonathan D. Moreno Headshot

For Santorum, It's Values Versus Innovation

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A few days ago it was hard to find a pundit who didn't think that the 2012 campaign was going to be all about jobs.They thought that value issues were off the table.

Wrong again.

Even when the economy flounders, a significant and active portion of the American electorate cares about cultural questions, especially cultural conservatives. But they do also care about getting our production capacity back on track in a scene of global competition. For these voters, Rick Santorum is the picture perfect candidate. He is both culturally conservative and aggressive about government's role in bucking up American industry. In these ways, Santorum is also more like George W. Bush than any other recent major political figure.

However, these dual concerns -- conservative moral values along with investment in innovation -- create interesting tensions for Santorum.

On values, Santorum has written that "intelligent design" should be taught in science classes and opposed human embryonic stem cell research while in the Senate. He is also a noted skeptic about climate change. Before he resigned to begin his presidential campaign, Santorum was a fellow of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a Washington, D.C. think tank. The EPPC has long been especially interested in the relationship between science and religion. EPPC members and fellows tend to take a neoconservative approach to science, concerned that its practitioners fail to take ethical issues seriously enough, especially concerning developments that might undermine human dignity.

On innovation, Santorum is a big government conservative who wants to create more tax incentives for domestic manufacturing and leans toward a protectionist stance on foreign trade. Whatever the merits of these proposals, those who want to rebuild America's industrial base tend to think of old-fashioned manufacturing plants that put out machines that require a wide range of materials. The automobile and housing industries are prime examples.

However, the 21st century economy goes well beyond industrial-era manufacturing to emerging industries like biotechnology and nanotechnology. Old-style industry is obviously part of the answer to America's economic development, but we need to guard against getting locked into a Motel T economy in the era of genomics. The Nobel Laureate Robert Solow has shown that half of the growth of our economy since World War II is directly attributable to scientific and technological innovation.

The new life and engineering fields are key future job creation and national security. These are also areas that touch on sensitive values questions, questions with which the scientific community is, according to neoconservatives, not to be trusted.

As I describe in my book The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America, when it comes to innovation, cultural conservatives like Santorum are in an awkward position: The growth industries of the 21st century, like biotechnology, are also the ones that are at odds with their worries about where these powerful new sciences are taking us.

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