The real reason the Santorums left Italy


When Rick Santorum virtually tied for first in the Iowa caucus, I watched his "victory" speech and -- don't fall out of your chair -- I thought it was the most positive moment of the GOP race so far. Although I don't agree with Santorum's policy solutions, his meditation on his father fleeing Mussolini's Italy in the 1920s and pursuing his dreams in America was moving and uplifting.

It's interesting that there's more to the story:

On the campaign trail, Santorum often touts his grandfather’s flight from Italy “to escape fascism,” but he has neglected to publicly mention their close ties with the Italian Communist Party. “Rick’s grandfather Pietro was a liberal man and he understood right away what was happening in Italy,” Mrs. Santorum told Oggi. “He was anti-fascist to the extreme, and the political climate in 1925 was stifling so he left for America. After a few years he returned to Italy with his wife and children, including Aldo, Rick’s father, who passed away late last year. It’s a shame he won’t have the joy to see his son’s success in his bid for the White House.” She goes on to explain how the family then became pillars of the Communist Party in Italy.

The matriarch lauds her distant relative as a “masterpiece” of the family, whom she calls a man of high intelligence and integrity. “He would be a great president,” she told Oggi. “But if he wants to make it, he will have to soften some of his positions. To take a stand against homosexuality or to oppose divorce is harmful. Principles count, but in politics one must have the capacity to be open-minded.”

The Oggi piece also quotes an angry cousin who preferred to voice his dissent anonymously, remembering the time when high-ranking Communist Party members frequented the Santorum household in Riva del Garda. “There are Santorums who would roll over in their graves to hear [Rick’s] rhetoric,” he said.

Some people are spinning this as a Santorum "gotcha" story but I don't see it that way. One element of the American Dream is personal freedom to pursue your own ideas about politics, even if they differ 180 degrees from your ancestors. I do wonder this, though. Last week, Santorum's most moving riff was about his grandfather's funeral after a long and successful life in the coalfields of western Pennsylvania. Given his grandfather's political bent, I wonder if he was active in the trade unionism that made it possible for coal miners to thrive in what was once a booming American middle class. That's part of the story you won't hear Santorum tell in the Tea Party-powered Waffle Houses of the Palmetto State this weeek -- but he should. It's hard to imagine this immigrant's grandson rising in life to run for president as an ultra-conservative  -- without the progressive policies that spawned him.