You've got to give this much to Rick Santorum: The man doesn't hold back.
On President Obama, whom he compares to King George III. "We rebelled against a king who wanted to dictate every aspect of our lives," Santorum asserts, denouncing Obamacare.
On John McCain, who, he says, criticized Santorum for supporting earmarks, because, as the senator from a state full of seniors, McCain was unwilling to take on the bigger problem of entitlements. "Go ahead, attack me on earmarks," Santorum offers, even though no one in the room has actually questioned his use of earmarks. He even unloads on his questioners, albeit in a low-key, sweater-vested manner that belies the extremity of his positions. Given the choice to duck a question, Santorum takes it on -- and then some.
So to the young woman who asks about his stance on abortion and contraception, Santorum assures her that while he is morally opposed to contraception, he does not want to deny her the right to use it.
Then he goes on to pronounce his implacable opposition to Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case (Santorum mistakenly dates it to 1953) in which the Supreme Court invalidated a statute making it a crime to dispense birth control to married couples.
"Griswold created a new right, which in my view is judicial activism," he says, and for good measure expresses his additional disagreement not only with Roe v. Wade, the abortion ruling, but with Kelo, a 2005 case involving the government's right to seize private property through the use of eminent domain.
And when another questioner mentions cuts to government programs that are helping her brother, who has multiple disabilities, and asks what Santorum would do, he does not resort to the usual politician pander: sympathize and dodge.
Rather, Santorum makes clear: He doesn't really think the government should be in the brother-helping business. "All those programs, in my opinion, should not be at the federal level," he says. Santorum eventually notes that he and his wife have a disabled child, and suggests that the proper places to turn for assistance are "neighbors, community, family, a sister-in-law, someone to come over and help out."
Then there is the seemingly inevitable question about gay rights. Santorum had already tangled with a student questioner over same-sex marriage the day before. But rather than wave away the question, he wades in yet again.
Earlier, Santorum had trotted the polygamy analogy in explaining his opposition to same-sex marriage. Now he embarks on an odd but clearly to him self-evidently logical tangent about the best interests of the child and the need "to give what every child deeply deserves, which is their mom and their dad."
Is New Hampshire ready for Rick Santorum? His events here Friday drew overflow crowds. His poll numbers are better after the Iowa results, rising to 11 percent in a recent poll.
If Santorum could sharpen his message, and focus on jobs and the economy, he might do better. But the allure of a good argument on social issues -- really, on any issue at all -- seems too tempting for him to pass up. So he talks on -- not, I would suggest, much helping his case.