Shortly after denouncing Kennedy, Santorum seeks cover in a comparison to Moynihan

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It's not often that Republican presidential candidates compare themselves to Democratic senators from New York.

But on "Meet the Press" on Sunday morning, when he was pressed by David Gregory about wanting to impose his views on social issues on America, former senator Rick Santorum said he wasn't, and that in fact by talking about the importance of family he was following in the footsteps of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

"There are important issues that this country is confronted with right now, and that's what I've been talking about," he said. "And I will continue to talk about the role, for example, of the family with respect to our economy, and how stable families and fathers involved in their families and out-of-wedlock birthrates are in fact a serious problem in this country what we need to do. And by the way, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was talking about that in the 1960s."

Moynihan, who served as senator from 1976-2000, described himself as a "born Democrat." But he was also a sociologist who, as an assistant secretary of labor in the 1960s, attempted to grapple with the problem of urban poverty. In 1965, he authored a report called "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action," which offered a theory for the widening gap between the income and achievement of black and white Americans.

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"The fundamental problem, in which this is most clearly the case, is that of family structure," the report said. "The evidence — not final, but powerfully persuasive — is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling." 

The report recommended federal action "directed to a new kind of national goal: the establishment of a stable Negro family structure."

The report was initially embraced by President Johnson, but after considerable criticism, including from a meeting of more than 100 prominent religious and civil-rights leaders, he backed away from Moynihan's recommendations. (Later, Moynihan would recommend to Richard Nixon that "the issue of race could benefit from a period of 'benign neglect.'")

Santorum has made the same essential argument—that the two-parent family is the root of economic stability and prosperity—but has been less explicit in tying it directly to race. At an Iowa town hall in January he was quoted as saying: ”I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families."

But ABC News said it was unclear whether he "simply stumbled" over his words in citing black Americans specifically, and Santorum later said he didn't single out any one group.

On "Meet the Press," Santorum said stable families were a practical solution to economic problems.

"This is not something that is some sort of religious idea," said Santorum, who has frequently discussed his religion during the campaign, and who just a couple of minutes earlier on "Meet the Press" denounced John F. Kennedy's historic speech advocating separation of church and state. "These are practical problems that we're dealing with in America. And that's what I talk about on the campaign trail. And the problems that I'm looking to confront are creating jobs, reducing government role in people's lives, reducing the budget deficit and getting to a balanced budget, making sure our country is safe around the world."

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