The Santorum Surprise


Rick Santorum — a man who lost his last election in his home state by 18 points — is suddenly threatening the front-runner status of Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. He, not Newt Gingrich, is emerging, at least for the moment, as the conservative alternative to Romney, having won decisively in three state contests this week.

Things are looking good for Santorum. Events, again ‘for the moment,’ are swinging his way, with President Obama coming under heavy, and justifiable, criticism for abusing religious freedom. The Obama administration issued what amounts to a diktat to Roman Catholics to toe the liberal line on birth control, even to the extent of paying for the contraceptives their faith finds immoral.

Santorum, the candidate most associated with religious faith, should profit from this execrable policy, especially in the short run. But there are definite perils ahead for the Republican Party if it allows Santorum-style social conservatism to dominate the election. And those perils go well beyond the obvious that the campaign will largely be about the economy.

The danger is that Rick Santorum will be singled out as the spokesperson for extreme right-wing religiosity and made to look like a bigot to the largest voting group in our country, the independents. This is particularly true in the area of gay rights, but not because those people favor gay marriage. The majority of them probably don’t. But most people these days have homosexuals among their friends, family or work colleagues and don’t appreciate even the whiff of bigotry. It’s become a big no-no.

Santorum does not have a good track record in that regard. He is the only politician I know of who merits his own Wikipedia entry on the subject: “Santorum controversy regarding homosexuality.”

Some of the quotations from the former senator are not pretty. In one rather notorious interview with Lara Jake Jordan of The Associated Press, Santorum, defending his position on sodomy laws, which he apparently supports, or supported then, asserted he did not oppose homosexuals, but rather homosexual acts.: In other words, it’s fine to be a homosexual, as long as you don’t have a sex life.

On the marriage issue, he picked a rather peculiar analogy:

“In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog or whatever the case may be.”

In the original version of the AP story, Santorum was quoted as saying:

“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”

Who knows the truth of these quotations? Or what really is in Santorum’s heart. And that was 2003. Perhaps he has matured.

That is not entirely clear, however. On Jan. 6, 2012, during the New Hampshire primary, the Los Angeles Times reported Santorum told an audience, including the children of three gay parents, at a Dublin, N.H., boarding school, that only: a man and a woman should have the “privilege” and “honor” of marrying.

“So important is it to have both a father and a mother, Santorum suggested, that even a father who ‘is in jail and has abandoned’ his family is better for a child than two gay parents.”

Whoa. A man who is in jail and has abandoned his family is better for a child than two gay parents? Well, the reporter did use the weasel word “suggested” and the Los Angeles Times (as is Wikipedia) is: a decidedly liberal publication.

Still, something else disturbs here. Santorum went to speak at a New Hampshire private school where — no surprise in this day and age — children of gay parents were in the audience. The candidate nevertheless used the opportunity to launch a diatribe against gay marriage. Whatever your stand on the issue, that seems, to be polite, wildly inconsiderate of the children.

In most areas — economics, foreign policy, health care, etc. — I agree more or less with Rick Santorum. But I cannot deny that I support same-sex marriage and have for some time, so you should factor that into whatever I say. I am certain, however, a Santorum nomination will be fraught with allegations of homophobia that may very well be fatal to his chances and to the Republican Party. Romney and Gingrich, for various reasons, some of them obvious, will not be able to say much about this during the nominating process. But you can sure as hell bet the Democrats will if Santorum succeeds.

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