Thursday, April 24, 2003


Santorum's problem isn't going away any time soon

Rittenhouse Review has several good posts on Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-Pa.) recent comments on homosexuality (see post below). This post, in particular, cuts to the heart of what's most troubling about Santorum's position. Capozzola asks the senator:

If we, as a pluralistic -- an almost supremely pluralistic society -- are to accept, collectively, regardless of our differing faiths or even absence of faith in God or any other higher being, your views on homosexuality, compatible as they are with your conscience and your faith, why stop there?

Santorum seems to view American pluralism as a winner-take-all power struggle between competing interest groups. His opinion on Texas' law banning homosexual sodomy seems to be that such laws are acceptable if the majority -- read: the political party in power -- favors such laws. But the meaning of the Constitution cannot be decided by an opinion poll. Santorum -- like the Iranian fanatics seeking to create a theocratic revolution in Iraq -- seems to think that democracy means letting the majority oppress the minority.

Santorum has repeatedly explained that his comments arise from his Roman Catholic faith, but the senator is offering a distinctly medieval version of Catholicism. Perhaps he has never heard of John Courtenay Murray or of Vatican II, but the medieval synthesis is no longer regarded as legitimate doctrine.

Santorum's strategy seems to be to try to leverage the current controversy into an electoral asset -- he sneers at "New York" as a symbol for East Coast elitism, sexual libertinism, and whatever other bogeymen he can conjure to frighten gullible "pro-family" voters in backwoods Pennsylvania. And frighten is exactly what he's trying to do. The senator is heading for places like Williamsport and striking a pose as the defender of Pennsylvania's families. He has trouble, of course, explaining how exactly two gay men in Texas are threatening Pennsylvania's families, but this isn't about logic -- it's about appealing to fears and suspicion.

Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, appealed to "the better angels of our nature." His heirs -- winking bigots like Santorum, Trent Lott and Dick "Fag" Armey -- appeal to the bitter demons of our nightmares. This is sometimes, in the short term, an effective electoral strategy. In the long term it degrades both the candidate and his supporters. Trent Lott is often defiant. He is never truly proud.

But Santorum's cynical choice to try to exploit, rather than defuse, the controversy over his remarks is doomed to backfire because the senator has underestimated its staying power. This story has legs and it will follow Santorum for a long time. When he is finally forced to offer an apology, he will also have to pay the accumulated interest on that delayed apology, and there's no way that will work to his benefit.

A quick tour of the response:

1. A gay constituent confronts Santorum at a town meeting in Williamsport and Santorum dismisses the man without apologizing. The constituent comes away looking good. Santorum comes away looking worse.

2. Rick Santorum has made himself Issue No. 1 at the Human Rights Campaign. (Santorum's electoral calculus seems to think this isn't a problem. He figures there are more "pro-family" chauvinists who vote in Pennsylvania than there are gay voters or voters who support gay rights. But the question isn't one of absolute numbers -- it's a question of how his comments have changed voter behavior. My sense is he has gotten a minor boost from his supporters, and given a major boost to his detractors.)

3. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Pennsylvania's senior senator, Arlen Specter, have both defended Santorum. But their comments are fairly muted, and both wrap their comments in an affirmation of "inclusion and compassion" and an acceptance of "individual lifestyles." Thus while they defend their colleague, they simultaneously affirm the values he stands guilty of attacking. The overriding sense of these "defenses" is of two GOP senators rushing to position themselves as "inclusive" -- making Santorum's evident exclusivity all the more apparent.

4. Bush is taking a walk on this one: "At the White House, meanwhile, press secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush would not comment on Santorum's remarks." Keep in mind that the Supreme Court case that occasioned Santorum's bigot eruption dealt with Texas law -- law that former Texas Gov. George W. Bush never saw fit to question.

5. Philadelphia's tabloid Daily News has given the senator a new nickname. "As chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, Santorum has been a leading light for the GOP," the paper editorialized. "That light should fade."

6. The Trent Lott affair endured because his remarks were not an isolated event, but part of a longer string of similar comments and actions. That string of events had a cumulative effect which reached its tipping point after Lott's celebration of Strom Thurmond's segregationist campaign. The Republican Party was glad to turn the GOP's race problem into Trent Lott's race problem -- letting the Mississippi senator serve as scapegoat. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg points out, Santorum's comments also carry a great deal of cumulative weight. The GOP has a gay problem. As Bush's silence may show, the party might be happy to let Santorum serve as Lott did -- as poster-boy and scapegoat.

7. (And the proximate cause of this too-long post) The Daily Show just went after Santorum with both barrels. In a devastating and very funny R-rated onslaught, the best news show on TV has made it clear that Santorum is no longer simply a junior senator who made a gaffe. He has made himself a symbol of intolerance and an object of ridicule. That's gonna leave a mark.

posted by Fred Clark 4:08 AM

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


Santorum's gaffe could spell trouble for Specter

As a Pennsylvania resident, I've learned to look on the bright side when considering our state's embarrassing delegation to the United States Senate. Take, for example, the latest bigot eruption from our junior senator, Bob Roberts Rick Santorum. Little Ricky -- the man who willingly sacrificed his leadership position to allow Trent Lott a soft landing after his own shameful outburst -- has been getting in touch with his inner homophobe, the Inquirer reports:

"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] 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," Santorum said in the interview with the Associated Press.

Questions were raised about the original interview with the AP, so, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, the service has released additional excerpts to help clarify the senator's stance:

At another point in the interview, Santorum observed, "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 might be."

Echoing a variety of conservative thinkers and legal scholars, Santorum said that the Supreme Court should not interfere with state regulation of such behavior, the issue in the Texas sodomy law case that prompted his initial remarks.

"If New York doesn't want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. ... I wouldn't agree with it, but that's their right. But I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in."

None of which makes what the senator said any less problematic. (And note that, oddly, we now have Rick Santorum on record as saying that "if the people ... want abortion, fine. ... that's their right." Really? Isn't this a 180-degree reversal from his established position?)

Santorum seems to be using the anger of gay rights groups as a tool for shoring up support from his religious conservative voting base (which seems to be working). But alienating the center and firing up your opponents' core voters is not the most politically expedient way to go about solidifying your own base.

All of which is to say this:

For Jim Capozzola -- or for anyone else who decides to run against Arlen Specter -- Rick Santorum has just ensured a steady pipeline of out-of-state financing for the campaign.
posted by Fred Clark 2:33 AM

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