Love and Togetherness in the Age of Santorum.

Love in the Age of Santorum.

I’ve gotten this far without paying too much attention to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, but now that he’s done well in a January poll, everyone says he’s going to start getting a lot of scrutiny, so I figured I better get on it. Honestly, part of the reason I sometimes hold off on blogging about America’s political circus is because I know a lot of you, my valued readers, are not from the US. So why go on and on about US politicians, especially when most of them make me embarrassed to be an American?

For anyone who hasn’t been following this Presidential election season, the Republican party candidates are the rodents in a whack-a-mole game, and the liberal media is holding the mallet. Every week or two another mole pops up – Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich and so on – and we gleefully whack ’em with an avalanche of reporting on their racism, anti-intellectualism, homophobia, economic knuckle-headedness, megalomania, sexism, extramarital affairs, and so on.

Santorum’s mole just appeared, and the rules haven’t changed a bit.

You don’t have to look far to see that Santorum fears and dislikes (possibly hates) homosexuals, that he idealizes a sexist, outmoded vision of society where women would do better to stay home with the kids, and that given the chance, while proclaiming a reduction in government control, he would do everything he could to restrict personal rights that lie at the very heart of our notion of privacy.

His comments on the use of contraceptives are particularly troubling, as he spoke publicly in the fall about “the dangers of contraception in this country”, pledging to make a reduction in the availability of birth control an important part of his mission as President. Contraceptives bother Santorum fundamentally, because they’re “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Cue endless references to the “condom police” once, God forbid, Santorum takes office.

In case you think Santorum is just another misguided but well-meaning campaigner for pre-marital abstinence, who believes that removing access to birth control will stop single people from having sex, he believes that married couples shouldn’t have the right to use contraceptives either. He opposes the Supreme Court’s 1965 reversal of an 1879 law in Connecticut which threatened anyone who “uses any drug, medical article or instrument for the purposes of preventing conception” – or anyone (a doctor, etc) who helped someone to do this – with at least 60 days in prison. The Supreme Court decided that invading the bedroom with this law was a fundamental violation of married couples’ right to privacy, the right to privacy being implied in several Constitutional Amendments, especially Americans’ supposed protection from unwarranted search and seizure.

Santorum argues that the states have the right to make and enforce any laws they see fit, including Connecticut’s former law banning contraception, and also declares that the Constitution does not give Americans any right to privacy, sexual, procreative or otherwise. He believes that in this case, the Supreme Court improperly legislated a right that should not exist: it’s dangerous to declare that “you have the right to consensual sex within your home”, because if consensual sex is ok, then we’re also promoting bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery: “you have a right to anything.” He also offers myriad comments on the evils of homosexuality, from his sadness at the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to his declaration that homosexual acts are as “antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family” as adultery and polygamy.

It seems fair to me to say that as President, Santorum wants to allow only one form of sex among his citizens: sex between heterosexual married couples for the purpose of conceiving children.

Santorum’s purpose in sticking his nose so far into citizens’ private lives is the ostensible foundation of his Presidential platform: the “traditional” family, a unit of society that, according to his campaign website, is at the root of social, national and economic success. A household with a husband, wife, and their children is the foundation of American triumph.

I wouldn’t be the first writer to point out that Santorum, as demonstrated in numerous campaign stops, is being dangerously blind to the reality of American society. Crime, illness, death and poverty ravage millions of families. When so many families are made of single parents,  divorced or re-married parents, same-sex parents, or adopted children, or any example of the endless arrangements of human habitation that have always existed in the world, the promotion of a single version of family as better than all the others is ultimately what troubles me.

I don’t want to overlook Santorum’s many bigoted and often hyper-religious comments (on January 5th he declared that America “always needs a Jesus candidate”) – I’d rather look beyond them to a bigger underlying message, which demonstrates exactly why he’s so poisonous to America.  A somewhat less-publicized comment, from a campaign stop in Ottumwa, Iowa, typifies to me the message which underlies every aspersion Santorum casts on Americans whose lifestyle doesn’t match his.

“Diversity? Have you ever heard of e pluribus unum?” Santorum asked, explaining his ire at the former Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, who, in a debate, claimed diversity was America’s most important quality.

“The greatness of America is people who are diverse coming together to be one,” Santorum says. Fair enough. But does becoming one country mean disavowing our differences? Yes, Santorum believes: “If we celebrate diversity, we lay the ground for that conflict. We need to celebrate common values and have a President that lays out those common values.”

I think it’s worth noting that though Santorum is ostensibly speaking about “values”, he invokes the “conflict” diversity causes in the midst of an intense, deliberately-focused campaign in a state that is over 91% white and 96% American-born, according to Iowa’s 2010 census (apparently he himself is the child of an Italian immigrant who fled Mussolini).

What is more chilling here? That, as President, Santorum envisions the best America as one in which everyone has the same values? Or that he believes that any one person’s values (in this case, his) should serve as the standard for the values of every citizen of an entire country?

Santorum's America.

A robust embrace of differences is what makes e pluribus unum possible. Writer Merry Farmer, in a recent blog post, noted how dreadful it would be if we were all motivated by the same causes. Isn’t it great that some of us care passionately about the environment, while others work to end poverty, and others care most about civil rights? Take us all together, and we have a whole society that lurches towards the greater good.

I don’t argue with Santorum’s belief in the value of strong families at every level of society. My own nuclear family (which is very much in the style of Santorum’s ideal) has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. But I would never presume that it should therefore be the mold for everyone else’s life.

I don’t mind that Santorum enjoys being a married, Christian heterosexual with seven children.  I have fourteen goldfish instead of children and rarely attend church, but there’s room in the US for both of us – as long as he doesn’t tell me to throw out my birth control, and I don’t force him to raise goldfish.

Are many of Santorum’s views repugnant to me? Yes.  But what is even more repugnant to me is his assertion that he – or any individual – should serve as the standard for us all, whether on the inside, with the values we hold, or on the outside, with the kind of household we keep. While ostensibly secondary to his views on more practical aspects of national policy, Santorum’s view of the American President as the proper policer of our sex lives gets to the heart of the way he would like to strip individuals’ differences away, even in the most private sanctums of their lives, to re-make them in his own image. It is the worst kind of arrogance.

Is that what America should be?

A slightly more honest version of Santorum's campaign slogan.
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9 Comments

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  1. Well put, Alaina. It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint the most troubling aspect of an overall flawed philosophy (ideology?), but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Other troubling aspects flow from this. And the GOP is supposed to stand for the rights of individuals! Goes to show just how far they’ve strayed….

    • Yes, you would never know that many of these candidates come from the party of “individual freedom” and “less government meddling.” I’d be much more receptive to the Republican party if it weren’t so hijacked by its current social views. Glad you enjoyed the blog – always welcome your comments.

  2. Well said, your writing is refreshing honest and to the point. I enjoy reading it. Santorum seems to me to be one of the most frightening of candidates because I think he really believes what he is trying to sell. Could an educated adult individual who interacts with many different kinds of people each day, really hold these restrictive beliefs? I can’t understand it.

    • Thanks for visiting and thanks for your comments. What you say about Santorum’s belief in what he’s preaching is crucial. I do think that you couldn’t pin down most politicians’ actual beliefs by what they say on the campaign trail. But like you, I believe Santorum is being sincere. Even while I’m repulsed by his opinions, I want to congratulate him for at least saying what he really thinks. Calling for a contraceptive ban when polls say over 99% of US women have used some kind of birth control? That’s ballsy. Incredibly arrogant, but honest at least.

  3. Albertina McNeill January 9, 2012 — 3:19 am

    I thought you might like to see this as I feel it is relevant. It’s a Portuguese schoolbook from 1958 that my mother used to give me the basics of the language: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mothandmoonflower/sets/72157625072076335/ Santorum would probably like it. It shows Portugal as a rural idyll where children were encouraged to be charitable to the poor (there were so many of them), helpful at home and good Catholics. It also shows boy and girl scouts giving a fascist salute. My mother and one of her brothers learned to read during their two years at school and left the country. Some of the other six children did the same but struggled without an education. While access to education has improved, the status of women and attitude to contraception is virtually unchanged. One of my cousins, always fragile, was advised against having more children. Advice and support came in the form of the conversation the priest had with her husband who told him to abstain. This was less effective than the one that her brothers had with him – they said they’d kill him if she got pregnant again. Women who seek abortions there are prosecuted so women die every year as a consequence of a dangerous mix of religion and misogyny. My family background and an awareness of what it happening in the US make me even more angry with the young British women who have easy access to free contraception and don’t use it.

    • Your description of that old schoolbook reminds me in part of an Afrikaans textbook for African children from the 1980’s that I came across at my in-laws’ one day. It showed black families driving horses and eating barefoot out of pots on the ground while wild animals look on.

      The “advice” your cousin received does sound like Santorum’s philosophy – just like the advice priests of my parents’ church gave in past decades: married couples should use “self-control” if they don’t want more children…but it is a sin not to have as many children as you can. That’s why, in my drawing of Santorum’s America, every woman is pregnant.

  4. The sinister part of you is showing – I would rather live in a nation where all the women are pregnant than in a country where I am forced to pay for your neglectful behavior. We are turning into a nation where NOTHING has a consequence – having sex outside of marriage – take the pill, having an affair – get an abortion, take out a loan – we’ll take from the rich and you don’t have to pay it back, can’t you see? How do people learn if not by paying for the mistakes they make? All you talk about in here is about how Santorum must pay so you can make more mistakes and never have to yourself. That is all Santorum is about and that is “personal responsibility” and being accountable for your actions. Having sex is an action YOU should pay the price for NOT ME and everyone who makes better choices.

    • I am interested in how you got the message that the point of this essay is that Santorum should pay for my (our) mistakes so I (we) don’t have to. Right now there are few mistakes in my life that Santorum could fix, unless, of course, I took his advice on birth control and my husband and decided to begin conceiving children on our small salaries, one-bedroom apartment and hectic multiple work schedules. I’m not calling on Santorum for any help.

      While I do think sex has consequences (I was raised in a highly conservative Christian church so I’m well versed in that world and actually wrote a book about it, if you want to check out the link on this blog), I don’t think “the price” of sex should always be a pregnancy or a disease, and thank goodness, statistically, it’s not, though everyone having sex should take personal steps to address these risks.

      The point of this essay isn’t a call for Santorum to clean up all our messy lives – the point is that Santorum seems blind to America’s real diversity, and that it would be a dangerous thing for a President to want to push his life model onto all citizens, downplaying the value of our diversity, and I also mean to strongly say that the President of the United States is not the person who should be policing or even commenting on citizens’ sex lives, beyond doing what he should to promote fair health care legislation.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.

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