News Section: Opinion
Rick Santorum's War on Sex
Rick Santorum seems to be positioning himself as the anti-sex candidate. In addition to statements made on women's health issues over the last two weeks, the former Senator from Pennsylvania brings with him a litany of quotes on his personal beliefs and political positions that may play well with the far, far right, though they're likely to have mainstream America scratching its head, should he make it to the big stage, which as implausible as that initially seemed, now appears to be within the realm of some strange reality.
The contraception issue started as just one more red-meat distraction – another way to disparage the Affordable Care Act with distortions that could be blasted through chain emails in the same manner as the fictional death panels and exclusive exemptions for Muslims that always seem to proliferate from various obscure websites that have the word liberty in them. But Santorum seized the chance to take the conversation toward arguments he's been making for years – long before most Americans were listening.
The absurdity of the issue speaks for itself. The law would have required insurance plans to include several women's health services, including contraception – with an exception for churches. The blow up was over Catholic hospitals, universities and other “non-church” religious organizations that perform secular work, while employing and servicing the public at large. The administration contorted itself into a pretzel to devise something just short of its usual cave-in, ensuring that those services are provided by the insurers directly, and that the religious organizations would not have to pay for them – or even fill out paperwork!
Everyone seemed happy. The GOP got to attack President Obama as being not religious enough, while getting some more digs in on the healthcare issue and further confusing Americans as to the President's religion – not that it should matter, but he's a lifelong Christian, though polls show that a growing number of Americans are beginning to assume he's Muslim, so obviously the propaganda is working. Only unlike most instances, when it's just the extreme culture warriors who don't leave sleeping dogs lie, the contraception issue didn't dissipate, because the Culture Warrior in Chief, Rick Santorum, is now on a national stage, which is good for far right extremists, bad for moderates, constitutionalists and socially-indifferent fiscal conservatives that want a chance to elect a new president in 2012.
Rick Santorum will never be elected President of the United States and not just because of his track record as a politician – which itself should be enough. We're talking about a guy who just a few years back, took the worst Congressional pummeling an incumbent has ever suffered in modern American politics – a historic beating, if you will – and in a swing state at that. I lived in Pennsylvania when Santorum was in the Senate, and it wasn't the cultural issues that got him trounced – it was his record as a Senator, which because of all of these sort of distractions, hasn't received much attention. That's probably good for Santorum who would have a hard time painting himself as a fiscal conservative if it was based on his past performance and not his current talking-point rhetoric.
Today, he's doing surprisingly well in conservative states now that he appears to be the last alternative to Mitt Romney still standing – except of course for Ron Paul, who so-called conservatives and even self-labeled Tea Partiers and constitutionalists refuse to get fully behind for some counterintuitive reason. There's also been little attention paid thus far to Santorum's time between Congress and this election, when the beltway insider used his connections to become a multimillionaire Washington “consultant,” routinely accepting large fees as a media consultant and adviser to many of the causes in his current platform – including opposition to healthcare reform. He can play up his “coal mining roots” in Western Pennsylvania, but the fact is, when Santorum left the Senate, he stayed in Washington as an Audi-driving influence peddler. Yet this guy is marketing himself as the GOP's Washington outsider?
Santorum embodies the far right social-issue wing of the Republican Party, which demands that a pretty long list of blocks are all checked if they're not to boo you off the stage. But consider his positions on sex alone and ask whether you can envision a majority of voters pulling the lever for him. Santorum has been quoted extensively as saying that “contraception is not okay,” that it is the President's place to step in and warn Americans of "the dangers of birth control," and that such policies should reflect the notion that sex is only to be engaged in by married couples – and even then, only for the purpose of procreation. We're not talking sound bites and gotcha politics. This guy we'll say that to anyone who puts a microphone in front of him.
99 percent of women use birth control during their lifetime – slightly less than the number who have sex. Many use it for reasons other than sex, like endometriosis to name just one. Others use it for family planning, like when they decide that they couldn't responsibly afford to properly raise another child. Others still, use it to avoid unwanted pregnancies that lead to the other holy grail of social issues – abortion. I know I'm not the first person to point out that reducing access to birth control and reducing abortions seem mutually exclusive in any practical sense.
Santorum has arguably done more for the sweater vest
than anyone since Cliff Huxtable.
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia
Even the Catholic Church caved on the “sex for procreation” issue – and that was all the way back in 1930! The church has condoned Natural Family Planning methods such as timing the menstrual cycle (the infamous rhythm method), ostensibly because the infertile period was created by God, but just as likely because it became pretty clear that human beings have sex whether you tell them to or not.
Then there's the homosexuality issue. At an earlier Fox News debate, Santorum got his first bit of national spotlight for famously piling on the gay Iraqi war-veteran soldier who asked about candidates' policies toward gays in the military and was booed mercilessly, by saying that not only does he oppose homosexuals being able to serve openly, but that “any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.”
If that's the policy, we really will have an Army of one – assuming we can find a young healthy American male (Santorum doesn't believe in women serving in combat either) not only willing to risk his life in whatever Middle Eastern desert someone like Santorum sends him to, but do so while celibate, at least as long as he's in the military. Afterward, he could seemingly come home, and assuming he gets married and he and his wife want to have a child, engage in coitus a few times, at least until they're done procreating. What if one's sterile; are they out of luck? I'm not sure anyone's asked Rick that one yet.
I'm not looking for a culture war here, and in truth, as disturbed as I think the guy in the sweater vest is, I admire the fact that he wears his crazy on his sleeve where voters can see it. It doesn't matter where you stand on the issue of sex. Personally, I'm in favor of it and I think it's pretty clear I'm with the vast majority of Americans, at least on this one. What I am suggesting is that someone with such radical views is pretty much disqualified in terms of getting elected. If this is all you've got, it's Romney or it's Obama – deal with it.
The biggest demographic challenge President Obama faces is a disenchanted youth vote, whose record turnout was the biggest factor in his 2008 victory. While unlikely to vote for any of the Republican candidates (again with the exception of Congressman Paul who polls very well with those under 30 across the spectrum), they might not turn out for a president who has largely been a disappointment to them on touchstone issues like the environment and foreign policy. But put Santorum on the ticket, and I can think of no better way to galvanize young voters and spike turnout for the President.
I don't know how many lukewarm young voters will come out to vote against Mitt Romney, but I suspect they'd be tripping over themselves to turn out to vote against the guy who has denied the science of global warming (he calls it a "hoax"), doesn't think abortion should be legal even in cases of rape and incest, advocates discriminating against homosexuals at every turn (he's even lumped it in with bestiality and incest), has promised to invade Iran, denies the very existance of Palestinians (because there is no Palestine), doesn't think birth control should even be used in the first place, let alone covered by insurance, because Americans are only to have sex for the purpose of procreation, etc., etc. Yea, good luck with that.