Savaging Santorum

February 2, 2012 - 4:09 PM

They turned former Sen. Rick Santorum’s name into an obscenity. Gay activist Dan Savage slimed Santorum by persuading his cohorts to name a substance (a “frothy mix of lube and feces” attendant to anal intercourse) after the former Pennsylvania senator. Then, they made sure it was the first thing you find online when you google “Santorum.” Google stiff-arms all pleas to take it down.

Savage has boasted of licking doorknobs at Gary Bauer’s campaign headquarters in 2000. He had Bauer sign an autograph with a pen he’d had in his mouth, all when Savage had a virulent case of the flu. He hates Christians, conservatives and anyone else who dares to say that marriage should be legally protected as the union of one man and one woman.

Savage admits to being a biological terrorist. After all, thousands of elderly people and infants actually die of flu. And they’re just the kind of folks who might be found at the campaign headquarters of pro-family candidates like Bauer and Santorum.

But Dan Savage is hardly the only one frothing at the mouth. He is in league with many others. When the affecting story of Rick and Karen Santorum bringing their dead child, Gabriel, home from the hospital was published, some liberals attacked. Alan Colmes and Eugene Robinson called Santorum “weird,” really weird. (Even though a mainstream pregnancy organization said it was the right thing to do.) To his credit, Colmes soon apologized. Robinson? Not so much. Probably angling for another Pulitzer.

Liberal Charles Lane in the Washington Post and conservative Ross Douthat in the New York Times defended Rick Santorum. You don’t have to vote for him, or accept his politics, they said, but there should be some charity for grieving parents of dead newborns. Charles Lane movingly cited his own painful loss of a child. It was, after all, the great liberal icon Joseph Welch who famously put down Sen. Joe McCarthy with this line: “At long last, Senator, have you no decency at all?”

Well, that was then. Savage has set a tone for incivility in political debate. And perhaps savages can be defined as political warriors who have no decency at all. Savage Keith Olbermann labels conservatives “the worst person in the world.” He did this while Saddam Hussein, Kim il-Sung, and Muammar Gaddafi were still at large. Now, Olbermann is frothing at the mouth on something called Current TV. Well, if you can’t just go away, Mr. Olbermann, that’s the next best thing.

Here are just a few examples of online savagery that greeted New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s dignified plea for civility.

“Santorum needs to feel the hurt he imposes on others.”

“…he’s made himself & his family fair game for invasion of privacy and personal attacks.”

“…the zone of privacy has collapsed because wackos like Santorum feel compelled to place personal issues front and center in their campaigns.”

“…these self righteous religious nuts have no business proposing to dictate how I live [my life].”

“Bring home a dead fetus and demand that his children look at it? How about calling that act for what it is, crazy and child abuse?”

I do not want to suggest that only liberals are out of bounds on this kind of thing.

A GOP operative printed a picture of President Obama as a zombie – with a bullet hole in his forehead. That bit of political indecency was savage. So are the whiteface Obama posters. And those that proclaim: “We came unarmed – this time.”

The worst case of anti-Obama savagery was, ironically, the work of über liberal Bill Maher. At the time of the BP oil spill, Maher the Mocker complained that he had not gotten a real black man in the White House. He wanted a brother who would jam a Glock in his waste band and use it to pistol whip those mothers into submission. Was there any racist stereotype of black maleness Maher the Mocker missed?

Rick Santorum may or may not survive this spring’s vetting process. He has many supporters, but also many opponents. There is plenty in his record for supporters to cheer and critics to chew. But we must reject the kind of savagery we’ve seen on display thus far.

In 1999, at the time of the impeachment of President Clinton, conservative author Bill Bennett took questions at the close of his Forrestal Lecture at the Naval Academy. One Midshipman noted the rules that apply to these college-age military members. If they are caught having sex in Bancroft Hall, the academy’s dorm, they are expelled, and required to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of their tuition. Then the polite Mid asked pointedly: “Dr. Bennett, what should our expectations of our civilian leadership be?”

Bennett, nonplused, replied: “Higher.” It’s a good goal for the 2012 campaign, too.

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