Monday, January 09, 2012

Issue Avoidance

Another day and another opportunity to blog about Rick Santorum, before his fifteen minutes are up.

The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky observed that, at the Meet The Press debate (transcript here) Saturday night, Santorum stated

had a good moment, I thought, with his answer to the question about how he’d react if one of his sons were to announce that he’s gay. Santorum: “I’d love him just as much as I did the second before he told me.” General applause to this. I’m not 100 percent persuaded that this is really and fully and completely true, in either Santorum’s case or the audience’s, but everyone knows it’s what you have to say, and he managed to say it with seeming conviction.

Andy Hiller, political director of a Boston television station, asked Santorum "What if you had a son who came to you and said he was gay?"     Santorum, not quite a political neophyde, shot back

I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it, and I would try to do everything I can to be as good a father to him as possible.

It now is notable that a GOP candidate for president doesn't jump at the chance to say that he would kick his son out of his house because of a sexual orientation he is born with.       Tomasky understands such an answer was unavoidable, given that both the left,  sympathetic to gay rights interests (ditto most members of the mainstream media), and the right  would be offended if Santorum responded "I would tell him to go back into the closet and await God's judgement."

But maybe Santorum was being sincere.     In substance (though not in tone) it differs little with his response in 2003 to a similar question, to which he replied "I would try to point out to them what is the right thing to do. And we have many temptations to do things we shouldn’t. It doesn’t mean you have to submit.”

Or perhaps he believes gay marriage and condoms should be banned everywhere but that it doesn't apply to his family, a kind of reversal of the old adage:     "a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged."      As often,  a liberal is a conservative who unexpectedly has found that life throws some curve balls even into the best, or most privileged, families.

Think Dick Cheney, a right-winger's right-winger who at least twice (more recently, here) has expressed support for gay marriage (video from earlier instance, below).        Just a guess- but that might be related to the situation of his daughter Mary, who is gay, which would make it either hypocritical or mere convenient pragmatism.     Quite common, really.

Adam Serwer of Mother Jones explains that the candidates could have been asked serious questions about gay rights rather than being lobbed softballs:

The questions were sufficiently devoid of any specific matters of gay rights that they allowed both candidates to garner applause lines. Romney said that while he opposes same-sex marriage, "if people are looking for someone who will discriminate against gays, or will in any way try and suggest that people [who] have different sexual orientation don't have full rights in this country, they won't find that in me."

"When was the last time you spoke out for increasing gay rights?" Hiller asked.

"Right now," Romney said to laughter and applause.

Hiller followed up by asking whether Santorum would be a "force for gay rights in his party." Santorum said he was opposed gay couples being able to adopt or get married. "Just because you don't agree with someone's desire to change the law doesn't mean you don't like them, or you hate them, or you want to discriminate against them," Santorum said after declaring his support for laws that discriminate against gay people.

"What if you had a son who came up to you and said he was gay?" Hiller asked.

"I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it. And I would try to do everything I can to be as good of a father to him as possible."

It was perhaps Santorum's finest moment in the debate—he didn't flinch, or wait a moment to reflect. He came across as entirely sincere. And that's part of the problem. In both cases, the Republican candidates were asked questions that were essentially about whether or not they "hated" gays. Those questions are easy to deflect with a measured tone. Instead of asking the candidates about their feelings towards gay people, they could have been asked about any one of the many pending legal issues affecting the rights of gays and lesbians. Do the candidates support ending the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy? Would they support extending the same military benefits heterosexual couples have to same-sex families? Do they think gay couples should be able to adopt (Santorum, to his credit, explicitly said no.) Do they think Lawrence v. Texas was rightly decided or do they think states should be allowed to criminalize sexual behavior by consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes? Do they support or oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages?

Many of the candidates are on record on these issues, and an informed moderator might have asked the candidates to explain their positions, since Republican stances on gay rights issues typically clash with their stated principles on federalism or individual rights. Instead, the Republican candidates got softballs about how they feel about gay people, which allowed them grin and prattle on about tolerance and equality, even while supporting laws that deny gays and lesbians the same rights as everyone else. Grading on this bizarre curve, Santorum gets applause for not casting a hypothetical gay son out of his home as though basic human decency would demand anything else. Santorum wouldn't cast out his gay son: He just wouldn't let him serve in the military, get married, or adopt a child.

It shouldn't matter to the future of the republic how Rick Santorum would react even if any of his children were gay.      A President should not be judged by what his offspring are or even how he responds to their condition.      Sasha and Malia seem like fine young people.       But that really hasn't lowered the unemployment rate, tamed the rampant greed of Wall Street,  convinced Ahmadinejad to give up any pretensions to developing nuclear weapons, or even undermined the conviction of the American people that the nation is on the wrong track generally.

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