Hang Out to Dry

by Sam Stein | 5/1/03 5:00am

Attention all Democrats: please pardon Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the third ranking Senator in the GOP, for his self-incriminating verbiage. The obnoxiously conservative Senator spewed a bit of verbal garbage at the Associated Press the other day, when he equating homosexuality, with incest, bigamy and polygamy. Santorum said the following:

"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 may be."

The possible, but unlikely conclusions: Santorum is either a repressed homosexual or a compassionless homophobe. The logical explanation: the only thing uncommon with Santorum's conservative and religious-oriented views on civil unions was that it was made in a public forum. So how do the Democrats respond to a Republican uptight dogmatist? For one, they could demand that Santorum step down from his position as head of the Republican caucus, a plan of action for which some Congress members have pushed. Or they could do what I believe they should do, and thus what they ought to do -- forgive the man for his lapse in judgment and make his party pay for the slip-up.

Let's say Santorum kept his position as third leading Senator in the GOP and wore his condescending morality like a scarlet letter. Does this not work to discredit the GOP as un-sympathetic, out of touch traditionalists? Wouldn't politically neutral citizens be inclined to hit the polls, knowing that a leader of the majority party found the prospect of marrying another man only slightly better then a late night rendezvous with Lassie? Democrats, don't let Santorum fade into the background. Make him the poster-boy for neo-conservatism: privileged white men with ethical superiority complexes.

Don't think it would work? The Republican Party made this type of shameful cataloging their political crutch during the Clinton years. Newt Gingrich and the rest of the GOP spent almost a year stalling political action in order to discredit Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal. Having a controversial (at best) Democratic President allowed Republican Senators to debase the political agenda, and subtly label all Democrats as morally irresponsible, with the exception of Ted Kennedy. Interestingly enough, when Gingrich faced similar ethics questions about an extramarital affair he had with a young Congressional aide, he simply stepped down rather then face the public denigration he, like Clinton, would have received.

Oh, what a dynamic duo we could have had at the apex of the GOP, had Democrats not demanded Trent Lott's removal as majority leader. It would have been a dream combination -- Lott and Santorum -- the old-school Dixiecrat, with the new-aged tight ass -- bland and blander. Think this would have drawn the ire of the NAACP and Gay Rights Activists? You bet it would. Interest groups would have had a field day; Washington would experience a reinvigoration of activism. Sure, people would have demanded for their removal from leadership positions, but Democrats could have said: "take it one step further, removal from the Senate come election time."

Think this column's a bit partisan? Republican's are using this strategy too. After unsuccessful attempts in trying to remove Democratic, Virginia Congressman Moran for the off-based, over-the-top comments he made about the influence of Israeli interest groups preceding the Iraqi war, GOP members are now using his comments as a bases for electoral change. Moran didn't step down. Instead, he's borne the weight of his comments, and will sweat it out come two Novembers from now.

The beauty of a representative, electoral government is that every two to six years voters get to come to the polls and express political preferences. Although it is not a modern phenomenon, more and more people are voting strictly on party lines. Furthermore, these parties are increasingly defined by the conduct of their leaders. What this means is that individual mistakes (such as run-of-the-mouth press conferences) now play important electoral roles. Senator Santorum, in all likelihood, made an unsuspecting gaffe when he spoke about the prospect of homosexual marriages. Still, he does not deserve the gift of being allowed to hang low in the background, the equivalent of a "get out of jail for free" card. Let him, and especially his party, experience the electoral uncertainty that comes with making thoughtless comments, so that in the future he might realize some issues are more decisive then they seem.