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The Mullah Omar of Pennsylvania

Santorum: “That’s Latin for Asshole”

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Editors’ Note: In honor of Rick Santorum’s sudden emergence in the Iowa caucuses as the anti-Romney du jour, CounterPunch is reprinting this 2003 profile of the Pennsylvania zealot about his career in the United States senate, where he was almost universally reviled as both stupid and mean by his colleagues and staff. –AC / JSC

Rick Santorum had only been in the senate for a few weeks when Bob Kerrey, then Senator from Nebraska, pegged him. “Santorum, that’s Latin for asshole.” It was probably the funniest line the grim Kerrey ever uttered and it was on the mark, too.

Such a stew of sleazy self-righteousness and audacious stupidity has not been seen in the senate since the days of Steve Symms, the celebrated moron from Idaho. In 1998, investigative reporter Ken Silverstein fingered Santorum as the dumbest member of congress in a story for The Progressive. Considering the competition, that’s an achievement of considerable distinction.

Even Santorum’s staff knows the senator is a vacuous boob prone to outrageous gaffs and crude outbursts of unvarnished bigotry. For years, they kept him firmly leashed, rarely permitting him to attend a press interview without a senior staffer by his side. They learned the hard way. While in serving in the House, Santorum was asked by a reporter to explain why his record on environmental policy was so dreadful. Santorum replied by observing that the environment was of little consequence in God’s grand plan. “Nowhere in the Bible does it say that America will be here 100 years from now.” The reference was to the Rapture, which apparently is impending.

Santorum is the self-anointed prophet of family values on the Hill, who issues frequent jeremiads on the threats Hollywood fare poses to the “fabric of American culture.” Of course, these sermons are hard to swallow from a man with Santorum’s resume. After all, before entering Congress Santorum worked as a lobbyist. His top client? The World Wrestling Federation.

But now the Republican leadership, apparently cruising along in self-destruct mode, has elevated Santorum to the number three spot in the senate and his staff can’t run interference for him anymore. The results have been comically predictable. Six months ago, Santorum penned an op-ed for a Christian paper blaming the sexual molestation scandals in the Catholic Church on “the culture of liberalism.” Surely, an omen that the senator from Pennsylvania wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

So it came to pass that on April 7, Santorum sat down for an interview with AP reporter Lara Jordan. He should have been on his guard. After all, Jordan is married to Jim Jordan, who oversees John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, despises Santorum. He inherited the senate seat left open when her previous husband, John Heinz, perished in a plane crash. “Santorum is critical of everything, indifferent to nuance, and incapable of compromise,” Heinz said. This should have been a warning signal to Santorum that the interview with Jordan might be hostile terrain, but his intellectual radar seems to function about as well as Baghdad’s air defense system. Post-war, that is.

After a brisk discussion of the degeneracy of American culture, the interview turned to the subject of the pending Supreme Court case on sodomy laws. Like most religious zealots, Santorum is obsessed not just with homosexuals but with visualizing the postures and physical mechanics of homosexual love. He seized on her question with an enthusiasm many Republicans reserve for discussions of the tax code.

“I have no problem with homosexuality,” Santorum pronounced. “I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual. I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who’s homosexual. If that’s their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it’s not the person, it’s the person’s actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.”

In the past, one of Santorum’s staffers would have found some way to interrupt the interview and deftly muzzle the senator. But he was flying solo and evidently trying to impress Ms. Jordan with his encyclopedic knowledge of the work of Krafft-Ebbing. Note the senator’s excited and flirtatious tone.

AP: OK, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?

SANTORUM: We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that [have] sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold – Griswold was the contraceptive case – and abortion. And now we’re just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you – this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, where it’s sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.

“Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships. 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. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality

At this point, even the unnerved reporter tried to rein in Santorum. “I’m sorry,” Jordan interjected. “I didn’t think I was going to talk about ‘man on dog’ with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking
me out.”

But the man was on a roll and there was no stopping him. “And that’s sort of where we are in today’s world, unfortunately,” Santorum said. “The idea is that the state doesn’t have
rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there
are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we’re seeing it in our society.”

There you have it. A case study in the politics of pathological homophobia. Despite outcries from gay Republicans, Bush stood by Santorum in his hour of media martyrdom: “The president believes the senator is an inclusive man,” Ari Fleishcer informed the press. “And that’s what he believes.” Santorum’s pal Tom Delay, the pest exterminator-turned-Republican House Majority Leader, was ebullient. He called Santorum’s remarks “courageous.”

Trent Lott must be snickering in the senate cloakroom.

Santorum, the Mullah Omar of Pennsylvania, is a ridiculous spectacle but he can’t be taken lightly. He is the slick-haired darling of the neo-cons, an obedient automaton that feverishly promotes their wildest fantasies without hesitation.

Undeterred by the First Amendment, Santorum says planning to introduce legislation that will limit criticism of Israel in colleges and universities that receive federal money.

And his passion for Israel is so profound that it obviates even his rancid homophobia. When it comes to the Middle East, liberal Democrats race to co-sponsor legislation with him. Most recently, Santorum and Barbara Boxer teamed up to introduce the Syria Accountability Act, which would inflict trade sanctions on Syria like those which gripped Iraq for 12 years, killing nearly one million children. Talk about family values.

Sure, Santorum is an asshole. But he’s not one of a kind.

Jeffrey St. Clair’s latest book is Born Under a Bad Sky. He is the co-editor of Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.