Mike Kueber's Blog

February 27, 2012

Joe Klein on Rich Santorum’s inconvenient truths

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:40 am
Tags: ,

There has been a spate of articles and columns (and entries in my blog) suggesting that Rick Santorum’s extreme religiosity and his willingness to allow his religious beliefs inform his policy views will preclude him from becoming president of the United States.  This week in Time magazine’s Joe Klein penned a column that affirmed that basic thesis, but went on to commend Santorum for his willingness to give full-throated defenses of positions that careful pols avoid talking about.  As described in another way by a different pundit, Santorum is not afraid to engage a reporter’s question instead of resorting to canned responses.

Klein’s column in available on-line only to Time subscribers, so I have attached the column in-full below for those interested in reading it.  Two passages are particularly interesting:

  1. “The right-to-life movement has been particularly clever and disciplined, changing public opinion about abortion over the past 20 years. It has gone after the most egregious and grisly outliers, like so-called partial-birth abortion. It has gotten a major boost from science, ironically, as sonograms have made it impossible to deny that from a very early stage, that thing in the womb is a human life.”  I am confused by this conclusion – i.e., what about sonograms conclusively shows the early-stage fetus is a human life?
  2. “But I also worry that we’ve become too averse to personal inconvenience as a society–that we’re less rigorous parents than we should be, that we’ve farmed out our responsibilities, especially for the disabled, to the state–and I’m grateful to Santorum for forcing on me the discomfort of having to think about the moral implications of his daughter’s smile.”  Klein raises the concern that American’s are becoming more selfish and less committed to treating each human life as something special.  

 

Rick Santorum’s inconvenient truths 

Bob Schieffer of CBS news is the gold standard for sane and solid in American TV journalism, and on the morning of Feb. 19, he was clearly nonplussed by extreme comments Rick Santorum had made about prenatal testing (“ends up in more abortions”), public schools (“anachronistic”) and the President’s position on the environment (a “phony theology”). “So, Senator,” Schieffer began, “I’ve got to ask you. What in the world were you talking about, sir?” At such a moment, the overwhelming majority of American politicians would go on the defensive, hem, haw and respond with “What I really meant to say was …” Not Santorum. He didn’t seem at all flustered. He vigorously restated the positions he had taken–in some cases, eloquently. He was especially vigorous on the subject of prenatal testing, citing studies that show that 90% of Down-syndrome babies are aborted. Schieffer asked whether Santorum wanted to turn back the clock on science and ban such testing. No, Santorum replied, but the federal government should not be promoting procedures like amniocentesis, which “are used for the purposes of identifying children who are disabled and in most cases end up [being eliminated by] abortions.”

Santorum has become an inconvenient candidate even for those who agree with him. These are delicate issues, to be handled delicately. The right-to-life movement has been particularly clever and disciplined, changing public opinion about abortion over the past 20 years. It has gone after the most egregious and grisly outliers, like so-called partial-birth abortion. It has gotten a major boost from science, ironically, as sonograms have made it impossible to deny that from a very early stage, that thing in the womb is a human life. As a result, the split on those who identify themselves as pro-choice vs. pro-life has gone from a 56%-33% pro-choice majority in 1995 to a 47%-47% tie now.

In the days after the Schieffer interview, audio was unearthed of a 2008 Santorum speech in which he seemed to argue the literal existence of Satan and a Mephistophelian intent to subvert the United States of America. He also seemed to compare the Obama Administration to Hitler, saying America now was like America in 1940, when some people thought Hitler wasn’t a threat. “It’s going to be harder for this generation to figure this out. There’s no cataclysmic event,” he said, just a slow creep toward state control of practically everything. These sorts of statements will probably stall the Santorum surge and hand the Republican nomination right back to Mitt Romney. Most Republicans aren’t going to want to battle Obama on contraception and prenatal testing.

And yet when you leave Hitler and Satan aside, there is something admirable about Santorum’s near Tourettic insistence on bringing up issues no one else wants to talk about. His position on education–that parents need to spend a lot more time supervising their children’s schooling–draws stifled groans from the overworked parents in his audiences, but he’s right: parents know best how their children learn. His emphasis on the importance of intact families is undoubtedly correct as well; every major study since the 1960s has shown the disaster that results from out-of-wedlock births. Even Santorum’s use of prenatal testing raises uncomfortable issues for many people. It was a sonogram that helped determine that the Santorums’ son Gabriel needed microsurgery in the womb to clear his bladder. Rick and Karen decided to fight for Gabriel’s life, which nearly cost Karen her own, and they passionately embraced the child during his two hours on earth. They have spent the past three years caring for their daughter Isabella, whose genetic defect, trisomy 18, is an early-death sentence. “Almost 100% of trisomy 18 children are encouraged to be aborted,” Santorum told Schieffer.

I am haunted by the smiling photos I’ve seen of Isabella with her father and mother, brothers and sisters. No doubt she struggles through many of her days–she nearly died a few weeks ago–but she has also been granted three years of unconditional love and the ability to smile and bring joy. Her tenuous survival has given her family a deeper sense of how precious even the frailest of lives are.

All right, I can hear you saying, the Santorum family’s course may be admirable, but shouldn’t we have the right to make our own choices? Yes, I suppose. But I also worry that we’ve become too averse to personal inconvenience as a society–that we’re less rigorous parents than we should be, that we’ve farmed out our responsibilities, especially for the disabled, to the state–and I’m grateful to Santorum for forcing on me the discomfort of having to think about the moral implications of his daughter’s smile. 

 

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7 Comments »

  1. Mike:

    About the two passages you highlighted at top, you seemed to misquote him by asking, “..what about sonograms conclusively shows the early-stage fetus is a human life?” In fact, Klein says, “…as sonograms have made it impossible to deny that from a very early stage, that thing in the womb is a human life.” Note that he does not say ‘fetus’ but ‘very early stage.’ This nonspecific label could mean lots of things. More importantly, I think you might be missing the point of what Klein is trying to say here … that sonograms allow us to visually see what only pregnant mother-to-be women could feel prior: the kicking, elbowing, stretching, sucking of thumbs, reacting to irritable noises, etc., all of which display a strong sense of a living “thing in the womb.” To any parent-to-be who has experienced such a sight, sonograms certainly do give that undeniable perception Klein talks about.

    While I disagree with Klein on some of his arguments, I also agree with him on the second point you mention at top. It’s a natural tendency for individuals and societies to seek comfortable situations over difficult situations, akin to bicycling downhill rather than uphill. It’s easier to leave all schooling responsibilities to the schools; blindly trust the labels on food, medicine, clothing, toy packages; and not keep disabled kids rather than face months or years of difficult parenting. I don’t think Klein is suggesting we should all decide to have disabled children, should we find out before birth. He even says, “Yes…” to the question “… shouldn’t we have the right to make our own choices?” But, yeah, it is easier to not think about the prospects and the realities that lots of people face, and it’s certainly easier to avoid the difficult path.

    Comment by Dave — February 28, 2012 @ 1:32 am | Reply

    • Dave, thanks for your comments. I intentionally misquoted Klein because I didn’t want to use his term, “that thing in the womb.” I thought the term “fetus” was equivalent.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — February 28, 2012 @ 2:16 am | Reply

  2. Santorum has courage. Is that a bad thing for a presidential candidate?

    Comment by Ann — February 29, 2012 @ 12:56 am | Reply

  3. Appreciate Joe Klein’s thoughtful honesty. There is a lot here for our society to think about and I hope they do.

    Comment by Kate Cavanaugh — February 29, 2012 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  4. His name is Rick….not Rich.

    Comment by Christi Wilson — April 10, 2012 @ 6:40 pm | Reply

  5. I so appreciate Santorum sticking to his beliefs and making no apologies. This kind of man (with character) can take the heat, and would have made a great president.

    Comment by Sue — April 10, 2012 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

  6. […] ended his presidential campaign. The text of the article is below the blogger’s commentary): (Link) TV and Movies Tina Fey Shares Her Lessons for Graceful and Effective Leadership from Lorne […]

    Pingback by The Weekly Review: April 8-13, 2012 | The Wise Guise — April 13, 2012 @ 4:50 pm | Reply


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