Douthat, Santorum and Tolerant Hate

The mocking of the Santorums for the manner in which they grieved over the death of their new-born son Gabriel Michael Santorum by Alan Colmes and Eugene Robinson has been explored in two previous posts here at TAC, and they may be read here and here.  Ross Douthat tackled the subject in the New York Times:

But if the attacks on the Santorums’ personal choices were incoherent (so incoherent, in fact, that both Colmes and Robinson soon backtracked), they were also entirely characteristic of our moment. This is the second consecutive election cycle in which a Republican politician has endured a bizarre obstetrics-related controversy; last time, we had the various conspiracy theories surrounding Sarah Palin’s pregnancy and her Down syndrome son.

In a sense, one could say that these kinds of invasive debates become inevitable once the traditional zone of privacy around public figures collapses. But it would be more accurate to say that the zone of privacy has collapsed precisely because of the deep moral divisions that these kinds of controversies reveal.

Privacy is a luxury of moral consensus. Nobody would have thought to politicize the premature birth and death of John F. Kennedy’s son Patrick, because abortion wasn’t a polarizing issue in the America of 1963. But if a white politician in the Jim Crow South had married a black woman, the relationship would inevitably have been seen as a political gesture as well a personal decision.

Today, we are less divided over race, but more divided over sex and reproduction. In a country that cannot agree whether fetuses are human beings, even questions like how to mourn and bury a miscarried child are inevitably freighted with ideological significance. Likewise, in a country where the majority of Down syndrome fetuses are aborted, the mere act of carrying a child with a genetic disorder to term — as both the Palins and the Santorums, whose daughter Bella has Trisomy 18, have done — feels like a political statement.

Go here to read the rest.  The column is a good restrained look at this issue.  What is truly interesting however, are the comments reacting to the column.  Almost uniformly, they are completely unsympathetic to Santorum and his family, and most say that his beliefs against gay marriage and abortion are so despicable that he is fair game for this type of criticism.  A random sample:

I volunteer for a chevra kadishah, preparing corpses for burial in the traditional Jewish way. I have have little to no squeamishness, even when laying out dear friends who have died from late stage cancer.Death is natural and a part of life, something I think that can and should be shared with children. I have no problem with praying the rosary at home, or a home funeral. But taking a half-gestated fetus home for the other kids to hold – with all respect, Mr. Douthat, that IS weird and creepy!

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This pattern that you describe is not an accident. It’s a direct result of the Republican establishment using the issue of reproductive rights and reproductive health as a moral club to attack their opponents.

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I believe there is an interesting psychological phenomenon on display in Santorum’s actions with the dead baby, and his extreme opposition to abortion more generally. People like Santorum know deep down that there is something wrong with the callousness and vicious nature of his supposedly “moral” stance. They know that these are not the attitudes of a genuinely good human being. And so they fasten on to the “right to life” issue in an extreme way to prove others–or really to themselves–that they really are caring, righteous people. “See how much value I place on human life? I must be a good person!”

This is a man whose moral compass is deeply askew.

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The attacks most certainly do not come with the vocation Santorum has chosen, but with the way he’s chosen to pursue that vocation. Rick Santorum is an ill-educated, fearful simpleton, who’s search for attention has led to a will to leadership. Douthat is right to call out the insipid Colmes and unenlightening Robinson for their irrelevant remarks about Santorum’s truly unfortunate experience. But progressives are not attacking Santorum specifically for the handling of his family troubles. They are simply grasping at at any possible means to remove the smugness from this mean spirited and dangerous man, before more articulate boosters of his catastrophically reactionary ideas–such as Mr. Douthat himself–find a way to successfully promote Santorum’s candidacy with a more palatable expression of the same message.

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Ross’ conclusion is right, but his major premise is (willfully, I think) misstated. The Santorum family’s actions and the circumstances surrounding the delivery of their fetus (fetus is the medical term for non-viable pregancy) have been a topic of debate because THEY have put that event at issue specifically by writing and speaking about it and because Rick Santorum’s main issues as a candidate involve majority rule over pregnancy, conception and the difficult choices families make. It is not because sexual morality is an issue that divides us culturally. I think the majority of people would hope that these type of intimate issues stay out of the public I eye, and that politicians leave them alone.

Oh, and another thing. My 18 year old sister died of luekemia when I was nine. My parents decided to have a closed casket at her funeral becase the rest of the children really did not want to see our beloved sister’s lifeless body. It would have completely devastated us. I don’t think Santorum was thinking about his children when he brought that fetus home.

Liberals usually preen themselves on being tolerant and open-minded.  One can search long and hard in the comments to Mr. Douthat’s column and find little evidence of either.  Why the bitterness and the bile?  The type of loss that the Santorums endured should be something that elicits only sympathy from other people, even those who are strong political opponents of Rick Santorum.  That it does not frequently on the political Left in this country says quite a bit about the mindset of many Leftists in this country.  Religious faith tends to be to be weak or non-existent on the Left.  As nature abhors a vacuum in the natural order, so does the human mind rebel against the lack of something that orders our life and beliefs, a role traditionally played by religion.  Into this vacuum other facets of human life will enter, and on the Left in this country politics for many Leftists is clearly a religion substitute.  From that standpoint the reaction of so many of the commentors to Douthat’s column is completely understandable and predictable.

If Liberalism is viewed as a religion, Rick Santorum and other conservatives are not political opponents to be debated, but very evil people to be destroyed.  This attitude was no doubt exacerbated because Douthat’s column appeared in the New York Times, a Holy of Holies indeed for most contemporary liberals in this country.  At some level no doubt they are offended by the fact that even a moderate conservative like Douthat has any space in the New York Times.  His column, as restrained as it is, set them off, and they gave vent to their bitterness that politicians with views like Santorum even exist.

A handful of commentors were not wallowing in bile, including this one:

Thank you Ross for highlighting one facet of how disgusting and uncivil our politics has become. I’m not optimistic that it will get any better but if more pundits will call out the most serious abusers, maybe there’s hope.

Unfortunately, I fully share the lack of optimism of Mr. Douthat’s commenter.

5 Responses to Douthat, Santorum and Tolerant Hate

  • Many liberals are purely evil. We need to help them.

    In Christian charity, we need to work to bring them to virtue. We need to bring them the good news.

  • The militant homosexualists and abortionists have little fear of showing their true colours now. It may be a little late but war to the knife should be the order of the day when dealing these people. Trying to understand them, or to persuade them of the reasonableness of the Christian position is a pointless errand, as what enrages them is the mere existence of committed Christians. And when it comes in a package as attractive as Sarah Palin, it infuriates them even more, driving them into a fury like the sans culottes who paraded around with human heads on pikes.

  • they hate anything that recognizes the humanity of unborn children. pray for them.

  • I skipped through 155 comments on another site this morning about Mr Santorum. Their comment section was closed. I was amazed at the venom poured on the Santorums. At least one wrote as if they brought this up for political gain, seemed not to know it was in answer to a question on the campaign trail, upset his wife visibly. Others seemed to act as if the decision to accelerate the birth was an attemoted abortion, but ended in a premature delivery of an already dead baby. Not a fetus, bhy the way, but a baby. One OB GYN physician wrote that the drug given was perfectly normal. We all know the principle of double effect, we can do something to relieve a condition in the human body, even if it may result in death, whether the patient is a single man swith a specific medical condition or a mother with a difficult pregnancy. I know that dirty politics did not begin with the 24/7 news and the ingternet, blogs and social media. However the sickness is so much more evil today with hat 24/7 spread of hate, lies and one-sided attacks. The only cure is civilised discourse but I am off to drain the Atlantic before I tackle that one.

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