Last edited: February 05, 2005


Rick Will Survive This

Nothing has emerged about him that voters didnít already know

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 25, 2003
Box 947, Pittsburgh, PA 15230
Fax: 412-263-2014
Email: letters@post-gazette.com

By Jon Delano

Every politician says things they wish they hadnít. Just ask Trent Lott. This week, Rick Santorum probably wishes he had picked his words a little more carefully.

But, in the end, watch for Santorum to emerge with his job intact as the Republican Partyís conference chair. This stateís junior senator has had a charmed political life, and while the national outcry surprised even him, nothing new has emerged about him that we in Pennsylvania didnít already know.

First, my disclaimer. I like Rick Santorumís energy, I like Rickís usually good political acumen, and I like Rickís political growth over the last decade. Iíve known Rick since he was a young, single lawyer who moved into my neighborhood and handed out Republican brochures at the local school where we vote.

Second, back in another lifetime, I was chief of staff to the congressman that Rick narrowly defeated. But I never take politics personally, and as Rick has joked with me, that election launched me on another interesting (and, yes, more lucrative) career back in the private sector more than a dozen years ago.

Third, when it comes to public policy, I agree with Rick on some things, and I disagree on others. OK, thatís not really a disclaimer. As a flaming moderate, I say that about most politicians. But, in my view, Santorumís views on privacy in the bedroom are beyond the mainstream of American beliefs. In an interview, Santorum opined about a Texas statute that criminalizes homosexual conduct between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home. Most states like Pennsylvania have repealed such laws, but Texas still takes an interest in what consenting adults do in the bedroom. The statute is under attack in the Supreme Court, and Santorum wants the court to affirm the right of every state to legislate in this arena.

ďIf the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] 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,Ē Santorum said.

He then claimed, ďIt all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesnít exist, in my opinion, in the United States Constitution.Ē

Gay rights groups denounced Santorum for equating gay sex with incest, and, as a lawyer, I do think Santorum was making a bit of a logical leap. If the Supreme Court rules that consensual gay sex is a protected privacy right, it hardly seems necessary for the court to strike down laws against polygamy, bigamy or anything else. There are lots of compelling public policy reasons, like the children involved, to outlaw polygamy that hardly relate to what consenting adults do in private.

But the larger issue, missed by many, is Santorumís unorthodox view on the right to privacy, a right that most Americans take for granted. Santorum is correct that the Constitution does not explicitly use the word privacy. But itís been 40 years since the Supreme Court found that right implicit in the document. The court struck down a Connecticut statute that prohibited doctors from prescribing contraceptives like the pill, declaring that some things are really so personal as to be beyond government intervention.

What really bothers Santorum, I suspect, is that the right to privacy has been used in subsequent cases to affirm things he doesnít like, particularly the right of a woman to choose an abortion. In response to the furor, Santorum relies on a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 1985 upholding a Georgia anti-sodomy law. Legal scholars say there is a difference between Georgiaís law that covers all citizens and the Texas statute aimed only at gays. But Santorumís defense of Texas with his sweeping claim that we have no constitutional privacy rights cuts against mainstream legal views.

Moreover, itís questionable politics and subjects Santorum to ridicule. Americans believe in a right of privacy, and, in particular, the sanctity of the bedroom. Santorum may not like gay sex or ďnontraditionalĒ heterosexual sex, another position he takes, but only a few Americans think that such private personal conduct should be outlawed.

The question for Republicans is should a man with such views on sex and privacy be the third-ranking leader in the Republican Party of the U.S. Senate?

Forget the outcry from gays and Democrats. While gays have a right to criticize, they simply do not carry the political weight that civil rights groups do when it comes to Republican Party politics. As for Democrats, they just smell a political opportunity and will make the most of it.

My bet is on Santorum surviving all this. Sure heíll get dusted up on the talk shows, but in some ways it just reinforces what everyone knows about him: He is a very conservative fellow. Nothing new there.

  • . Jon Delano, the money and politics editor for KDKA-TV and political analyst for WQED-TV, teaches public policy at Carnegie Mellon Universityís Heinz School.


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