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A Hateful Outrage Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 09 January 2012

Electoral politics is dirty business. Most decent people would have nothing to do with it – if there were any other reasonable way to select leaders in modern democracies. But even in popular election campaigns, there are limits. And last week those limits were crossed in unbelievably crass ways out of ideological hatred towards presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Even some of the media figures who defended him, like Ross Douthat in the New York Times, have been so sucked into the bad habits of the neighborhood that Douthat concludes Santorum shouldn’t complain:  “In a culture as divided about fundamental issues as our own, the kind of weird attacks that Rick Santorum is enduring come with the vocation he has chosen.”

Weird is putting it mildly. For once, Douthat’s colleague at the Times, Maureen Dowd, was comparatively modest, just mocking Santorum for his “antediluvian abrasiveness” on moral questions like homosexuality. For La Dowd, the moral sentiments of the whole human race in virtually every age and culture until quite recently – that homosexuality is a moral aberration – is merely some collective delusion, now remedied by the superior moral delicacy of our day. And the opinions of teenagers in New Hampshire campaign events prove it.

The really weird stuff came out last week beginning with Alan Colmes (who later apologized) and Eugene Robinson (who didn’t really – and you can see on the Internet by Googling him how slander spreads beyond anyone’s ability to recall). They weren’t content with criticizing Santorum’s traditional Catholic morals and conservative economics and politics. That’s too much like regular campaign commentary.

After Iowa, Santorum had to be destroyed. They attacked the Santorum family’s bringing home the body of their child, who died shortly after birth, as something incomparably bizarre, like the Mexican cult of death.

Actually, I think both commentators, politically correct liberals, would have commended a brief visit with a dead child as a humane alternative to the American bourgeoisie’s denial of death – if it had been practiced in another, non-American culture.

Instead, despite the fact, as was later reported, that several American medical groups recommend such closure, some of our most prestigious media figures felt they were authorized to wade into this sad story because it confirmed just how weird those traditional Catholics and their cult of the fetus really are – and the voting public ought to know it.

And then there was the story put out by several pro-abortion groups that the Santorums chose to abort the child when Mrs. Santorum had complications during the pregnancy. The implication, of course, is that they’re hypocrites, like all pro-lifers, and jettison their principles when it’s convenient.

The truth, however, was that the pregnancy was one of those hard cases anticipated by and quite well thought through in Catholic medical ethics. Both mother and child were going to die if an infection was not treated with antibiotics, which had the potential to induce labor.


            Closure and memorial: Victorian kids photographed with a dead sibling

The political perspective on these sorts of situations is quite crude. We hear about the need for abortion exceptions in cases of “rape, incest, and life of the mother.” But these are not at all the same thing morally. Rape and incest are sexual crimes, but a child conceived as a result does not merit destruction in the womb.

Questions of “life of the mother” are more complicated. Some abortion advocates think the phrase means everything from a pregnancy that will kill the woman to missing a semester abroad during college.

In more serious analysis, where a mother’s life really is threatened by a problem pregnancy, it’s morally licit in certain circumstances to save her life and, indirectly, cause the death of the fetus. In the ethical literature, this is called the principle of double effect – a situation will produce two undesired outcomes, so you choose one good goal accepting, but not intending, the unfortunate secondary effect that will follow.

Many people don’t understand this especially as applied to problem pregnancies. A doctor, a former president of the St. Luke’s Physician Guild in Washington, told me years ago that his colleagues at a local hospital would mock him for performing “abortions” in such cases, even though he was a vocal opponent of abortion.

No amount of explanation on his part had any effect on the other doctors. They have been brainwashed to think that abortion is just a certain medical procedure. It’s all the same, medically, whatever motives or rationalizations you attach to the brute fact.

Politicians are even more obtuse about such things. We might have expected that Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the House, and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, both of whom attended Catholic schools – and Trinity College in Washington – would have heard something about double effect. But both seem instead to have heard only about female autonomy – i.e., the right to choose to kill babies – during their Catholic educations. Sebelius recently spoke to a NARAL Pro-Choice fundraiser about “the war” they are in – together. And Pelosi has argued that repealing Obamacare’s abortion provisions may kill women.

It’s not surprising that wild charges such as that the Santorums are “weird” and had an “abortion” are plausible to some very ignorant people. But those who put in motion such vicious and patently false attacks on a campaigning politician bear grave moral responsibilities.

There’s plenty to debate about Santorum’s record and vision (He made a troubling mistake in supporting pro-abortion Senator Arlen Specter a few years ago to preserve the Republican majority). But you can oppose someone’s politics without hateful smears.

Further, Santorum’s socially conservative views – coupled, be it said, with some real compassion for the unfortunate, which have been criticized by some conservatives as “big government conservatism” – were popular in Iowa and also resonate with tens of millions of Catholic, evangelical, Orthodox Jewish, and Muslim voters.

Painting those views, once the standard throughout the entire country, as somehow “weird” divides the American populace unnecessarily in hatred, and we will not be easily healed.


Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

© 2012 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
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written by Jeannine, January 09, 2012
I, too, thought it strange that Ross Douthat ended his article by saying that, in effect, Santorum deserved this treatment. How dare Santorum bring up those touchy social conservative issues! The comments on Douthat's article are a window into the hatred that some people indulge about the abortion issue.
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written by Anthony S. Layne, January 09, 2012
@Jeannine: It wasn't just that Santorum was talking about social conservative issues; it was the fact that, by featuring his disabled daughter Bella in one of his ads, that prompted Douthat to make his remarks. And I can kinda see his point. It's one thing for the opposition to bring up your family "out of left field", as it were, but another when you use your own family history for your political ends. Douthat didn't quite say he deserved the hatefulness, but rather that Santorum should have expected such a blowback. At its best, American politics can be a dirty fight, and you should never bring into it a weapon that can be turned against you. Having said that, it still doesn't justify the hatefulness of the left, and the attacks on Santorum really illustrate the extent to which the Culture of Death has corrupted our society.
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written by Grump, January 09, 2012
Santorum would have my vote were it not for his failure to remember Jesus' injunction to love thy enemy. Rick's extremely hawkish foreign policy views -- he would bomb Iran if it didn't bow to his demand to pursue nuclear weapons -- are more than enough to offset his otherwise admirable virtues.
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written by Jenny, January 09, 2012
I have beem following Santorum for some time now because I admire his conviction to stand up for what he believes, especially the social issues. He isn't a "pure" Republican because of some of his more liberal and bigger government support for those in need, and he is more consistent here with Catholic social justice teaching than with the Republican party position. Yet, the Republican party is closer to Catholic teaching regarding abortion and many of the life issues than the Democratic party. While I don't agree with Santorum (or any politician, for that matter) on every issue, I agree with him on many and think that he represents my thinking more than any other.

The politics of destroying the person, rather than their position, is abhorrent and shameful. It also begs the question of whether or not they really have any substantive arguements on the merits of the position. My personal experience has been that when people can't argue the merits of their position against yours, then they resort to character assassination, which those with character will not participate in. Unfortunately, it seems that American politics has been going down this road for quite a while now, much to the detriment of the whole process and the misinformation about candidate positions, in general, which does not contribute to a well-informed electorate.
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written by willie, January 09, 2012
One should brace themselves for an avalanche of vituperative villification as Rick Santorum assumes more prominence as a candidate. The mindset of the media, leftist academia and the rest of the cultural relatavists is that he(Santorum) must be destroyed.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., January 09, 2012
Decent people continue to be shocked by these kinds of attacks coming from the end of the political spectrum that promotes itself as the caring, feeling, end becuase decent foks find it hard to accept that those who advertizing themselves as Liberals are in fact Radicals. The Liberals of the past, many of whom were influecned by Catholic Social Teaching, would be shocked at the beliefs, methods, and goals of the Radical wolves of today disguised as Liberal sheep, falsely using the name of a proud, America, Christian tradition. The views of the Radicals are closer to those of Marx than those Pope Leo XIII or Pope Pius IX. It is this very Marxist certainty about the righteouness of their cause that enbables them to stop at nothing in smearing those whom they believe to be class enemies. Yes, many of them are rich, but they see themselves as belonging to the Revolutionary Class, and they can justify their material excesses just as Kim Jong-Il could justify those of his ruling elite. I suppose you might accuse me of crossing the line and exceeding the bounds of deceny. I make no apologies for telling the truth about the Revolutionary Class which is using every means available to drive Christiantiy out of pubic life and have our children worshiping at the altars of Kinsey, Sanger, and Alinsky on thier way to the Temple of Marx.
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written by Tony Esolen, January 09, 2012
When one does not believe in a transcendent God, to whose goodness and wisdom none of us can measure up, then the Next Big Thing in sight becomes a god. I've been arguing that there are three candidates for Next Big Thing. In my mind they go by the names Baal, Pharaoh, and Adam: Nature, the State, and the Self. The Left now worships at the altars of all three, by turns. The secular Right worships at the altar of Adam, with sometimes a nod to Baal, and a nod to Pharaoh when he's on the warpath. A pox on 'em all.

The most disgusting thing about all this is the baldfaced bigotry. President Obama dares to say that if the Republicans got their way, Down Syndrome children would die. Indeed, if the Republicans got their way, Down Syndrome children would BE BORN; and the "cure" for Down Syndrome, the test to make sure we filter them out of the gene pool, would be made illegal, as the filthy and hardhearted thing it is.

Meanwhile, it's fair game on the Left to go after the Catholic Church. Someday it may be fair game on the secular Right, too; but for now, they're making nice-nice. We should call the Bigots out as Bigots, pure and simple. Nobody would dare to require Quaker schools to offer ROTC programs, lest they lose federal support. Nobody would dare to require yeshivas to serve non-kosher food. The attacks on the Church are purely vicious -- nobody is denied a latex balloon or an estrogen pill just because the Church won't pay for one; just as ROTC programs are easy to find, and delis that serve ham and cheese sandwiches.
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written by Charles E Flynn, January 09, 2012
The principle of the double effect is discussed in this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, recently revised and may be read online.

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