by Gary Farber
Santorum has said he is considering candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in the 2012 presidential election. On September 11, 2009, Santorum spoke to a group of Catholic leaders in Orlando, Florida. He told the leaders, "I hate to be calculating, but I see that 2012 is not just throwing somebody out to be eaten, but it's a real opportunity for success." He also scheduled appearances with political non-profit organizations that took place in Iowa on October 1, 2009.
Santorum re-iterated his consideration of a 2012 run in a e-mail and letter sent on January 15, 2010 to supporters of his Political Action Committee saying, "After talking it over with my wife Karen and our kids – I am considering putting my name in for the 2012 presidential race. I'm convinced that conservatives need a candidate who will not only stand up for our views, but who can articulate a conservative vision for our country's future," Santorum also writes. "And right now, I just don't see anyone stepping up to the plate. I have no great burning desire to be president, but I have a burning desire to have a different president of the United States."
Last week Rick Santorum proved himself to be Rick Santorum:
"The question is -- and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer: Is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no," Santorum says in the interview, which was first picked up by CBN's David Brody. "Well if that person, human life is not a person, then, I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'We are going to decide who are people and who are not people.'"
This argument has been made before, and will likely continue to be made, no matter how many times its flaws are pointed out. Hence my initial response was to ignore it and move on. I thought more about the response when I saw Pat Buchanan assert that Santorum's "Facts are correct." I thought even more when I saw Joe Klein's defense of Santorum:First, you must understand that Santorum truly believes that abortion is murder--at any point after conception, even when the mother's health is at risk (as it was in the case of one of his wife's pregnancies). This is an extreme position, but not an implausible one. If you believe that a fetus is a person, then abortion is the denial of its most basic right--the right to exist.According to Santorum, the only other category of Americans whose civil rights were so severely truncated were slaves. He's right about that.
Klein, speaking for Santorum, moves from calling the fetus "a person" to calling fetuses "a class of Americans." He then asserts that the only other "class of Americans" to be denied "the right to exist" were slaves. Finally he claims that African-Americans, as the descendants of slaves, should have special sympathy for the pro-life case, and one specific African-American--Barack Obama--should share that sympathy. He finishes by noting that a "great many members of the black church would agree."
But Klein's argument and Santorum's analogy is wrong at every step -- whether Klein's black church friends agree or not. The notion that enslaved African-Americans were considered non-persons "without the right to exist" is bad history. Forgive me for quoting myself, but we've been here so many times:
Slaves married. Slaves were baptized. Slaves were converted to attend Christianity--and even attended white churches, at times. Slaves and masters exchanged gifts on Christmas. Slaves were allowed to hire themselves out and buy their own freedom. Slaves were manumitted by masters.
Nor were slaves, as a class, denied "the right to exist," a notion that sounds cute and pleasing when deployed as a pundit's thought experiment, but is revealed to be foolish under the harsh light of actual history. Whereas abortion is necessarily premised on ending the existence of a fetus, slave-holding was directly premised on the continued existence of slaves. The lynching of slaves was virtually unheard of in the Old South, not because slave-masters were beneficent, but because they had enormous sums of money invested in them.
We didn't begin to recover for nearly 100 years.
Not without encountering the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Noting that Jesse Jackson employed the same logic, or that anonymous members of some black church, somewhere -- as is the fashion in this day -- is an appeal to authority, an argument via proxy that simply shows that the alleged authority (Jesse Jackson, unnamed black people) is wrong too. But the appeal also shows how little pro-Lifers who push this issue, and pundits who defend them as "right on the facts," actually know about American history."African slavery" was not merely the practice of slave-holding; it was the economic juggernaut that built 19th century America. Historian Daniel Walker Howe is instructive here:During the immediate postwar years of 1816 to 1820, cotton constituted 39 percent of U.S. exports; twenty years later the proportion had increased to 59 percent, and the value of the cotton sold overseas in 1836 exceeded $71 million. By giving the United States its leading export staple, the workers in the cotton fields enabled the country not only to buy manufactured goods from Europe but also to pay interest on its foreign debt and continue to import more capital to invest in transportation and industry. Much of Atlantic civilization in the nineteenth century was built on the back of the enslaved field hand.According to the historian David Blight, by the dawn of the Civil War "there were more millionaires (slaveholders all) living in the lower Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the United States." Indeed, by 1860 the American South was home to the second largest slave society in the entire world, one whose net worth exceeded "all of America's manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together." In terms economic, cultural, and political, slavery made America possible. Reducing this grand, indefensible and complicated institution to the simple act of slave-holding is like reducing the Holocaust to mass murder -- and then proceeding with the egregious and erroneous comparisons we so often hear about. But that reduction is essential to the abortion/slavery analogy. Its employment is not just wrong, it is a lie.That the lie is employed by dishonest men like Rick Santorum, who feign knowledge in order to push an agenda, is unsurprising. That the same lie is defended by men (and it is men) who make their living constantly dispensing answers but rarely asking questions is equally unsurprising -- but it must be called out. Joe Klein's merits as a writer and thinker are considerable. But it must be said that in this business he is wrong, and that his knowledge of this specific and essential thread of American history is wanting. He is not just wrong on the logic -- he is wrong on the information.
But self awareness helps.
As my one-time panix.chat acquaintance, Jesse Sheidlower, the Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary; the author of The F-Word, a detailed history of the word fuck; and the President Elect of the American Dialect Society (and also lexicographer of science fiction terminology), notes:
RS: "Politically correct - adjective, marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially race, gender, sexual affinity, or ecology. "
SHEIDLOWER: "Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s it was something that one should aspire to.
AA: Jesse Sheidlower is a senior editor for new words at random house reference in New York.
SHEIDLOWER: "Around 1990 or so, at the time that it did get this kind of mainstream play, it was very negative and that has pretty much continued. Now no one or almost no one would describe themselves as politically correct. It's only the sort of thing that you use to criticize someone else. It doesn't really have any kind of positive sense anymore. It's just completely died out. "
RS: So what's a sure-fire way to be accused of political correctness?
SHEIDLOWER: "Standing up for environmental rights at the expense of people whose jobs will be lost if environmental legislation would be passed - that's a very typical sort of thing that right now would be described as politically correct. "
AA: Yet Jesse Sheidlower says that even as Americans make fun of political correctness, American language is becoming -- dare we say it? -- more politically correct.
SHEIDLOWER: "In the last ten years, there's been a big change in a number of usages that have made a big impact in American life, and some of these changes are ones that would be considered politically correct if we wanted to use that term. But because of the way the term has evolved, calling them politically correct will make it sound more negative that it actually is.
"Perhaps the biggest area [of change] is any kind of gender-related terms. We really have stepped away in a big way from using words that specify the sex of the person being referred to. So words like policeman and mailman or chairman, things like that, have been replaced by words with 'person' in their place, or saying something like 'chair' instead of chairman, or 'mail carrier' instead of mailman, 'police officer' instead of policeman. It really has been a big shift and we've really accepted this kind of vocabulary to a very large extent in the last ten years. Most people aren't bothered by this.
"Now, there have been some words and some phrases that have gotten a lot of negative attention, such as the word 'waitron' - meaning waiter or waitress, a person who waits on tables, without specifying sex. This is one that people really hate, and this is a word that gets called politically correct and is made fun of."
AA: "Do you mind being called politically correct? Would you take that as an insult?"
SHEIDLOWER: "I probably would because it would probably be intended as an insult. I'd find it difficult to imagine being called politically correct as praise nowadays. "
RS: "so it's nothing that our listeners should strive for -although in their use of language they may apply some of the principles."
SHEIDLOWER: "that's exactly right. There are many of the principles of political correctness that are perfectly fine but being called politically correct is almost always considered negative."
And so must Rick Santorum's presidential candidacy.
Cross-posted at Amygdala.
UPDATE, JANUARY 2th, 2011, 7:03 a.m.: I seem to have hit the ball here.
Washington (CNN) - Another signal from Rick Santorum that he's getting ready to officially run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination
In another sign that Rick Santorum is gearing up for a presidential bid, the former Pennsylvania Senator hired two top Republican strategists from Iowa ... CNN reports that Nick Ryan and Jill Latham “will serve as advisers to his political action committee, America's Foundation.Finding Religion On Ethanol In Iowa
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) opposed ethanol subsidies during his Senate career, but now, exploring a run for the president...Santorum Hires Two Iowa Operatives
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) has hired two Iowa-based political strategists to advise his America's Foundation PAC, adding new staff in Iowa after hiring an aide in New Hampshire last week.Mark Halperin | The Page
GOPer’s PAC snaps up seasoned Des Moines hands.