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Sanctimonium Santorum

Playing the “gotcha” game is a dangerous political pastime. At best it puts public servants on the defensive, forcing them to measure every word and speak in pablum, impoverishing and degrading the public discourse. At worst an individual’s words can be misquoted or taken out of context, subjecting them to undeserved attacks. That apparently is what happened last month to the secretary of education, Rod Paige, who was attacked by a range of liberal voices (including this page) for something he didn’t quite say. As Ori Nir reports on Page 3, Paige was talking about the sorts of values he’d like to see in universities, but he was made to sound as though he wanted to channel schoolchildren into Christian schools. Once the full text was released, it became clear he’d gotten a raw deal. He deserves better.

Sometimes, though, the context only makes things look worse. That seems to be the case with Senator Rick Santorum. The Pennsylvania Republican has drawn heat during the last two weeks for telling an interviewer, in response to a question about a court case involving sodomy laws, that legitimizing homosexual relationships would open the door to legitimizing adultery, polygamy and incest. Predictably, his comments raised a storm of protest from gay-rights advocates and liberal groups (along with a few polygamists in Utah who object to being lumped with gays). Just as predictably, Republicans rallied around the senator, attempting to turn the debate into a question of fairness and free speech.

But Santorum’s case is not like Paige’s. He was not misquoted or misinterpreted. And as the full text of his remarks makes clear, he wasn’t simply voicing disapproval of gay sex. He was endorsing laws that criminalize what some individuals do in the bedroom, because it offends the religious principles of certain other individuals. As a rising star in the Republican leadership, his views must be taken seriously. Those who believe in individual freedom have a right to be alarmed.

Republicans like to present themselves as the party of freedom, the gang that wants to get “big government” off the citizen’s back. When push comes to shove, it often seems what they’re really after is taking government out of the marketplace and putting it in the bedroom. Caveat emptor.

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