Rick Santorum's Inconvenient Truths

The former Senator puts the hard questions on the table, even at his peril

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Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Rick Santorum holds his daughter Isabella before announcing he is entering the Republican presidential race, on the steps of the Somerset County Courthouse in Somerset, Pa. Santorum canceled his morning campaign events, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012, and planned to spend time with his hospitalized daughter, Bella. Isabella Santorum has Trisomy 18, a genetic condition caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 18th chromosome.

Bob Schieffer of CBS news is the gold standard for sane and solid in American TV journalism, and on the morning of Feb. 19, he was clearly nonplussed by extreme comments Rick Santorum had made about prenatal testing ("ends up in more abortions"), public schools ("anachronistic") and the President's position on the environment (a "phony theology"). "So, Senator," Schieffer began, "I've got to ask you. What in the world were you talking about, sir?" At such a moment, the overwhelming majority of American politicians would go on the defensive, hem, haw and respond with "What I really meant to say was ..." Not Santorum. He didn't seem at all flustered. He vigorously restated the positions he had taken--in some cases, eloquently. He was especially vigorous on the subject of prenatal testing, citing studies that show that 90% of Down-syndrome babies are aborted. Schieffer asked whether Santorum wanted to turn back the clock on science and ban such testing. No, Santorum replied, but the federal government should not be promoting procedures like amniocentesis, which "are used for the purposes of identifying children who are disabled and in most cases end up [being eliminated by] abortions."

Santorum has become an inconvenient candidate even for those who agree with him. These are delicate issues, to be handled delicately. The right-to-life movement has been particularly clever and disciplined, changing public opinion about abortion over the past 20 years. It has gone after the most egregious and grisly outliers, like so-called partial-birth abortion. It has gotten a major boost from science, ironically, as sonograms have made it impossible to deny that from a very early stage, that thing in the womb is a human life. As a result, the split on those who identify themselves as pro-choice vs. pro-life has gone from a 56%-33% pro-choice majority in 1995 to a 47%-47% tie now.

In the days after the Schieffer interview, audio was unearthed of a 2008 Santorum speech in which he seemed to argue the literal existence of Satan and a Mephistophelian intent to subvert the United States of America. He also seemed to compare the Obama Administration to Hitler, saying America now was like America in 1940, when some people thought Hitler wasn't a threat. "It's going to be harder for this generation to figure this out. There's no cataclysmic event," he said, just a slow creep toward state control of practically everything. These sorts of statements will probably stall the Santorum surge and hand the Republican nomination right back to Mitt Romney. Most Republicans aren't going to want to battle Obama on contraception and prenatal testing.

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