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What Was Santorum Thinking?

Yes, his remarks are defensible.

3:55 PM, Apr 25, 2003 • By J. BOTTUM
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There's a test in whether Santorum survives all this. Lott had to go, both because he lost the support of his party and because when the issue is racial segregation, Americans don't accept language that does anything but denounce it. Has homosexuality reached this point?

Earlier this month, the secretary of education, Roderick Paige, survived several days of newspaper and activist denunciations about an interview in which he said, "All things being equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community"--a comment that was widely interpreted as an attack on the public schools he leads as head of the Department of Education. The New York Times spent months, last year and this, on a campaign to rally America against holding the Master's tournament at the supposedly sexist Augusta National Golf Course--and the only result was widespread mocking of the newspaper.

These examples seem to reinforce the lesson of Trent Lott. The left in general, and the New York Times in particular, cannot bring someone down unaided any longer. Conservatives have to join in. In Santorum's case, some have joined in. The libertarians, who have generally supported President Bush, have seized upon Santorum's comments to push their own version of social liberalism. On Fox television, Bill O'Reilly declared, "America does not need a sex police. It's a waste of time and resources."

Still, the vast majority of ordinary conservatives have refused to heed the call to make war against Santorum as they made war on Lott, and he looks likely to survive as a result. Indeed, if the Supreme Court refuses to take an activist line, using Lawrence v. Texas to overturn Bowers v. Hardwick, Santorum's line will be vindicated to some degree. Meanwhile, he can usefully recall that conservatives are great defenders of the division of labor--and start referring constitutional law questions to others.

J. Bottum is Books and Arts editor at The Weekly Standard.