A video that I highlighted a couple months ago of Rick Santorum telling an evangelical blogger that, as president, he would put the focus on purging the evils of birth control, is suddenly making the rounds in the blogosphere again. Santorum said:
One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea… It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal… but also procreative.
That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it–and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong–but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special. Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher.
I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues.
Ponder the implicit claim he is making: that it is desirable for the President of the United States to opine on and shape public policy according to his notion of what is “special.” As he surely knows, what is “special,” what ought to be kept “special,” and what is required to keep sex “special” are all deeply contested matters. They inevitably turn on judgments shaped by faith, moral reasoning, and intuition. The American people, having wrestled with these questions, have concluded in overwhelming numbers either that contraception doesn’t make sex less special – or that if it does make sex less special, the tradeoff (less special sex in return for fewer unwanted pregnancies or abortions or STDs or more pleasure or human connection) is worthwhile.
Any politician who regards the adult use of contraceptives as a matter under his purview cannot lay claim to the limited government label, nor can he credibly invoke a tradition rooted in the pursuit of happiness. And it’s baffling that a presidential candidate would survey a world of poets, clergy, cognitive neuro-scientists, novelists, happily married elderly people, and a polity with sexual tastes as diverse of ours, and regard politicians as a useful authority on what kind of sex is special.
It’s also just bad politics. This isn’t an issue where people are divided. Nearly 100% of Americans use birth control at some point in their life and support the morality of doing so, including nearly all of his fellow Catholics.