Analysis: Reverberations for Santorum, GOP?


April 27, 2003 -- Was Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., misinterpreted in his interview with The Associated Press, in which he seemed to equate homosexual sex with bestiality and incest in the course of making an argument about sodomy laws? And will it cost him or the GOP?

Speaking on ABCNEWS This Week's weekly roundtable, ABCNEWS' Michel Martin didn't seem to think he was misinterpreted.

"The fact [is] that [Santorum had] four opportunities to clarify his point of view on this," Martin said. "The reporter asked him repeatedly whether he thought homosexuality ought to be made illegal. He wanted to waffle around it, and he came up with a classic dodge, which is, 'The press misquoted me.' It doesn't wash."

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and an ABCNEWS commentator, said Santorum's comments were "disgraceful."

"I think it's pretty clear he meant what he said," said Zakaria, saying Santorum was "essentially stigmatizing gay people and stigmatizing their … private acts, treating them as second-class citizens."

Santorum Misinterpreted?

But ABCNEWS' George Will said Santorum's words were misinterpreted.

"Let's stipulate all anti-sodomy laws should be repealed," Will said. "He was not equating homosexuality and homosexual acts with incest and bigamy. He was saying the following: 'By what principle will you strike down, as a violation of the privacy right, consensual homosexual acts and not strike down limits on, for example, consensual bigamy, polygamy, et cetera?' "

Zakaria answered, "The year that Texas passed its anti-sodomy law, it repealed its anti-bestiality law, so current law in Texas is in the privacy of your own home, a man may have sex with a dog but not with another man, and Santorum is defending that."

Will replied, "Fareed, you cited the 1965 opinion in the Connecticut case on contraception. What the court said then was the privacy right is important because it pertains to a relationship of marriage that society values. The radicalism of Roe v. Wade in 1973 was precisely that it severed the connection between a privacy right and a relationship and made it purely a matter of individual choice."

Lasting Damage?

Turning to the question of whether or not this incident will do lasting damage to the GOP, Zakaria, said he does not think Santorum will have to resign, "but it probably does some damage … [with] the soccer moms in the suburbs."

Will disagreed.

"The largest industry is the indignation industry, and they had a grand week being up in arms about this," said Will. "It will do no damage, lasting or otherwise."

Martin said the whole discussion, "shows we have not moved as much on issues of homosexuality as we have on race. The laws pertaining to interracial marriage weren't struck down until 1967 by the Supreme Court. That wasn't a lifetime ago."

Gephardt’s ‘Stroke of Genius’

Speaking of Rep. Dick Gephardt's, D-Mo., plan to pay for uninsured Americans' health care by repealing President Bush's tax cuts, Will called it a "stroke of genius."

"First, it is big — none of this micro-presidency that we have seen in the past," said Will. "Second, it is deeply felt and arises from a family experience, he had a child who was quite sick and he became aware of what it was like to become dependent on contingent health care. Third, it will energize the Democratic base. … [And] it is anti-Bush because you cannot talk about it without attacking Bush's tax cut all the way back to 2001, which he would repeal to pay for it. This confirms my view, which is he is not only the most presidential of the Democrats but he would be the most difficult for Bush to beat."

Martin joined in Will's praise of the Gephardt proposal.

"I think it is deeply felt and addresses a real problem with a real solution, and it sets up a real contrast with the incumbent," she said.

Zakaria said the health care plan would put political pressure on the other Democratic candidates to come up with something as bold.

"I actually think it is very good politics also because increasingly Americans are beginning to understand something that Clinton did talk about a lot, which is, in a post-industrial economy people get fired or leave their jobs much more often than they used to," said Zakaria. "It is not like the government is not involved in health care. We are proposing ever-expanding involvement of the government in health care. … The question is how the government should spend its money on health care, and Gephardt's is the most compelling [answer]."

ABCNEWS' Gayle Tzemach contributed to this report.

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