Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: Santorum, Bennett controversies much ado about nothing
Posted on 05/12/2003 1:18:40 AM PDT by Pokey78
The main drawback of being a professional opinionist is that you're expected to have opinions on everything. When your average moviegoer leaves the theater, he shrugs and says, ''Let's go eat.'' That's not an option available to Roger Ebert, who has to string it out for a few more paragraphs.
But just lately, on being urged by various correspondents to weigh in on this or that allegedly burning controversy, I find myself shrugging, ''Let's go eat.''
Example One: Republican Sen. Rick Santorum's thoughts on homosexuality. I won't bother printing the quote, since it's rambling and incoherent, and even when you fill in the missing verbs and work out which nouns they apply to, it doesn't exactly sound thought out. At first, it appeared that the senator was comparing gay relationships to pedophilia and bestiality. On closer examination, he was comparing them to incest and polygamy. Then some polygamists complained that being compared to gays was demeaning to them. All this was in the immediate context of the constitutionality of sodomy laws and the broader debate around the push for ''gay marriage.'' It wasn't so much that Santorum was right or wrong on the constitutionality as that he'd made it obvious he didn't accord gay relationships the same value as heterosexual ones.
I can understand why this would be hurtful to homosexuals. The gay conservative Andrew Sullivan challenged those of us on the right to disown Santorum, and for a moment I was minded to rise to the bait. It is, after all, extremely irritating when the president has just led America to a great victory, and the Democrats are mired in their own ineptness, to find a Republican senator, for no good reason, confirming the old stereotype that we right-wing types are uptight squares who can't get with the beat. Had I been one of Santorum's many aides, I'd have advised him to plough into this bog only if he had something uniquely insightful to contribute to the debate, and on no account to mention pedophilia or bestiality.
On the other hand, it is a fact that, except for a few precincts in New York, Florida, Massachusetts and California, there is no political downside whatsoever to being seen as anti-gay--or, at any rate, non-pro-gay. According to a poll taken last year, 43 percent of Americans believe homosexual relations between consenting adults should be illegal. That's to say, never mind gay marriage, gays in the military, gay partner benefits, but just plain old-fashioned gay sex should be verboten. Of the remaining 57 percent prepared to tolerate legal homosexuality, it's fair to say a reasonable chunk believe ''tolerance'' means that, when a couple of fellers move into your apartment building, you turn up the volume on Lawrence Welk and ignore the vibrating chandelier. It doesn't mean you want to see gay newlyweds posing for snaps on the church common.
That being so, why shouldn't Santorum say what he said? More to the point, wouldn't it be worse if he felt he couldn't say what he said? It would surely be an odd comment on American democracy if the views of half the American people on a particular subject could not be expressed by a member of the United States Congress. One of the great strengths of this republic is that it's a rawer, more responsive polity than the decayed democracies of Europe. On the Continent, the political elites of all mainstream parties have ruled more and more topics out of bounds, no matter how strongly the electors feel about them--the death penalty, immigration, the new euro currency--all are beyond discussion. The elites have pronounced, and that's that. So in recent elections, faced with a choice between Tweedleleft and Tweedleright, voters have turned increasingly to fringe parties--elderly fascists, gay libertarians, anti-crime xenophobes.
When the rulers insist they know better than the masses, don't be surprised if the masses look elsewhere. I wouldn't vote for a state sodomy law, and some of the sex acts proscribed in the more broadly drawn anti-sodomy legislation I still dream fondly of getting to try one day, if I ever find anyone willing to have sex with me. But the gay lobby hasn't yet closed the deal with the American people on the equalization of homosexual relationships and, by insisting haughtily that it has and that the case is now closed, it's behaving in a manner more appropriate to the diseased Chiraquiste democracies of Europe than to the rough 'n' tumble of America.
Example Two: William Bennett's gambling habit--or, if you prefer, ''addiction.'' Here again, I can swing either way. On the one hand, it's another almost laughably phony controversy. We all know that Bennett's attackers are making do. They'd much rather he'd been caught on video smoking crack with a transsexual hooker. But he wasn't, so his gambling habit will have to do, the argument being that, as a moral conservative, he's a hypocrite: He's supposed to be a joyless churl, yet he's stepping out on the town and whooping it up.
On the other hand, his high-living Vegas lifestyle sounds pretty joyless to me. When it was first reported that he was a ''heavy gambler,'' I thought of Sky Masterson rolling the dice and singing ''Luck Be A Lady.'' Or James Bond in an immaculate tux sitting across the roulette table from an Italian contessa who's working for Blofeld as the croupier says ''les jeux sont faits.'' But instead of these games of skill Bill Bennett prefers slot machines: that's to say, one of the most successful men in America likes to stand by himself watching the pretty colors whir round hour after hour after hour. ''That ain't gambling, that's masturbation,'' says the Internet chappie and comic novelist Ken Layne. ''What sort of lame-ass anti-social creep would spend millions pushing buttons in the Lonely Department?''
Layne may be on to something. There are some activities which, regardless of their legal status or any criminal record arising therefrom, leave a man diminished. When George Michael attacks Bush and Blair, I'm not interested in getting lessons in foreign policy from a guy who solicits sex in public toilets. Sorry about that, it doesn't mean he's incapable of making a cute video, but the men's-room sex pretty much rules him out of the geopolitical commentary game. Likewise, given Scott Ritter's run-ins with law enforcement apropos his fondness for teenage girls, I'm not inclined to listen to his views on Iraq. Every time he's on CNN huffing about the Bush administration, I picture him sitting in Burger King across the table from some pigtailed schoolgirl sharing a chocolate shake with two straws. Sorry, big boy, it's over.
Where does Bennett's preferred extracurricular activity fall on this continuum? To be honest, I'm not sure. I do know that it's very odd to see an Internet jailbait-chaser still being passed off as an expert analyst on world affairs while a wealthy man is excoriated for a lawful if mildly pathetic habit. When Bennett's caught in a public toilet, then we can start pulping The Book Of Virtues: Scandal-wise, a flush beats a full house.
In which case his writing career would be ruined, but at least he'd have the inside track to be elected mayor of Washington, D.C.
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