The Grating Santorum By MAUREEN DOWD
RICK SANTORUM was locking down the youth vote.
The man who fondly recalls nuns rapping his knuckles with rulers did some verbal knuckle-rapping of his own on Thursday with students at a forum in Concord hosted by New England College.
Not satisfied with mentioning homosexuality in the same breath as bestiality and pedophilia, as he did in 2003, Santorum tried to win over the kids by equating homosexuality with polygamy.
Even for Santorum, it was a masterpiece of antediluvian abrasiveness — slapping gays and Mormons at the same time.
When 17-year-old Rhiannon Pyle, visiting with her civics class from Newburyport, Mass., pressed Santorum on how he could believe that all men are created equal and still object to two men in love marrying, he began nonsensically frothing.
“So if everybody has the right to be happy, so if you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that O.K.?” he said, adding, “Well, what about three men?”
The grating Santorum was their worst nightmare of a bad teacher. He merely got booed; he’s lucky the kids didn’t TP his car or soap the windows.
In a campaign where W. is an unmentionable, Santorum is an unexpected revival of Bushian uncompassionate conservatism.
He got more scattered boos on Friday at a library in Keene and a private high school in Dublin. In Keene, he was asked if he would protect gay rights, since gays are “children of God” too.
“Serving in the military is not an unalienable right, it’s a privilege, you’re selected,” replied the candidate, who wants to restore “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He also called marriage “a privilege, not a right,” for the purpose is procreation.
Rick Perry baits gays because it’s good politics; Santorum sincerely means it. His political philosophy is infused with his über-Catholicism but lacks humanity.
At the Dublin event, 16-year-old Jessica Scharf asked Santorum how her handicapped brother could be cared for without help from the federal government. He replied, as The Times’s Katharine Q. Seelye reported, that he and his wife “bear the cost” of a handicapped daughter; he said family, friends, neighbors and the church could help, and that caring for someone would knit them closer. Scharf told Seelye later that such a group was not equipped to handle her brother, who has multiple handicaps.
New Hampshire’s feisty voters don’t seem as enraptured with Santorum’s rigid conservatism and sweater vests as evangelical voters in Iowa were. Many are pushing back on the wacky worldview of Senator Slash, as Santorum was once known for his vicious attacks on Bill Clinton and other Democrats.
He bashes President Obama as a European-style socialist and preaches fiscal conservatism. Yet in the Senate, he made sure dollars from the socialistic Medicare program went to Puerto Rico on behalf of a hometown firm — United Health Services — that later gave him nearly $400,000 in director’s fees and stock options.
He was among the pay-for-play Republicans who tried to strong-arm lobbyists and say that if you wanted to have influence you had to cough up campaign money.
While Karen Santorum was home-schooling their seven children in Virginia, Santorum soaked the Pennsylvania taxpayers to the tune of $100,000 by enrolling the children in a Pennsylvania cyber charter school.
The preface to Mrs. Santorum’s 2003 book of moral parables teaching children good manners was written by Joe Paterno, who warns against “a decline of civility and a coarsening of society.” And he knows how that goes.
In his 2005 book, “It Takes a Family,” Santorum goes off on “radical feminists” poisoning society: “What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave their children in the care of someone else — or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon — find themselves more affirmed by society?”
In Iowa, he tossed out a line about food stamps that NPR reported this way: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” He later told CNN that he was “pretty confident” that he didn’t say “black.” The only alternative, watching the video clip, is that he said “blah.” He doesn’t want to make blah people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money?
Santorum’s hot politics of aggrievement have competed with Mitt Romney’s cold politics of convenience. But soon Santorum will be gone and Mittens will reign as the calculating consultant type, unpersuasive in premium denim mom jeans, his hair slicked and gray, a lead in a ’50s B movie.
Santorum thinks he’s a bold color and Romney’s a pastel. But the whole Republican field seems ensconced in a black-and-white ’50s diorama. It’s like they’re running for president of Leave It to Beaverland.
As Tony Soprano told Meadow, “Out there it’s the 1990s, but in this house, it’s 1954.”