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Rick Santorum's Home Front

Who is our junior Senator to bitch about privacy?

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"Privacy. Neutrality. Free Expression. None of these terms is in the Constitution. … [T]hese 'philosophical' tenets are pure abstractions."
-- Rick Santorum, It Takes a Family

I wasn't going to say anything about the most recent chapter in Rick Santorum's residency fiasco. Far be it from me to dredge up a tired story just to make a fool out of him — especially when he's doing so nicely on his own.

The latest installment in this saga took place during the May primary, when two Penn Hills residents, Ed and Erin Vechhio, challenged Santorum's eligibility to vote there. Santorum's family spends most of its time in Virginia, and some in Penn Hills contend he no longer lives at his voting address at all. Santorum's local home, Ed Vecchio told KDKA-TV, "is vacant — no curtains, furniture, nothing in there."

Santorum accused the Vechhios of peeking into his windows and, because they're active Democrats, of being "operatives" for Bob Casey, his Democratic rival this November. He's waxed hysterical in public, telling one Philadelphia audience, "Intimidating and scaring my family — and they feel threatened, let me assure you — that is thuggery."

The Santorums scare easily, it seems. If Girl Scouts ever come by with cookies to sell, Santorum will probably accuse them of extortion. But hey — if the Vechhios did trespass on his property (they deny it), they've probably spent more time there than he has. And if Santorum wants to remind voters of that, it's jake with me.

Still, much of the resulting debate has missed the point. The focus has largely been on whether Santorum is a hypocrite: In his 1990 campaign against Democratic Congressman Doug Walgren, Santorum charged that Walgren didn't live within his district. But while such hypocrisy is easy to get worked up about, it's also an easy issue to ignore: What political campaign doesn't treat the other candidate hypocritically?

But Santorum's double standard about Doug Walgren isn't the problem. His double standard toward everyone else is.

Though he screams bloody murder if someone peeks into his living room, Santorum supports government's right to invade the privacy of your bedroom. His hostility to gays and abortion is well known, but it's rooted in a deeper hostility — to privacy itself.

His 2005 book, It Takes a Family, takes aim at the idea that you and I have the right to do what we want in our own homes. The book bemoans a series of Supreme Court decisions permitting the use of — brace yourselves — contraceptives. Santorum faults the justices for overturning anti-contraception laws because of the "right to privacy" — a right Santorum contends doesn't exist. That right "became unhinged," Santorum frets, "essentially protecting (heterosexual) sex, as such, from any moral regulation." The horror!

Similarly, in his now-notorious 2003 "man on dog" interview with the Associated Press, Santorum critiqued the idea that "you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home." After all, he said, "[I]f the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home" then, "You have the right to anything." Does being able to engage in consesual sex "undermine the fabric of our society?" Santorum asks. "I would argue yes, it does."

To be fair, Santorum says that, as a legislator, he would have voted against these laws. (And to think: People say he's close-minded.) In his AP interview, Santorum said that privacy rights should be determined not by the courts but by "the democratic process. If New York doesn't want sodomy laws … fine."

But as Santorum is learning, and as gays have known forever, it's dangerous to entrust individual liberty to the "democratic process." For one thing, nebby neighbors may challenge your ability to vote. And sometimes, the "fabric of our society" is woven by those willing to shred your liberty for their own political advantage.

Few have done so more than Santorum himself, actually. As this issue goes to press, the Senate is poised to vote on a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage — a transparent stunt to appeal to the homophobia of the GOP's conservative base. Once again, Santorum will make political hay from what other people do behind closed doors. But if the neighbors do the same to him, well, that's just plain "thuggery."

If you can't stand the heat, Senator, get out of the kitchen.

Oh wait. I guess you already have.

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