Rick Santorum and the Politics of Family Size

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Newly announced presidential candidate Rick Santorum is no stranger to controversy over his social views, but Bustle really seems to have it in for him this week (a quick glance at their news page today shows at least 11 articles panning him in the last 24 hours).  Their latest bizarre claim: that his family of 8 children somehow informs his policy views on birth control:

The statement about birth control that seems to haunt Santorum was when he said in an interview with the CaffeinatedThoughts blog that he believed contraception was “not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” He told Fox News that this was a personal belief “reflecting the views of the church that I believe in.”

Santorum later sought to clarify his position, and said his statements about birth control, which he said he and his wife, Karen, do not use, reflected his personal beliefs, and that he would not be an “uber-czar that is going to try to impose that on the rest of the country,” CNN reported. Santorum and his wife have seven living children, and one son who was stillborn. Santorum pointed to his record of voting in favor of birth control for women in poverty, despite his belief that abstinence was the better option.

I’d like to point out two things about the above passage: (1) The statement they claim was damning specifically named his opinions as a personal belief, and (2) they go out of their way (both here and in the title) to note the size of his family, as if his family life had something to do with his voting record.  It doesn’t.  In fact, the worst thing this article dredges up about Santorum is that he’s been open to restricting tax dollars for some forms of contraception, and there’s a lot of difference between saying government shouldn’t pay for something and trying to outlaw it.

Trying to equate a candidate’s family life with his public policy brings to mind the obsessive compulsive behavior of former Senator Mark Udall.  Last year, Udall ran a campaign so single-mindedly focusing on his opponent’s (alleged) contraception views that the state paper endorsed challenger Cory Gardner out of sheer disgust.  As a member of a large family myself, I have to say I’m feeling a bit of the same disgust right now.  There are plenty of legitimate issues to criticize Santorum on (immigration, foreign policy, and middle class economics to name just a few) without lampooning him for holding to personal values that a lot of Americans follow.

Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.