May 15, 2003
Truth and Free Speech Take Beating
by Donald G. Mashburn

Liberals have at times claimed the First Amendment covers about anything you can do. But not many are willing to concede the right of free speech to Christians, conservatives, and non-leftist intellectuals. Especially if the Christian conservative is the third-ranked Republican in the Senate, Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

Liberals of all stripes accused the senator of “comparing” homosexual acts with bigamy, polygamy and other acts deemed to be illegal in places. Actually, Santorum made no comparisons. He paraphrased comments made by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and borrowing from Scalia, Santorum said, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex [illegal elsewhere] within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, ... polygamy, ... incest, ... adultery.”

Santorum’s point (and Scalia’s) was that neither mutual consent nor privacy should be allowed to negate state laws. Santorum did not compare any of the illegal acts, nor did he imply any behavioral equivalency.

One columnist, Leonard Pitts, sees in Santorum’s remarks sinister meanings that only he, Pitts, can see. A shortened version of Pitt’s column ran May 5 in The Oklahoman. There, he referred to Santorum as being a “mere bigot” or a “crass opportunist.”

Pitts uses the common liberal trick of finding hidden meaning beyond the words actually spoken. Any writer on national affairs should be aware of Santorum’s Catholic background, and his positions on such things as “decency laws” and religion.

But the depth of Pitt’s anger, and his twisting of Santorum’s words to mean what Pitts wanted them to mean, come through only in the full column, which ran in a Detroit Free Press online edition (www.freep.com), and other publications.

Pitts sees dark, mean spirited, even racist, meanings in Santorum’s statement of personal belief. Yet, incredibly, Pitts’ own column literally reeks of bigotry and intolerance, thinly disguised racism, and Pitts’ narrow mindedness regarding statements people make about their beliefs.

What got Pitts’ intolerance juices boiling was Santorum’s comment that he has nothing against homosexuals, but does “have a problem with homosexual acts.” And that’s it. Not a scintilla relating to race, past sins of society, or political strategy.

But Pitts (in the full article) claimed to hear in Santorum’s words “an echo of the GOP’s infamous Southern strategy, in which candidates used coded language to signal their antipathy toward African-American civil liberties.”

In yet another bizarre example of finding meanings not conveyed by the words used, Pitts says Santorum’s comments “reminded [Pitts] of 1980, when Ronald Reagan invoked state’s rights” in a place where “three civil rights workers” died. The rest of the reference to Reagan is omitted because Pitt’s rant involves charges and factoids that can’t be verified today.

How Pitts dragged racism, “code language” used to conspire against African-Americans, or any other racial connotation into a discussion of a senator’s beliefs is beyond any sensible reading of Santorum’s words.

It appears that Pitts is so pumped by any disagreement regarding homosexual behavior that he willingly twists meaning and words, and drags racism, state’s rights and the GOP into his distortions. That’s a shame, for Pitts should know that any writer loses credibility if he knowingly distorts facts.

It could be, however, that Pitts sees any anti-homosexual beliefs or comments as an opportunity to try to discredit Republicans. Either way, it’s a sad commentary for a writer that wants to be taken seriously. Pitts does himself, and all writers of political commentary, a disservice by openly displaying his own bigotry and intolerance, merely because he disagrees with another person’s beliefs, or with what a state says is illegal.

If Pitts is motivated by political reasons, he’s to be pitied more than censured. If writers on the left are that desperate this far ahead of the 2004 election, think how mean things can get by this time next year.