December 1, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | The Santorum Experience, From a Democrat

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Re: “Santorum Calls Protests Disrupting Lecture Sign of ‘Liberal Intolerance’ at Cornell,” News, Nov. 23

To the Editor:

Wednesday, I attended the Cornell Republican’s event that brought Rick Santorum to campus, a move criticized in a previous letter due to his “extremist” views. The night promised dialogue concerning our country’s current political climate and future under the next administration. What I experienced instead was wholly different from this mission and will be ingrained in my memory for many years.

I am a registered Democrat from New York and have always been liberal, especially on social policies. By no means am I intimately familiar with Santorum’s political history, and went into the evening armed only with what I remember vaguely from his presidential campaign in 2012 and what I read on Wikipedia a few hours before arriving at the Statler. I know that Santorum is extremely anti-LGBTQ, pro-life, against contraceptive use and supports a slew of other principles with which I wholeheartedly disagree. But I also know that he played a major role in important welfare reform in the 1990s, and was a respected lawyer and former high-ranking politician. Prior to the event, I was generally interested in what he had to say about Donald Trump and the outlook for the next four years. I hoped that his extreme social views would be only a slight detraction from an otherwise intelligent conversation.

“Rick Santorum go away! Racist, sexist, anti-gay!”

While waiting on line, it was impossible to ignore a small, albeit loud, group of protestors. I was aware that there was a movement opposing his invitation to come speak, particularly due to his socially conservative views. The protestors outside of Statler did not seem to care about any positive impacts his career may have had, only about his bigoted statements. Inside, while Santorum was speaking, he was shouted at by a group of audience members over almost every sentence. Even the chairwoman of the Cornell Republicans could not get through her introduction without being interrupted. Chants of “Shame, shame, shame” and claims of his racism, misogyny, discrimination and hate speech continued throughout the night.

I support all peaceful protests, and think political activism is extremely important. The protestors outside were exhibiting their views without being rude or otherwise detracting from the event. If anything, they brought a tinge of necessary controversy that is to be expected with any polarizing speaker at Cornell. However, the level of disrespect and intolerance that was shown towards Santorum inside during his speech is not an effective vehicle for real political or social change. It is incredibly difficult for me to stand behind these protestors, whose values I support, when this is how they choose to demonstrate.

Santorum directly addressed the shouting by pointing out that these protestors preach tolerance, but clearly refuse to hear the opposition. To my surprise, I found myself applauding him. I am embarrassed to attend a university where someone cannot share their views freely and uninterrupted. High quality political discourse does not come from shutting out opposing perspectives, it comes from listening and at least attempting to understand.

Aside from the hecklers, Santorum made a handful of decent arguments with which I agreed, but 10 times as many that were extremely agitating. On the good side: His discussion of how Trump came to be president-elect and what the Democrats did wrong was mostly valid, and I understood many of his points.

The talk’s highlight came when Santorum criticized the Republican economic principle that “A rising tide will raise all ships … But not when your ship has a hole in it,” Santorum said. I agree that a growing economy is good for everyone, but not for those who are already disadvantaged and for whom the system simply does not work.

Unfortunately, I began to see why people despise him so much during the Q&A segment.

When asked about the possibility of any of his grandchildren being LGBT, Santorum rightfully defended his views against gay marriage as a product of his faith. He lost all of my support when he discussed his hopes that he could put his imaginary gay grandchild on the “right” path. An audience member challenged this notion, sharing his personal experience with years of conversion therapy. Even upon mention of the method’s fraudulent and abusive measures, Santorum maintained his support of the practice.

Even worse, his climate change denial was full of the logical fallacies of, well, all climate change deniers. Rick: “The climate is always changing.” I wish I could’ve demanded whether he’d ever seen a graph of atmospheric CO2 over the past ten thousand years. I needed to know how he could possibly suggest that the current state of change is equal to all past climate change. I am a Policy Analysis & Management major, and have devoted much of my studies to climate and energy policy, so his flippant dismissal of this fact was infuriating. He then went on to claim that climate change is just a way for third world countries to extract money and resources from the United States and other developed nations. No comment.

To further deny science, a question was asked about his “Teach the Controversy” policy. Rick Santorum believes that when evolution is taught in schools, the holes in the theory should also be taught. When asked to support this given the overwhelming scientific evidence that evolution is real, he responded, “What scientific theory does not have flaws?” to which my favorite heckler of the night shouted, “Gravity!”

Lastly, I struggle to reconcile with his views on family. Santorum claimed that children who grow up without a father in their home fare far worse than their peers with two nice, loving heterosexual parents. My parents have been divorced since I was two. I did not grow up living with my father, and I am about to graduate from Cornell University in the top 10 percent of my class.

Santorum is correct that children who grow up in single parent homes are more likely to perform worse on a variety of health and education outcomes. However, correlation does not prove causation, and there are many other factors obscuring this claim: It is not the lack of a “nuclear family” that causes these outcomes. For example, single parents tend to be poorer and less educated, and there are fewer resources available to a child of a single parent because there is only one income earner in the family. There are other factors such as mental health problems or other personal characteristics that lead to divorce, and subsequently, worse outcomes for the child. Again, it is not the divorce that causes these negative effects.

Despite the overwhelming multitude of points that challenged my own beliefs, I kept mostly silent apart from side comments to my friends during this event. I cannot help but admire Santorum for his adherence to his value set, which has been cultivated over many years and stems from a religious upbringing to which I cannot relate. I respect his passion for his beliefs and the years of public service he has dedicated to achieving his goals.

I also admire the protestors for their commitment to their values, and I sympathize with their anger. However, without a clear message and policy agenda, their words are powerless. If anything, their actions deter people like me, who support a similar ideology from a less extreme perspective.

In an ILR class this week, I watched a movie about the freedom riders and civil rights activists in Mississippi in the 1960s. I, along with my classmates, could not help but draw a parallel between then and now. Then, activists united toward one common goal and used political channels to achieve equal voting rights, even in the face of intense discrimination and oppression from party elites. Now, we post on social media about injustices and maybe join a protest, but we do not collectively march on Washington and we do not actively engage in the political process.

I am acutely aware of the fact that this article is not going to inspire any real change, but my intended future career in public service is where I will make an impact. I encourage those disgusted by Mr. Santorum’s commentary tonight to organize more seriously. I urge those who are as aggravated as I am to discuss real policy reform and an agenda to get there. Whether it’s fixing the criminal justice system or clean energy or expanding healthcare and abortion access, there are a number of real policy changes in line with our goals. I encourage you to research pending state and federal legislation and find at least one bill that you truly support. Contact the bill sponsors, reach out to friends and family and see what you can do to help a cause you care about. Your efforts might not make a difference, but they will be much more respected than shouting.

Gabriella Rocco ’17

6 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR | The Santorum Experience, From a Democrat

  1. I respectfully disagree with some of the views expressed by the opinion columnist.

    1. In a time, when the lives and well-being of women, religious minorities, black and brown and LGBTQ people are on the line, there is little room for this normalizing discourse or for treating politics as an electoral game.

    Political ideologies expressed in words like those used by Rick Santorum last night reek of death. The laws that Santorum’s views would see enacted will kill.

    If and when Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion is made illegal again, how many women –who will undoubtedly continue to seek abortions, as history has shown– will die? If and when local and state police are fully militarized and trained in special operations before they are trained in de-escalation and liaising with social services, how many more people in the streets, brown and black and dissenting people, will die? When conversion therapy is mainstreamed as “treatment” for differing sexual orientations or when hormone therapy is denied to trans people, how many more LGBTQ people see no other escape than to take their own lives? And these are just the domestic issues.

    When the stakes are this high, to meet those words and those ideologies with respectful silence is complicity.

    2. I’ll quote from another forum:
    Unfortunately, Santorum like all politicians in our elitist democracy thinks all speech is equal, whether it’s spoken by a corporation, a journalist, a student, a domestic worker or a politician who is miked and paid to be speaking. Although they are all equally protected speech they are not equally free nor are they equally amplified. I’m sorry to say to all the republicans and accomdationist democrats in the room who patiently waited in line to respectfully ask their intelligent and well-informed questions, only to have them ignored or outright dismissed after Santorum spent 10 minutes dancing and dodging each of the five he took (of fifty questioners on line), your participation in Santorum’s self-promotional spectacle only served to prove the powerlessness of electoral spectator politics.

    3. We are organized and we are growing. I’d encourage the columnist not to wait for a career in public service. Reach out and get involved in the many groups at Cornell and in Ithaca, or form your own! Beyond the two-party system and our elitist democracy, another truly democratic world is possible.

      • Maybe you should ask the countless young members of the LGBTQ community who suffered from discrimination and unequal treatment at the hands of political ideologies similar to those of Rick Santorum and Mike Pence. Do a little research into conversion therapy. It’s abusive, traumatic, and ineffective, yet they advocate it. These types of things literally drive thousands of people to suicide. If that doesn’t reek of death then I don’t know what does.

        —-

        “• Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. [1]
        • The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth and 2 times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth. [2]
        • Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers. [2]
        • Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. [3]
        • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. [4]
        • 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9-12) seriously considered suicide in the past year. [5]
        • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. [6]”

        All of these claims are cited below.

        http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide

  2. I have agree wholeheartedly with the comment from respectful dissenter! I want to add that an individual should be tolerant of all opinions except when these opinions don’t tolerate the right to life and freedom of the individual.

  3. I don’t agree with Rick Santorum about much, but I have just a couple of comments about the article and the previous comments.

    First, the author wrote, about single-parent homes, “…correlation does not prove causation.” This appeared, ironically, just a few lines after he made the point that climate change must be a serious problem because it correlates to CO2 in the atmosphere over a 10,000 year period.

    The first earlier commenter wrote: “If and when Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion is made illegal again, how many women –who will undoubtedly continue to seek abortions, as history has shown– will die?” Well, I don’t know the answer, and it’s a valid point. But I did notice that the commenter did not ask this question: “If Roe v. Wade is upheld, how many babies will die?” I wonder if he knows that the number of aborted black babies since Roe is equal to about half the entire population of black Americans alive today?

    The second commenter wrote: “I want to add that an individual should be tolerant of all opinions except when these opinions don’t tolerate the right to life and freedom of the individual.” I’m not sure what he means by tolerant in either his first or second use of the term. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he means in the first instance that if speech falls afoul of his second meaning it should be prohibited, or it should be shut down. In the second instance, I think by “right to life and freedom” he is only referring to the lives and freedom of people that he values. That would not, I assume from his context, include the lives of the unborn. It would not include the freedom of religious people to refuse to participate in gay weddings by baking cakes or taking pictures.

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