Santorum’s Gone, but the Attack on the Right to Privacy Remains
Tuesday’s resignation by Rick Santorum marks the beginning of a presidential race between two moderates who fancy themselves as the means to great change. But in reality, Santorum was the one true extremist in this presidential race and his rise to relevance signals either the successful distribution of misinformation or a truly terrifying trend in American’s view on civil liberties.
The Left Wing has attacked Santorum for his homophobic rhetoric and adamant Pro-Life stance, while the Far Right has hailed him for his pious devotion to Christianity in both his personal and public life. The flaw in either argument is that it misses the broader agenda driving Santorum.
In a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, which can be read as a manifesto of sorts for Santorum, he explained the danger of privacy rights to a society.
“If you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s in the privacy of your own home, this ‘right to privacy,’ then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home?” he said. “If you say, there is no deviant as long as it’s private, as long as it’s consensual, then don’t be surprised what you get.”
The idea of the privacy of and rights within the home is a hallmark of American — and especially Conservative — ideology. The Fourth Amendment of the United States protects the privacy of the home from government search and seizure and Texas’ Cattle Rancher’s Law goes as far as granting citizens the right to shoot anyone who trespasses on their land.
But to Santorum, the absolute right to privacy in the home is what allows for immoral and socially damaging actions throughout America. He explained as much in the same 2003 interview.
“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.”
No one would argue that incest and adultery are good for America, but the 2003 model of Santorum take the next step and argues that moral indiscretion is proof that the right to privacy is wrong.
“The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that,” he said. “I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we’re seeing it in our society.”
Santorum has recently stood by his position that the Supreme Court ruled incorrectly in Grisworld v. Connecticut, which overturned a Connecticut law that banned the use of contraception by married couples. The 1965 decision by the Court rested upon the right to privacy between a woman and her doctor. It has become a landmark case in the protection of the privacy rights of American citizens.
Though Santorum did not use the right to privacy as the object of his contention with the case — he employed an argument favoring the right of states to create their own laws — he did recently explained his own personal feelings about contraception.
“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is OK,” he explained in a 2011 interview with Caffeinated Thoughts. “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Santorum may attempt to frame his policies within the classic Conservative, states’ rights trope, but if recent history tells us anything, the modern American president from either party is one of the most powerful leaders in the world. And based upon his ideology and his own words, it appears likely that Santorum would have used that power to police the morality of the citizenry of the United States.
On Santorum’s own website, he explains that he is disgusted with the fact that “the Obama Administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws.”
According to the website, “Rick Santorum believes that federal obscenity laws should be vigorously enforced. ‘If elected President, I will appoint an Attorney General who will do so.’”
Though only a small act of morality oversight, the enforcement of obscenity laws — the War on Pornography — demonstrates a desire for the central government to police the home.
Santorum’s proposed policies take a dangerous leap — it would essentially mark the point at which the population began to trade civil liberties for moral purity — but he is not alone in his attack on privacy. And though Santorum’s rhetoric focuses on morality rather than security, it’s important to remember that Bush, Obama and the Supreme Court have all made similar pushes against the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in the years since 9/11.
Starting with the passing of the Patriot Act in October of 2001 by a pro-small government Conservative named Bush, the rights of privacy and due process of law guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments have been rapidly evaporating in our country. Americans felt vulnerable the month after 9/11 — the first foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor — and were thus willing to trade certain civil liberties for guarantees of security. But the vast expansion of government oversight of personal lives has continued to steadily expand in the decade since, regardless of the political leanings of the man in the Oval Office.
In May of last year, Obama signed a four-year extension of three sections of the Patriot Act; sections that grant the government the right to search business records, the right to roving wiretaps and the right to conduct surveillance on individuals thought to partake in terrorist-related activities without any connections to a specific terrorist group.
Besides the extension of certain governmental rights Obama promised to discontinue if elected, Attorney General Eric Holder also recently explained the President’s policy that the killing of American-born citizens can be ordered in the case of an imminent threat. Despite the guarantees of a due process of law, Holder explained: “In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out. And we will not.”
This Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that any arrested person could be strip-searched while in custody, even without any suspicion that they may be holding a weapon. The decision seems to rest upon the ideal of protecting officers and other jailers from a potential attack, which should sound familiar. It is the same rational used by the Bush and Obama administration while justifying the expansion of central government power over the people.
While Bush, Obama and the current Court have continually chipped away at the Bill of Rights in the interest of public safety, Santorum appeared driven to dissolve even more privacy rights in the interest of public morality. Santorum’s desire to legislate based on Christian tenets would have been a horrifying step in American politics; but the actual legislation would not be a great leap past the policies of the last two administrations.
We must remember that our country was built around “certain unalienable Rights,” specifically so those rights would be protected regardless of a particular legislator’s justification. Certainly Terrorists are more terrifying than the Devil to many modern Americans, but that should not justify compromising away tenets of American society so that we may feel safe. It is no better to trade away our birthright as US Citizens — the Bill of Rights and its Amendments — in the interest of public safety than it is to trade it is to trade it away in the interest of public morality; though Santorum is gone from the presidential race, we must remember that the attack on the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments is still alive and well.
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