Santorum, Pornography and the Left

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s remarks about pornography have drawn the expected reactions: nods of agreement from social conservatives, eye-rolling from some Republicans who don’t want to see the party bogged down in controversial social issues, and derision from liberals who accuse the party of wanting to control the sexual and reproductive lives of Americans.

There is certainly some hypocrisy embedded in all those positions. You would have to be naïve to think there aren’t those among anti-pornography crusaders who head straight to the “adult” channels when they check into their hotels. Likewise, there are Republicans—and Democrats—who  fear the societal toll of pornography, but are afraid to speak up lest they be tarred as blue-nosed advocates of censorship. 

But it’s the position of the Left that I find most convoluted, because it’s a subject that would seem ripe for discussion within a movement so closely associated with  women’s issues. After all, the exploitation and degradation of women are among the primary allures of pornography. Beyond that, you would be hard-pressed to find a marriage counselor, psychologist or family-issues expert who wouldn’t concede that there can be serious  negative consequences to repeated exposure to porn.

Enter the dreaded slippery-slope argument: if you try to exercise some control, you’ll inevitably come up against a yahoo sheriff who raids the local art museum, confiscates the Chagall exhibit and jails the museum’s curator. But that’s like suggesting jury trials should be eliminated because innocent defendants are occasionally found guilty. 

None of this is an argument to ban pornography, but its omnipresence  in this information age certainly makes it a subject worthy of discussion. But when pornography—or any of the so-called social issues—is brought up, the political switchblades are immediately introduced, and any rational discussion seems impossible.

There are absolutists on both sides of the issue, but, as is often the case, the best course is likely to be found somewhere in the middle.  That, however, would require the kind of serious and thoughtful give-and-take that seems unattainable in this era of shrill talking heads. As for the Left, their argument that the government should stay out of the bedroom is one that would be easier to support if only they weren’t so anxious to welcome it in to every other room in the house.

  1. James Of England
    Pat Sajak:

    There is certainly some hypocrisy embedded in all those positions. You would have to be naïve to think there aren’t those among anti-pornography crusaders who head straight to the “adult” channels when they check into their hotels.

    Not if they’re staying at a newer Marriott, they won’t be. While Santorum’s proposed solution of shutting down Californian porn shoots would only mean that people watched the slightly more misogynist products of Eastern European studios, Romney’s quieter strategy of dissuading a leading brand from carrying pornography carries actual benefits with none of the political costs and none of the government intrusion.

  2. iWc

    This is a simple liberty issue to me. In this respect, porn is not different than cigarettes or trans fats. 

  3. Nick Stuart

    The problem is it will be a distraction from the more important issues of the overweening federal state, and national security. Do we really want this election to be about birth control and porn?

  4. Tommy De Seno
    C

    Every time I get ready to endorse Santorum, he pushes me away.

    A ban on pornography is as unnecessary as a helmet law.  We don’t need laws to protect us from ourselves – only from one another. 

    If Santorum disagrees with me, then tell him to ban smoking while he is at it.  

    And tell him never again to invoke the name of Ronald Reagan, because his thinking is so far from Reagan’s on the role of government I won’t hesitate to call Santorum a liberal.

  5. Viator

    How can you discuss pornography on a website that practices censorship? It’s like talking about the weather in a forum where the words  rain and snow can’t be uttered.

    As far as banning pornography, good luck. I remember pornography was alive and well in the nineteen fifties although not so readily available,  just hidden better from conventional wisdom.  Whenever the cops heard about it they raided the joint and confiscated the films which then ended up in the unofficial police porn library for viewing by the cops and their friends.

  6. Leporello

    The main goal of the GOP should be to appoint justices who will overturn Supreme Court precedents protecting pornography as speech.  Then every local government can determine whether it wants to ban it, regulate it, or leave it alone.  

  7. katievs

    I don’t know the best way to go about combatting pornography, but I am with Santorum in believing that it is a scourge that ought to be combatted. 

    Heroine and cocaine offer a better comparison than cigarette smoking in terms of destructive force and social menace.

  8. Leporello
    Viator: How can you discuss pornography on a website that practices censorship? It’s like talking about the weather in a forum where the words  rain and snow can’t be uttered.

    As far as banning pornography, good luck. I remember pornography was alive and well in the nineteen fifties although not so readily available,  just hidden better from conventional wisdom.  Whenever the cops heard about it they raided the joint and confiscated the films which then ended up in the unofficial police porn library for viewing by the cops and their friends. · 2 minutes ago

    By that rationale, we should not have laws against robbery, either.  After all, people will still commit robbery when others aren’t looking.  And the police will sometimes take stolen goods or money for their own use.

    True, we can’t stamp out pornography, nor should we wish for a government that had the power to do so, but that doesn’t mean it should be sold in public at city newsstands and bookstores, accompanied by poster-size advertisements for it.

  9. iWc
    Viator: How can you discuss pornography on a website that practices censorship? 

    Not at all! This is a volunteer forum, and there are House Rules, just like there is at any club. If someone wants something else, they go elsewhere.

    I am a libertarian. But anyone who exercises their right of free speech by including obscenities while at my table is not invited back. No hypocrisy there at all.

  10. Douglas

    Thanks, your comments are pretty close to my own thoughts.

  11. iWc
    katievs:

    Heroine and cocaine offer a better comparison than cigarette smoking in terms of destructive force and social menace. · 5 minutes ago

    I don’t think this is right at all. Apparently 70%+ of men view porn. If 70% used hard drugs, the damage would be far, far worse.

  12. Mel Foil

    A lot of people commenting on these stories (about Rick Santorum and his “crusade” against pornography) seem to pretend that pornography is pornography–its all one thing. It most definitely is not. Can we agree that violent pornography (simulated rape with simulated beatings, and even death) is unacceptable? The laws against it are there, but few US Attorneys ever pursue it. In the Ashcroft days, that’s what they concentrated on prosecuting–the really sick stuff. The Justice Department is not stupid. They pick their battles. They won’t be going after every naughty video on the internet or on TV. There has to be a line somewhere. For the producers of this stuff, there’s no moral line–only the bottom line.

  13. Robert Lux

    People may want to check out the Witherspoon Institute’s “The Social Costs of Pornography.”  Heavy hitters: Hadley Arkes, James Stoner, and Roger Scruton. 

  14. katievs
    iWc

    katievs:

    Heroine and cocaine offer a better comparison than cigarette smoking in terms of destructive force and social menace. · 5 minutes ago

    I don’t think this is right at all. Apparently 70%+ of men view porn. If 70% used hard drugs, the damage would be far, far worse. 

    One reason pornography is so destructive is that it is so widespread.

  15. Stuart Creque
    James Of England

    Pat Sajak:

    There is certainly some hypocrisy embedded in all those positions. You would have to be naïve to think there aren’t those among anti-pornography crusaders who head straight to the “adult” channels when they check into their hotels.

    Not if they’re staying at a newer Marriott, they won’t be. While Santorum’s proposed solution of shutting down Californian porn shoots would only mean that people watched the slightly more misogynist products of Eastern European studios, Romney’s quieter strategy of dissuading a leading brand from carrying pornography carries actual benefits with none of the political costs and none of the government intrusion. · 37 minutes ago

    Hey, guess what?  I just found out that Good Housekeeping doesn’t publish pornographic images and stories in its pages.  Problem solved!

  16. EJHill

    It’s not the Pornography Industry that’s all screwed up (if you’ll pardon the expression.) It’s the Shame Industry that’s upside down.

    What was celebrated 60 years ago is now something to be ashamed of and everything that was considered unseemly then is now guilt-free.

  17. tabula rasa
    katievs: I don’t know the best way to go about combatting pornography, but I am with Santorum in believing that it is a scourge that ought to be combatted. 

    Heroine and cocaine offer a better comparison than cigarette smoking in terms of destructive force and social menace. · 21 minutes ago

    I agree. The old social science response to porn was that “it’s just a diversion, and has no harmful effects.”  Then studies began to come in that shows the devastation it causes in marriages.  Porn is one of the primary causes of marital problems.  For a review of the subject, take a look at testimony presented to Congress in 2005 by Jill Manning, a visiting scholar at the Heritage Foundation.

    The next question, of course, is what we should do about it and to be honest, I’m not sure.  That’s why I agree with Pat:  it’s about time we had an adult conversation about the subject.  

    Sadly, it’s not going to be during this presidential fight.  But, heck, it’s just another can to kicked down the road. That’s something we’re really good at doing.

  18. iWc
    katievs

    iWc

    katievs:

    Heroine and cocaine offer a better comparison than cigarette smoking in terms of destructive force and social menace. · 5 minutes ago

    I don’t think this is right at all. Apparently 70%+ of men view porn. If 70% used hard drugs, the damage would be far, far worse. 

    One reason pornography is so destructive is that it is so widespread. · 5 minutes ago

    This is entirely illogical. Either porn is as dangerous as hard drugs, or it is not. 

  19. James Of England
    katievs: I don’t know the best way to go about combatting pornography, but I am with Santorum in believing that it is a scourge that ought to be combatted. 

    Heroine and cocaine offer a better comparison than cigarette smoking in terms of destructive force and social menace. · 30 minutes ago

    I agree with you that there are terrible costs to pornography. I don’t think I agree with your implied claim that they are much worse than smoking. The CDC claims that “The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.”

    That’s, well, a lot. I’m sure it’s an overestimate, but it sounds like more marriages being broken up by tobacco than by pornography to me.

  20. Stuart Creque
    iWc

    katievs:

    Heroine and cocaine offer a better comparison than cigarette smoking in terms of destructive force and social menace. · 5 minutes ago

    I don’t think this is right at all. Apparently 70%+ of men view porn. If 70% used hard drugs, the damage would be far, far worse. · 18 minutes ago

    The prevalence of alcohol use is pretty high: over 80 percent of men in the USA (including over 80 percent of high school seniors).

    Most men and women can use alcohol in moderation without suffering (serious) ill effects.  However, about a third of alcohol users (whic equates to about 25 percent of all men and a smaller percentage of all women) become alcohol dependent to some extent.

    Of course, our society enacts laws and creates social pressures to regulate alcohol use formally and informally.  We try to keep kids away from it, we try to limit overconsumption in public, we try to eliminate or punish irresponsible use in settings that involve public safety, we recognize heavy dependence as a sickness that needs treatment.

    I don’t see too many slippery slope arguments that say all alcohol regulation is dangerous to freedom.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In