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.