A weird conversation took place on Morning Joe this morning about Rick Santorum’s extreme position on contraception—Santorum is famously against it essentially because he believes sex should be about the begetting not the buzz.
Conservative Joe Scarborough actually played the role of sensible commentator, suggesting that Santorum’s position was way outside the mainstream, and sidekick Mika Brzezinski decided to wander off to the right of Scarborough and defended the extremism of the GOP’s current frontrunner.
After playing a couple of clips of Santorum expressing his fifth-century opinions on the matter—the most recent clip coming from last year—Brzezinski, a Catholic like Santorum, was asked about his views. She replied:
I just don’t think there is anything wrong with believing that. I really don’t. I don’t think that means he’s gonna ban birth control across the board. Those are his personal beliefs. And I think as a father and a man who has held public office, he’s lived up to them, it appears, which makes it interesting for the conversation and it’s a conversation every family should have about birth control and its role in society with their own kids.
He’s got his own and he stands by them and I think he’s an interesting part of the national conversation in terms of where our society is going. And there is a lot of risky behavior that happens to be connected to birth control. But there’s a whole other side to this conversation and not once did I say, “should it be banned?” or “should it not be covered by health insurance?” but I think it’s okay to have those beliefs and those concerns.
At first hearing, one might think Brzezinski sounds reasonable. Santorum is, indeed, entitled to his beliefs on contraception and in a strange and limited sort of way is to be respected, if he (with the consent of his wife) lives by them. But the real question is not Santorum’s fealty to his extreme doctrines, but the doctrines themselves.
Just to illustrate, let’s look at a different kind of belief that I think it is fair to say that nearly all Americans would find repulsive:
Imagine if there were a presidential candidate today saying that he personally follows the teachings of his church, especially that African-Americans should not be able to marry white Americans because their “dark skin” is a “curse,” since God chose to put them on the earth “in the lineage of Cain.”
Such a candidate might express agreement with a prominent leader of his church that “the Negro seeks absorption with the white race,” and “he will not be satisfied until he achieves it.”
And such a candidate might agree with that same church leader when he said he “would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it,” but that they should “enjoy these among themselves.”
Now imagine if there were a video clip of this candidate saying,
I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change it?
With all that in mind, let’s go back to Morning Joe and Mika Brzezinski. Of such beliefs would she say,
I just don’t think there is anything wrong with believing that. I really don’t. I don’t think that means he’s gonna ban interracial marriage across the board. Those are his personal beliefs.
Would she say that on television and expect her career to survive?
Or would she say,
I think he’s an interesting part of the national conversation in terms of where our society is going.
Of course she wouldn’t. Not in a million years.
But perhaps because she is a Catholic, or simply because she has some other reason to believe that birth control is somehow “cursed,” in terms of what perceived negative effects it has on society, she feels no social discomfort in stating that Santorum’s antiquated, offensive, and socially perilous views present “a whole other side to this conversation.”
Perhaps the day will come when Santorum’s extremist views on contraception will be as socially unacceptable to defend as the views of my imaginary candidate’s views are today. But obviously we have a long way to go.
Finally, and for the record, my imaginary candidate’s opinions were based on the teachings of an honest-to-goodness, high-ranking apostle of the Mormon Church, Mark E. Petersen, who expressed his beliefs in a speech in 1954, “Race Problems—As they Affect The Church.”
That such abhorrent ideas, expressed not that long ago, are no longer prevalent in civil society is because people of all races began to push back against them and ridicule them, not politely welcome their promotion, or in Brzezinski’s language, deem them an “interesting part of the national conversation.”
Here are the two Santorum clips played this morning on Morning Joe followed by Mike Barnicle’s and Mika Brzezinski’s comments: