Rants and Raves

My struggle with Rick Santorum’s baby-talk about Isabella

Wednesday, Mar 07, 2012 7:58 am

By Tim Stevens

As Former Senator Rick Santorum hangs in the Republican primary contest longer than all reasonability would suggest, it becomes increasingly more likely he will still be campaigning when the last states in New England  hold their primaries. A year ago, I figured he would close up shop sometime during the first couple contests. Now, even after Romney victories in Massachusetts and Vermont, there’s a strong chance he may be visiting the Nutmeg and Ocean states in April. So, against all expectations, I find myself pondering Santorum as a candidate.

He is not someone that I can ever imagine myself voting for. Ever. I find several of his opinions loathsome, including his attitudes on gays and marriage, people of low socioeconomic status, and women in the military. As a fairly liberal fella, I’d just as soon dismiss the guy outright.  There is, however, one aspect of Santorum that I find myself still wrestling with: the stories he tells about his young daughter, Isabella.

As a father for over seven months now, I know the struggle of not talking about your child at every opportunity. I try not to bore my friends with stories of drooling, babbling, or toys that say the alphabet, but I am sure I fail from time to time. So I can understand why Santorum also talks a lot about Isabella—who is severely disabled—when he’s out there on the campaign trail. But it still bothers me.

Part of it, I am sure, is that, as noted above, I disagree so thoroughly with him on so many issues. But then, I disagree with Sarah Palin as well. If anything I view her as even less competent than Santorum. However, I was never bothered by her campaign-trail stories about Tripp, her youngest child who was born with Down’s syndrome. So why am I uncomfortable when Santorum invokes his daughter’s name when stumping across the country?

The best explanation I have come up with is this: He has learned nothing from his daughter.

He loves her despite her limitations? Great. But you are her father, so we expect that.

He sees her as evidence of why abortion is wrong? Fine. But you already were opposed to abortion before she was born, so nothing really changed there.

At one event not long ago, a woman stood before him asking about the high cost of keeping her disabled son alive and he scoffed at her concerns, arguing that people spend 900 dollars on iPads—a specious argument, given that people would have to buy over 100 iPads a year, every year, for years without ceasing to know the financial burden this woman bears. But Santorum knows the cost of a special-needs child and he must know how lucky he is to be able to pay for all the care Isabella requires because of his financial status. His recent tax returns demonstrate he could afford those meds AND an iPad if not every month, certainly every few. He must know this and yet…no empathy? It is mind-boggling to me. Study after study shows that once you know someone who is of a non-privileged class, be they poor, disabled, gay, black, Muslim, and so on, you become more understanding and caring for people in that same class. Rick Santorum lives with a severely developmentally disabled daughter. He loves her. He considers her a blessing. And yet, a parent in the same situation stands before him and asks for help and he derides her. “I got mine, good luck with yours,” seems to be his attitude. I consider that mindset, and the sweet story of a wonderful girl named Isabella Santorum is not inspirational. It’s an emotional cudgel meant to beat back critics: “See, I love my daughter. I’m a nice guy.”  A bit of stagecraft meant to distract: “What? Me deny others’ rights? Have I mentioned my wonderful daughter?” A human story made hopelessly political.

It may be unfair of me to draw this conclusion. It probably is. I have no doubt his love for his daughter is genuine. But that love has not taught him anything about the burden that loving a similarly blessed child represents for the less fortunate. Without that empathy, his beautiful, human story of a father’s pride and love for a daughter who has lived beyond the last medical hope is irrevocably tarnished.

Tims Stevens is a regular contributor to New Paris Press. He can be reached at ungajje@gmail.com.

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