Hardcore Republicanism – Santorum’s crusade against pornography

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Thou rascal…hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lust’st to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her.

– William Shakespeare, King Lear

In the reality show that is the Republican Party’s primary race, the latest episode featured Rick “The Situation” Santorum, proclaiming that as president, he would put a complete stop to the distribution of hardcore pornography. Santorum had announced that this injunction is extremely important for the health of the nation because “Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women”.

There is no need to scratch one’s head and wonder what evidence Santorum used to establish this causal truth claim. It would similarly be quite pointless, if somewhat entertaining, to ask him what exactly is or isn’t hard core enough, in his expert opinion, to merit this ban – as Santorum has, in effect, proclaimed himself an “expert” on the subject. Let us, furthermore, not waste any time pointing out that Santorum’s own Christian sect – the Catholic Church – has produced some of the most “sexually conservative” men, who end up committing some of the most horrific sexual crimes imaginable.

But let us not jump to any hasty conclusions regarding Santorum’s feelings towards pornography. On one hand he does seem to have revived the 1980s with his ‘fire and brimstone’ crusade against “obscenity” (I half expect him to still come after Kevin Bacon for dancing to Rock & Roll music), but on the other hand, perhaps there is something we do not yet understand.

In a 2009 paper, published by Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School, some startling yet strangely expected findings were revealed about online consumption of pornography in the US. Edelman’s research has revealed that eight of the top ten pornography consuming states in the US had voted Republican in the 2008 elections. It is needless to say that these states are not only some of the most conservative, but also the most Christian states in the union (Utah, with the highest concentration of conservative Mormons came in as the single largest consumer of online pornography).

It is similarly interesting to note that some of the most Christian states (that seem to be so interested in pornography) also check in as having the highest crime rates, highest divorce rates, highest teen pregnancy rates, and highest murder rates.

Might it therefore be the case that Santorum is actually correct in his observation that there is a correlation between pornography and divorce, violent crime, and teen pregnancy rates; and that something should be done to help Christian states that seem to be so afflicted by these problems?

There is however another unavoidable and penetrating question – a ‘chicken and the egg’ style question regarding pornography consumption and Christianity – which came first? We might also want to ask if increased consumption of pornography is attributed to sexual repression or to a higher level of Christian religiosity. But as Christopher Hitches had so eloquently pointed out: “One might prefer to attribute this to sexual repression than to the actual doctrines preached, but then one of the actual doctrines preached is sexual repression…thus the connection is unavoidable”.

Yes, it does indeed appear that Hitchens was right to quote King Lear in order to point out that “The policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offense for which he applies the lash”. So yes – Santorum IS most likely quite the self conflicted expert on hardcore pornography we suspected he was.

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