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24.4.03

I worry that this Rick Santorum issue will backfire on the Democrats. People seem to be seeing this as a parallel to the Trent Lott affair. But there is one big difference: the vast majority of Americans believe racism is wrong. None of the defenses of Lott were defenses of segregation, they were claims that Lott hadn't said that he supported segregation. But the view that Santorum expressed is, shamefully, a very popular one today. Santorum gave a clear statement of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" arguement. This will be an appealing message to a public that for the most part is against bigotry, but is also against homosexuality. And I think that it is certainly possible to differentiate between the inclination or desire to commit an act, and the act itself.

Right now the Democrats have the rhetorical advantage, because they (Howard Dean and John Kerry, at least) have taken the initiative to frame it as radical bigotry versus sensible respect for equal rights. But it's possible for Republicans to spin it as moderate "love the sinner hate the sin" versus a radical gay rights agenda. This slippage is more likely if the debate turns into one about gay marriage, which most Americans see as a pretty far out proposal. It's especially dangerous for Dean, who is already seen as the gay marriage candidate (even though his actual position is that it should be up to the states, so the feds should neither prohibit (a la the Defense of Marriage Act) nor impose gay marriage (or "marriage")).

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