Commentary: Rick Santorum Wins Three Contests, But Still Leaves Many Uneasy

The former Pennsylvania senator has shown an amazing lack of sensitivity on the campaign that reveals a troubling pattern.

Posted: 02/08/2012 01:16 PM EST
Rick Santorum, Ben Jealous, Republican Party, Politics News, Politics, NAACP

It was a dramatic sweep for Rick Santorum, with victories in three contests in just one day. By winning the most votes in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, the former Pennsylvania senator has on one day refashioned the Republican presidential contest, raising new questions about Mitt Romney’s ability to appeal to the conservative wing of the party.

Santorum’s triple victory has proven how uneasy Republicans are with Romney, the presumed front-runner. But African-Americans have reason to be uneasy about Santorum.

The defeated senator is, after all, the candidate who made some impolitic, but revealing, comments to a group of Iowa voters. "I don't want to make Black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money,” Santorum said, speaking about entitlement reform. “I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."

It was a comment that was condemned by a host of figures, including NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, who said that Santorum "conflates welfare recipients with African-Americans, though federal benefits are in fact determined by income level.”

When asked about it later, Santorum told a reporter on CBS that the statement was motivated by “my concern for dependency in this country and concern for people not being more dependent on our government, whatever their race or ethnicity is.”

But after creating a stir, Santorum famously denied that he had actually used the term “Black people,” explaining that it was just a tongue-tied stumble of a word that sounded like “Black.”

Santorum, campaigning last month in Iowa, said he was troubled by the president’s support of abortion rights, saying “I find it almost remarkable for a Black man” to hold those views. It’s as if he was determined to remind voters in Iowa — a state that is roughly 95 percent white — that their president is Black.

This is the same candidate who had a less-than-honorable moment, when confronting a questioner at a campaign event in Florida with misgivings about President Obama.

“I never refer to Obama as President Obama because legally he is not,” one woman said, speaking to Santorum. “He constantly says that our Constitution is passé, and he ignores it, as you know, and does what he darn well pleases. He is an avowed Muslim and my question is, why isn’t something being done to get him out of government? He has no legal right to be calling himself president.”

A smiling Santorum greeted the woman’s outrageous comment with an outrageous response: “Well, look, I’m doing my best to get him out of the government right now,” he said. “And you’re right about how he uniformly ignores the Constitution. He did this with these appointments over the recess that was not a recess, and if I was in the United States Senate, I would be drawing the line.”

By contrast, Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, demonstrated how a politician with integrity might respond to bigotry. When McCain, a senator from Arizona, was confronted at a campaign appearance by a woman who called Obama an “Arab” politician whom she could not trust, McCain immediately rejected the comment.

 “No ma’am,” McCain shot back. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

The fact is that Santorum is walking in lockstep with his fellow 2012 Republican presidential candidates, who will say anything to get the votes of the most conservative wing of their party. It matters not an iota to them how insensitive, how mindlessly racist the appeal might be. And no matter how many primaries and caucuses he wins, the American public deserves far better.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


BET Politics - Your source for the latest news, photos, and videos illuminating key issues and personalities in African-American political life, plus commentary from some of our liveliest voices.

Videos You May Like

(Photo: Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

From Our Partners