Rick Santorum's baby - a follow-up from Mehdi Hasan

Damian Thompson and others on the right are trying to demonise me for reporting a story that Santorum's baby died at childbirth.

The reaction to my recent blogpost, "10 things you didn't know about Rick Santorum...", has prompted me to write this follow-up. In my original post, I covered some of Santorum's outrageous views (he wants to bomb Iran and dismisses global warming as "junk science"), as well as semi-amusing bits of trivia: for example, he is friends with U2's Bono and he once defended the World Wrestling Federation in court.

I also included, without any supporting comment, criticism or rebuke:

8) When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, Santorum and his wife spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home where, joined by their other children, they prayed over it, cuddled with it and welcomed the baby into the family.

We live in an era of faux-outrage and Twitterstorms so, predictably, I've since been attacked by a coalition of indignant pundits and pontificators who couldn't be bothered to read what I actually wrote: from Telegraph columnists to left-wing bloggers to right-wing Republicans across the pond. The levels of outrage (outrage!) are on the rise. Anyone would think that (a) I had criticised Santorum for the way in which he handled his son's tragic death, or (b) that I was the first to introduce this story into the public domain (perhaps having rifled through his bins or having hacked into his personal email account). Neither inference is true.

For the record, Karen Santorum, Rick's wife, chronicled both the pregnancy and the wider US partial-birth abortion debate in her 1998 book, Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum. The book takes the form of letters Karen wrote to her unborn son, including the one where she writes:

When the partial-abortion vote comes to the floor of the U.S. Senate for the third time, your daddy needs to proclaim God's message for life with even more strength and devotion to the cause.

In May 2005, in a New York Times magazine profile of Santorum, entitled "The Believer", Michael Sokolove wrote:

What happened after the death is a kind of snapshot of a cultural divide. Some would find it discomforting, strange, even ghoulish -- others brave and deeply spiritual. Rick and Karen Santorum would not let the morgue take the corpse of their newborn; they slept that night in the hospital with their lifeless baby between them. The next day, they took him home. ''Your siblings could not have been more excited about you!" Karen writes in the book, which takes the form of letters to Gabriel, mostly while he is in utero.

In October 2005, in a Philadelphia City Paper profile of Santorum, headlined "The Path of the Righteous", Mike Newall wrote:

Gabriel Michael Santorum lived for only two hours. The Santorums spent the night in the hospital bed with their lifeless baby lying between them. The next morning they brought the palm-sized corpse to Karen's parent's house. They had their other children pose for pictures and cuddle with Gabriel. They sang lullabies and held a private mass.

On 2 January 2012, New York Times columnist, card-carrying conservative and Santorum sympathiser, David Brooks, wrote:

Santorum does not have a secular worldview. This is not just a matter of going to church and home-schooling his children. When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, he and his wife, a neonatal nurse, spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home -- praying over it and welcoming it, with their other kids, into the family. This story tends to be deeply creepy to many secular people but inspiring to many of the more devout.

On 6 January 2012, ABC News published a long, online feature, on the health section of its website, headlined:

Experts: Rick Santorum Grief Is Typical, But Taking Body Home, Unusual

Yet, I'm now being pilloried and castigated for daring to mention this fact (and, that too, in passing!), which (1) has been in the public domain for more than a decade, (2) was introduced into the public domain by Santorum's wife in book form, (3) may have influenced Santorum's votes in the US Senate, and (4) has been discussed, time and again, not just in newspaper profiles of Santorum, but in recent articles by supportive, centre-right journalists (David Brooks) and neutral TV news organisations (ABC News). The whole thing is bizarre; a classic, manufactured, online controversy. As I said at the start, I went out of my way not to criticize Santorum for the way he behaved after this horrible personal tragedy in his life (despite, incidentally, others having done so); I just reported it. And I did so, you might note, in a blogpost called: "10 things you didn't know about Rick Santorum..." - not "10 bad/evil/crazy/right-wing things you didn't know about Rick Santorum"!

One last, semi-related point: oddball Telegraph blogger and columnist Damian Thompson used his piece in Saturday's paper to accuse me of "exploiting the death of [Santorum's] premature son, Gabriel, to score a political point" and of being "weird and sinister". The words pot, kettle and black come to mind. He deliberately mispresented my blogpost to score his own crude, political point against "Lefties". Oh, and it's a bit rich for Thompson, of all people, to accuse others of publishing "weird and sinister" blogposts.

How about this, from Thompson, entitled, "The Calais 'jungle' and the Islamic settlement of Britain":

How interesting that French police waited until the end of Ramadan before forcibly dismantling the Calais "jungle". That tells us something we really need to remember about a huge proportion of the illegal immigrants seeking to enter Britain: that they are pious Muslims.

Pious Muslims! Outrageous! How about this blogpost from Thompson, entitled:

Indulgence of Islam is harming society

(Btw, can you imagine a headline which read "Indulgence of Judaism is harming society" or "Indulgence of black people is harming society"?)

And in a blogpost on the supposed popularity of the BNP's odious views, Thompson wrote:

The Tories have not made immigration and Islam central to their policies. It's too early to do so, if they want to sanitise their image among middle-class voters. Also, they lack the insight or the courage to recognise that the two issues will soon be indivisible. The tragedy for this country is that it is now, not in ten years' time when our social fabric has been torn to pieces, that voters need a political party to do so.

On second thoughts, "weird and sinister" doesn't do justice to Thompson's persistent Islam-baiting.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The rage that Donald Trump has harnessed could prove his undoing

The new president's supporters expect the earth from him - and he promised it to them. 

If you were expecting a conciliatory, unifying message from Donald Trump’s inaugural address, delivered Friday afternoon in Washington, DC, then: who are you and where is the rock you have been hiding under?

But despite low expectations - turnout on the Mall for the speech was embarrassingly small compared to that which came for Obama’s first inaugural address in 2009, as this CNN comparison shows - Trump delivered a deeply alarming, divisive speech which set a dark tone for the next four years.

Washington DC had spent the previous few days in a daze. People spoke in hushed tones. The tension in the air could be cut with a butter-knife. For the inauguration, this town is full to bursting with Trump supporters and protesters. Teenagers shouted “fuck Trump” at a group of white college-age students in slogan hats on the metro. People walk with thousand-yard stares; few could believe, on Thursday, that this was really happening.

As rain began to drizzle from a cool grey sky, Trump opened by saying that he was going to take power from the Washington elites and return it to the American people, following up on themes he developed during his rollercoaster campaign.

“For too long, a small group in our nation's Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost ... The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” Trump said.

The difference between the oratory of hope which was the mark of Obama’s speaking style, Trump maintained his strategy of listing threats, engaging in a politics of fear. He talked of crime; of “carnage in the streets”, of gangs.

He lamented the money spent helping defend nations overseas and pledged that “From this moment on, it's going to be America First.” That slogan, which he used during the campaign, has chilling echoes; it was the name and rallying cry of a group of prominent anti-Semites in the US in the 1930s. He promised “a new national pride.” One of his first acts as president was to announce a “national day of patriotism.”

The crowd reflected Trump’s sentiments back at him from the mall. They cheered his slogans; they booed Democratic party figures on the dais, including Hillary Clinton. They chanted “lock her up” every time she appeared on the giant screens which abutted the Capital building. When Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, called for unity, the crowd booed when he said the word “immigrant”.

Afterwards, protests turned violent. Police deployed pepper-spray and concussion grenades on the street outside the Washington Post building. Trump memorabilia was burned.

Meanwhile, the policy fightback has also already begun. The first two new petitions on whitehouse.gov are for the release of Trump’s tax returns, and for his businesses to be put in a blind trust. Congressional Democrats, as well as state representatives from liberal states like California are already planning their fightback. A plane circled New York City towing the message “we outnumber him! resist!”

Obama, too, though gracious during the transition period, has hinted that if Trump rides roughshod over civil liberties he will not stay quiet.

Trump is unlikely to enjoy being president as much as running for president. His supporters expect the earth from him - he promised them it, over and over again. Those in the crowd who chanted “lock her up” at Clinton expect Trump literally to do so. “Drain the swamp” - another campaign slogan favourite  - will ring hollow to his supporters when they watch his billionaire cabinet demolish healthcare and slash funding for federal programs.

In the end when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the true charlatan behind the short-fingered demagogue of Oz, the forces of rage and dissatisfaction he harnessed to drive his campaign which may prove his undoing.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.