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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Scotland's next referendum will be uglier and nastier

But the sequel to 2014's Indyref may have a very different ending. 

Referendums are like buses: you wait three decades for one and then four come along at once.

That Scotland voted to stay in the European Union but England and Wales voted to leave was always going to punch that particular constitutional bruise. If Brexit does go awry, the prospect of leaving one union to rejoin – remain within – one union becomes more attractive.

Now Theresa May is braced for a second referendum on Scotland’s future, not after but during Britain’s exit talks, the Times reports.“Scotland to demand new referendum, No 10 fears” is that paper’s Ronseal splash. The story is already making itself felt on the currency markets, with sterling down yet further against the dollar at time of writing.

The PM’s options aren’t good. Although notionally the right to hold a referendum is power reserved to Westminster, the prospect of the elected government at Holyrood asking for another only to be refused by the Tory in London is the worst thing that could happen to the Union since, well, Brexit. In any case, there is nothing to stop the SNP holding a non-binding, Scotland-wide consultative poll, putting further pressure on the constitutional settlement between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Let’s say she decides that the best thing to do is go ahead with the contest. A lot has changed since 2014 and the No side's victory. Back then, Ruth Davidson said that a Conservative victory in 2015 was not “likely” and one of Better Together’s key themes was that a Yes vote would put Scotland’s EU membership at risk.

Now all the signs point towards a Tory victory that effectively rules out the chances of a Labour revival in 2025 as well, and Scotland’s EU membership is gone.

Then there’s the Irish dimension. Northern Ireland and Scotland’s constitutional affairs are not the same but in any referendum held during the European talks, the unionist side will have to explain why they are talking up the prospect of a open border between the North and the Republic while warning against a hard border between England and Scotland. What’s good for peace in Northern Ireland and for maintaining that bit of the United Kingdom is not good for the other.

That’s before you get to the questions of who would lead it: Labour are unlikely to want to get back on that particular train and in any case are not the force they were in 2014, to put it mildly, while a No campaign headed by a Tory feels like Nicola Sturgeon’s dream.

But equally it’s not as easy as it looks for the SNP. A second No campaign would go hard on difficult questions about EU budget rules, the Euro, and exports to the rest of the UK. In addition, questions about pensions (at risk) and immigration (likely higher than now) would all be weaponised in ways they weren’t before. Indy Ref 2: Indier Reffier would be an uglier affair than the contest that came before. Those Yessers to the SNP’s left are less inclined to fall in line with the big beast of the Yes side, too.

All in all, it would be a harder and more grueling contest for both sides. Which isn’t to say that the SNP’s chances wouldn’t still be significantly higher.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.