But of all God’s miracles large and small,
The most miraculous one of all
Is that out of a worthless lump of clay,
God has made a man today.
from Fiddler on the Roof, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
If anyone has a grudge against Rick Santorum, it is I. Back in 2004, I was far from home, feeling secure in the knowledge that the Party of Reagan was running the country. I had a blind trust in our leadership, a dial-up internet connection, and no conservative filtration of news stories. That spring, I took Rick Santorum’s advice and cast an absentee ballot in favor of Arlen Specter over primary challenger Pat Toomey for the Pennsylvania Senate seat.
(Four paragraphs of back story follow, but you can skip to the next section without missing my point.)
I accepted as truth that Pat Toomey could not win the general election, and that it was better to nominate someone who had a high likelihood of winning, and who had promised to approve President Bush’s appointments to the Supreme Court. Pat Toomey lost the primary by 1000 votes. If Santorum had been a little less vigorous in his endorsement, perhaps the outcome would have been different.
In November 2006, my husband was deployed and I was expecting, so I was in my home district during Rick Santorum’s bid for a third term. That year the charges that Santorum used Pennsylvania resources to educate his children, who were living in Leesburg, VA, left a particularly bitter taste in my mouth. My husband and several of our neighbors knew the commuting route from south-central Pennsylvania to DC quite well. Because the very lovely communities on the Yankee side of the Mason Dixon line are only 35 miles farther from DC than Leesburg is, Santorum’s choice of where to raise his family indicated to me that he wanted to be part of the beltway crowd.
On the Democratic ticket that year was Bob Casey Jr. Like many Pennsylvania rank and file Republicans, I remembered Casey’s late father fondly, almost entirely because he sacrificed his political future rather than compromise his pro-life philosophy. Casey Jr. claimed to be pro-life, and I believed him.
I was tempted to sit the election out until I received a campaign mailing from Karen Santorum, detailing her husband’s commitment to the pro-life cause. The letter mentioned their loss of son Gabriel Michael, soon after birth. Having lost a child through miscarriage 3 years earlier and a niece born still a year before that, I took some time to read the reviews of Karen’s book Letters to Gabriel. I felt a sisterhood toward Karen because of our common experience, and in the end filled in the little bubble next to Rick’s name on the ballot, but only because his wife asked me to. That November, Rick lost the election by an embarrassing margin, the Republicans lost control of Congress, and I started following politics and policy for the first time in 10 years.
Fast forward to 2011
When Rick Santorum formally announced his bid for the presidency, my reaction was, “How dare he!” How dare he ask for my support at the national level when he let me down at the state level! How dare he continue to justify his Specter endorsement! (Start video here at 38:43) How dare he abandon his wife at home with 7 kids while he runs around the country campaigning!
I did not believe that Santorum was a pro-life statist. That would have been too kind. Instead, I felt that he was an unctuous politician who assembled his platform based on what positions would get him the most votes at any given time. Then in October there was a little troll who called to my attention the disgusting liberal blogosphere lie that Santorum’s son Gabriel Michael died in a late term abortion. This lowlife attack reminded me that circling the wagons does not mean painting bulls’ eyes on your neighbors’ Conestoga canvasses. I had nothing nice to say about Rick Santorum, but I would keep that opinion private. I armed myself with knowledge to defend Karen Santorum, should the need arise, by finally reading her book.
Reading Letters to Gabriel and subsequently learning about Rick and Karen’s most recent addition Bella, I discovered that the Santorums have a remarkable family history. Out of 9 pregnancies, they lost one child through an ectopic implantation, a condition fatal to the baby in all but miraculous cases, and potentially fatal to the mother if left untreated. They lost Gabriel Michael, and Karen almost lost her own life, to complications resulting from an in utero procedure to correct a fatal birth defect called posterior urethral valve. A few days after Bella’s birth, they were counseled that her genetic condition, Edwards syndrome, was incompatible with life.
Right now, as I add these words to a diary that I had been saving for the occasion of Santorum’s bow out, I believe his chances of winning the Republican nomination and the presidency are 1 in a million, but I find myself rooting for him anyway. Those kinds of odds have favored him before.
From various medical sources I discovered that the incidence of ectopic pregnancy is 1/40 pregnancies, the incidence of posterior urethral valve is 1/5000 live births, and the incidence of Edward’s syndrome is 1/3000 live births. Assuming they are unrelated events, the chance of having each of these three complications occur at least once in 9 given pregnancies is roughly 1 in a million*.
The intersection of these events has allowed Rick Santorum to experience personally the hard case “what ifs” that frequently derail pro-lifers in the abortion debate. However malleable he was early in his career, this one in a million miracle of suffering seems to have welded the social issues leg to his tripod stool. His foreign and economic policy positions may still be modular, but I know that his vision for the future of our country includes a culture of life.
My feeling right now is that if God can use a persecutor of Christians to evangelize the ancient world, a bantamweight nun to shoulder the suffering of Calcutta’s slums, and a minister who earned a C grade in public speaking class to “Let freedom ring” across America, surely He can get some good out of a scalawag like Rick Santorum.
In the general election I will gladly and proudly vote for the Republican nominee for the presidency, and I won’t need nose plugs to do so. Whatever may happen in the next few weeks, I wish Rick Santorum well, and I hope he remains on the national scene to deliver and defend the gospel of life in America.
* P=1.09798267 × 10^-6