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Rick Santorum's 'winning' war on porn
The socially conservative GOP presidential hopeful is promising to take away our pornography for our own good. And it might just be smart politics, too
Given that porn demand is greatest in conservative, Republican-dominated areas, Rick Santorum's crusade against smut might not help him in Red States.
Given that porn demand is greatest in conservative, Republican-dominated areas, Rick Santorum's crusade against smut might not help him in Red States.
Facebook/Rick Santorum/Dave Davidson

"America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography," says Rick Santorum in a position paper on his presidential campaign website that's begun to receive attention. Santorum is promising a "broad war on porn," says Josh Barro at Forbes. He would use a Santorum Justice Department to aggressively crack down on the distribution of "hardcore (obscene) pornography on the internet," on TV, in stores, and through the mail. In effect, Santorum is signaling "a clear intent to use the levers of government to stop adults from making and watching porn." Here's what you should know:

What's Santorum's problem with porn?
"Santorum's obsession with porn dates back at least to 2005," says Mike Riggs at Reason. On his website, Santorum cites an unspecified "wealth of research" to prove that "pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences." Among the ill effects he notes: Wrecked marriages, "misogyny and violence against women," and prostitution. "Addiction to porn" has become a real problem among adults, and even children, he says, with 11 now being "the average age of first exposure to hardcore, internet pornography."

What does he plan to do about it?
"Vigorously" enforce the obscenity laws already on the books. The big problem, Santorum says, is that "the Obama administration has turned a blind eye" to anti-porn crusaders and let the problem grow. While the Bush administration created an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in 2005, notes Barro at Forbes, it mainly focused on small-time, hardcore porn producers, disappointing social conservatives who wanted more. Santorum says he'd appoint an attorney general who would go after larger producers of mainstream porn.

Could he really do that?
Sure, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh tells The Daily Caller. "If the government wanted to aggressively move against internet pornography, it could do so," because most online porn "would plausibly be seen as obscene." It would be harder to shut down access to porn sites outside the U.S., but Congress could mandate that internet providers set up special anti-porn filters, and the government already has the authority to prosecute individuals for watching porn. 

So... why aren't obscenity laws enforced more vigorously?
District attorneys aren't keen to crack down on porn, Volohk says, because the prosecutor who does "isn't going to win a lot of votes in the next election." For better or worse, the lucrative porn business also creates a lot of jobs. Santorum could take a route that's "more palatable politically," says Hot Air's Allahpundit: Help the big porn studios take down the "galaxy of piracy sites" that play their copyrighted skin flicks. In that way, he sidesteps free-speech issues and "both sides get something they want — porn viewing would likely drop sharply" as casual watchers balk at paying, and "revenue for porn studios would leap" when porn devotees decide to pony up.

Will this crusade win Santorum any support?
It's a mixed bag, says Heather "Digby" Parton at Hullabaloo. On the one hand, several studies show that porn demand is greatest in conservative, Republican-dominated states, so "crusading against porn is obviously not going to win the male vote in the Red States." On the other hand, "this is often a winning issue" for politicians. Parents are especially "queasy about porn on the internet," few politicians want to defend smut, and the crusader rarely has to follow through on his promises. Santorum's war on porn "will bug the hell out of libertarians but pose no problem to social conservatives," says Allahpundit.

Isn't this election supposed to be about the economy?
Yes, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley tells The Daily Caller, and Santorum is taking a risk by muddling his jobs message with this "attempt to criminalize an industry that is supported by millions of Americans." Actually, the bad economy works to Santorum's advantage, says David Allyn in the Chicago Tribune. "When the economy contracts, social attitudes toward sexuality turn more conservative." And sure enough, just like in the 1870s, 1930s, late 1940s, and late 1970s, "sexual anxiety is again on the rise." Santorum had better hope the economy doesn't recover before November.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Daily Caller, Forbes, The Hill, Hot Air, Hullabaloo, Jezebel, Reason

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