gay and lesbian.

Are you smarter than a Pennsylvanian?

Former PA Senator Rick Santorum…notice I said “former”

Because he’s probably the only photographer I’ve ever worked with that is as big a wiseacre as I am, one of my former colleagues at the Bucks County Courier Times, Harry Sircely, took a picture of me interviewing former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the dude who is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

I was covering a National Day of Prayer event in Bucks County at the time. Once a year, the folks who organize the annual Day of Prayer take this time to mix politics and religion in a blatant way instead of the more stealth way that it’s usually done. So naturally, Rick Santorum, a man who believes that this blatant mixing should be done more than once a year, would be a good guest speaker at one of these.

After sitting through a breakfast that for me consisted of a danish, a couple of slices of bacon (eggs from a carton and I don’t get along), a glass of cranberry juice and lots of coffee and listening to Santorum’s speech, I went to interview him. I guess that I must have asked a question that he didn’t like because the picture that Harry shot of Santorum and I is one of him looking like he wanted to punch me…something that I was kind of proud of, by the way.

Now I bring this up for two reasons: one, because it is yet another one of those Reasons I Refuse To Ever Return To A Newsroom On Purpose. I say this because there were times at the Courier Times that I felt like I was being hazed. Why? Because I felt like folks were sending me to places like the National Day of Prayer and the Christian Coalition Rally at the 2000 Republican National Convention as a test. I felt like the editors were saying “Hey, let’s send Denise to this and watch what happens!”

And secondly, I bring this up because the GOP is coming real close to putting Rick Santorum up as its nominee for President of the United States for 2012. He’s leading former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 10 percentage points in nationwide polls and is riding some momentum due to recent caucus wins and strong showings in GOP primaries.

As someone who is insane enough to follow politics, this says to me that any moderates remaining in the Republican Party are basically being told to “pound sand”! If you’ve noticed, all of the folks vying for the GOP nomination, even Romney who was at one time moderate enough to be elected governor of Massachusetts, is going so far to the right that they soon will be unable to make left turns. While this rightward turn may make someone like Romney a little more trustworthy to the hardcore true believers who will actually decide who gets to go against President Barack Obama in November, it may also make it harder to trend toward the center and attract independents when it’s time for voters to hit the polls.

But as a Pennsylvanian, the fact that Rick Santorum is having so strong a showing in the GOP primaries makes me say “Are y’all friggin’ nuts?!”

You see, having lived in Pennsylvania since 1996, I’ve found that the state that I call home can make my head spin so hard that I feel like Linda Blair in The Exorcist…or Nicki Minaj on Grammy night…whichever frame of reference works for you.

I truly believe that when Democratic political strategist James Carville described Pennsylvania by saying “There’s Philadelphia, there’s Pittsburgh, and the rest is Alabama”, he was being kind. I lived in the state’s Alabama section, so I’ve experienced this firsthand. Throughout that time, Santorum was our Senator, and while our other senator at the time, Arlen Spector, was known for being an effective statesman, Santorum was known for only two things: opposing abortion and pissing off gays and lesbians.

Because it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to defeat an incumbent in Pennsylvania, Santorum kept getting elected. People complained vehemently about him, but he brought Alabama (and Dauphin County, which is where Pittsburgh is located) to the polls. He was from that area and folks tend to support their homeboys in the Keystone State.

However in 2006, the Democrats here in Pennsylvania got kinda smart. They brought Bob Casey Jr. in to run against Santorum, something that basically amounted to a name change. Casey is the son of former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, of “Planned Parenthood v. Casey” fame. (Google it.) A lot of pro-choice women in Pennsylvania were put between a rock and a hard place because no matter who won this election, they lost. It basically amounted to changing the seat from a hardcore, anti-choice Catholic Republican to a hardcore, anti-choice Catholic Democrat. Casey won…but women lost.

But the election did what it was supposed to, which was to get Rick Santorum out of office. Unfortunately, we’ve sicced him on the rest of you.

And here’s what that has meant so far…

He started out campaign season by telling folks in Iowa in a pretty matter-of-fact way “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them someone else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money…”

Now there’s a couple of things wrong with that statement: one, statistics show that there are more white folks on welfare than anyone else and two, the statistics I just mentioned mean that it’s not just black folks that aren’t working out there, it’s everybody.

However, Santorum didn’t stop there because that would be too much like right.

After offending African Americans, he decided to piss women off.

As part of that chunk of the GOP that refuses to recognize that the whole “keep ’em barefoot and pregnant” philosophy won’t work in the Age of Facebook, Santorum has become a general in the Fight Against Contraception. Because Health Care Reform requires religious-based employers who hire folks outside the faith to cover birth control for their female employees, Santorum joined a bunch of Catholic bishops in saying that this is a abridgment of religious freedom.

When President Obama compromised and told these institutions that the insurance companies themselves would provide the contraception and they didn’t have to, it still wasn’t enough for Santorum, who believes that contraception is a product of “radical feminism” and has “ruined the family and society.”

Heck, one of his surrogates said basically that women should go back to a more old fashioned brand of birth control…a Bayer aspirin between your knees.

(Oh, yeah! That worked…)

And don’t even get me started on his views regarding pre-natal testing (he thinks it’ll lead to more abortions…really…I’m not kiddin’…) and public schools (they shouldn’t exist…)

He’s also not really big on women in the military…or women in the workforce…or women doing anything other than bearing children and having dinner on the table when the man comes home from work…

(If he’s got a job, that is..)

But while he’s got problems with people of color and with women demanding their right to be something other than pregnant, Santorum saves his special ire for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangendered and Questioning community.

One of the reasons why Pennsylvanians finally showed Santorum the door is because his views regarding gay and lesbian issues were such that the entire state was being made a laughing stock because of them…that and the fact that gays and lesbians live in “Alabama” too…

In the World According to Rick Santorum, allowing gays and lesbians to marry will lead to allowing people to enter the bounds of holy matrimony with everything from their cousins to their family pet, which is why he’s since proposed abolishing the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because it struck down California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.

Now when you want to get rid of an entire court of appeals over one issue, you’re kinda hardcore.

(Do I have to say the whole “How seriously should I take any ritual that can be performed legally by an Elvis Impersonator and that Michael Jackson was allowed to enter into twice” thing? No. Good.)

Now all I’ve given you is the highlights.

But I don’t think that I’ve explained to you why that picture of me and former Sen. Santorum features him looking at me like he wanted to knock me out.

One thing that I’ve always enjoyed about being a reporter is the fact that I have a constitutionally protected right to ask questions….even if those questions piss you off. If you don’t wanna answer them, fine. If you don’t like that I’ve challenged you, okay. But I have that right.

I exercised it with Santorum….and I think that I remember the question I asked. It was “If abortion is made illegal and women are made to have more kids, are you going to advocate that more money be added to the government’s allocation to public schools and for other assistance for these kids?”

Most of the time, asking conservatives a question like that, especially a conservative that counts among his legislative achievements so-called welfare reform, will make them look at you like they want to punch you in the mouth. But to me, it’s a legitimate question, especially since I know that you will greet these mothers and these children with a special brand of contempt if they’re hungry, homeless, or worse yet, ill.

To be honest, I get why Rick Santorum is doing what he’s doing and saying what he’s saying. He’s found an audience. He’s got a group of people in the hard right wing of the Republican Party that will not only listen to what he’s saying, but will slurp it up like a kitten drinks milk.

But if he’s the Republican nominee, the question is gonna be “Are you smarter than a Pennsylvanian?”

For years, Pennsylvanians allowed Santorum to represent them, but after a while, we grew tired of his schtick. It wasn’t doing anything for us. It wasn’t bringing us anything but ridicule. We decided we had enough.

While his schtick nationally might make social conservatives dance in the aisles because they might be one step closer to putting women back in their “place”, might be able to get rid of that “Black Muslim Terrorist” currently occupying the White House and will be able to put all of those gays and lesbians brave enough to serve their country back into the closet, Santorum hasn’t talked much about the one thing that everyone in America needs right now: a job.

Are you smarter than a Pennsylvanian?

We may find out come November.