Santorum, a hard-line right-to-lifer, said that President Obama, as a black man, should support what Santorum thinks are the rights of fetuses. Again, wingnuttia is trading on the notion that abortion rights recognized in Roe v. Wade are like the rights of slaveholders recognized in Dred Scot: “rights” premised on the denial of full personhood to a class of human beings, and therefore morally insupportable. The argument seems to me too silly to deserve much attention; law and custom have always held that a person joins the civil community at birth and leaves it at death. (Just to choose an example at random, the original Census counted the born, but it did not count the unborn, any more than it counted the dead.)
But Ta-Nehisi’s objection isn’t so much to Santorum’s logic as to his assertion that Obama’s skin color ought to shape his beliefs. TNC writes: “I think it would be deeply wrong of me to say, ‘As a member of ethnic group that’s suffered bigotry, Rick Santorum should be for gay marriage’.”
Of course, all ethnicities are not the same, but as a (non-observant) Jew, I find the argument “You, as a member of a traditionally persecuted group, have a special obligation to stand up for the persecuted” quite cogent. (It’s also consistent with Jewish tradition.)
After all, you can’t expect full sympathy with the downtrodden from the traditionally powerful, and sympathy from the powerless does only so much good. So it is, I submit, A Good Thing if the memory of historical wrongs leads the descendants of those who suffered those wrongs to speak up on behalf of the currently oppressed. Even among those still fighting their own fights, a little bit of solidarity with the struggles of others would not come amiss.
So I, for one, don’t see any objection to telling the black preachers who oppose equal rights for gays that they’re acting like a bunch of Bilbos, or the Jewish Muslim-bashers that they sound like a bunch of Nazis. What’s objectionable about Santorum’s argument is its substance, not its form.