LOS ANGELES—Though Rick Santorum's official position on "illegal pornography" is well-known to the adult industry, including the "position paper" on his website, which AVN wrote about last month, the mainstream media is only now starting to pay attention, thanks to an article posted to Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller website, the subject of which is now making the predictable rounds of other news sites.
Like a lot of what Santorum says, he is basically speaking directly to his socially conservative base when he promises to use the Justice Department to bring increased obscenity prosecutions against pornographers—which may be why he moved the issue to the bottom of his "Where I Stand" page—but despite the fact that a close read of his position reveals a lot of vague promises about what exactly he plans to do, as President he could cause a lot of trouble for the industry and for people who enjoy adult content.
The Daily Caller spoke with both UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh and George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley for their take on the threat. Basically, Volokh said it is real while Turley has his doubts.
“If the government wanted to aggressively move against internet pornography, it could do so,” said Volokh. “Here’s the deal: In most parts of the country, a lot of pornography on the internet would plausibly be seen as obscene.”
A full-court approach would also mean targeting people for receiving porn, which Volokh says is not constitutionally protected, going after U.S.-base online distributors (i.e. websites), and forcing ISPs to block foreign porn sites, something that has and is still being considered by other countries such as Australia and France.
Turley dissented, saying it is unlikely Santorum could successfully prosecute a global war on porn sufficient to cut off the flow of content to American citizens. Instead, he told the Daily Caller, an all-out campaign would result in criminalizing "an industry that is supported by millions of Americans.” It could also, we might add, make de facto criminals out of millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Unfortunately, the battle lines of this war are being redrawn in such a way that a potential crackdown on the personal receipt of porn would be framed as a campaign to help and not hurt people, as is clear from a close reading of Santorum's opening description of porn on his website.
"America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography," he claims. "A wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences. Addiction to pornography is now common for adults and even for some children. The average age of first exposure to hard-core, internet pornography is now 11. Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking."
The argument being made here is not the same old argument that porn is immoral or leads to immoral behavior, though that could be read into it as well. The new position, which first reared its ugly head only a few years ago, posits that porn is a national health issues, ergo the "pandemic."
A connection is also being made between porn and trafficking, which is very serious because then it becomes an outgrowth of international organized crime, which leads inevitably to the claim that terrorist groups are sex trafficking in order to undermine our culture while making money to use against us militarily. Before you know it, porn producers are labeled terrorists and put in Guantanamo.
Absurd, right? Looney Tunes? Never happen?
As Ian Millhiser writes in a Think Progress piece on the amazing resurgence of "10 Commandments" Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, "His belief that judges can enforce the Constitution they wish we had instead of the Constitution we actually have—now dominates the Republican Party."
Scary stuff that is only slightly leavened by the fact that the government needs the help of the people in order to hold producers of adult content criminally liable for the content they make. Yes, recent history tells us that most people are no longer willing to be rubber stamps in a resource-draining war on porn, but that hasn't stopped this same group of cultural totalitarians—Morality in Media, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Cornerstone Family Council of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania Family Institute, Concerned Women for America, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a host of other groups—from igniting a war on women in the name of religious freedom.