There is another horripilation on the campaign trail. Someone has told a joke that has roused the virtue police. I am speaking of the virtue police who are working for the grim forces of political correctitude. They do not find the joke very funny. The jokester is a supporter of Rick Santorum's, and now he, too, is on the hot seat for it. Late last week, his supporter, the amiable Foster Friess, perpetrated the joke. It went like this: "You know, back in my days, they'd use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives," the easygoing multimillionaire philanthropist told MSNBC. "The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly." Ka-boom - all hell broke loose. According to The Washington Post, "the remark outraged women's groups and many others." Who would those "many others" be? Democratic campaign strategists? Stockholders in Bayer aspirin? Actually, I have not found anyone whom I know who gave the joke a second's thought, and my confreres include members of the Concerned Women for America, scores of fellow bird-watchers and many people who use Bayer aspirin every day, particularly after reading The Washington Post.
Actually, The Post would be on firmer ground if it had spoken merely of "some women's groups." Let me add that even the complaints cited were pretty lame. I heard some feminists gassing on CNN Friday about Mr. Friess' joke, and they brought up Mr. Santorum's response to it. Mr. Santorum said it was a "bad joke" but that he was "not responsible for it ... that is 'gotcha' " politics. Well, it is preposterous "gotcha" politics. One of CNN's feminists went on to say it was time for Mr. Santorum to "put on his big-boy pants." How cruel and insensitive is that? Since when do women remark on a man's pants? What if Mr. Santorum cannot afford to buy a pair of "big-boy" pants?
Then the Democrats pivoted from Mr. Friess' joke to the question of contraception. They are going to make an issue in this campaign of contraception. Allegedly, the Republicans are against contraception. Truth be known, I cannot recall any election ever in American history that revolved around the issue of contraception. If the Democrats are going to continue at this infantile level, I would respond by accusing them of wanting to outlaw the passenger car in favor of returning America to the era of the buckboard. "Why, Mr. Obama, do you want us to return to the horse and buggy?" There is plenty of evidence that leading Democrats hate the passenger car. What is all this talk about bullet trains and mass transportation, if not a not-so-subtle call for the return of the horse and buggy?
Yet to return to the matter of Mr. Friess' "bad joke," I think I first heard it decades ago. As I recall, it was rather amusing then but not a knee-slapper. If it left women fuming, I never noticed. The joke did not have a long life. Now it is hurtful and cruel, so the women of the fevered brow tell us while commenting on Mr. Santorum's pants. Mr. Friess has amusingly noted on his blog: "To all those who took my joke as a modern-day approach, I deeply apologize and seek your forgiveness. My wife constantly tells me I need new material - she understood the joke but didn't like it anyway - so I will keep that old one in the past where it belongs." "Seek your forgiveness"? I think he is again joshing us.
Foster Friess is an interesting man. He has spent millions of dollars around the world on disaster relief: in water projects in Malawi, in the Indonesian tsunami, in the 2010 Haitian earthquake. He has won dozens of awards for his philanthropy. In politics, too, he has been active. Now he is a major backer of Mr. Santorum. In 2008, he thought the social issues got short shrift, and so he invested his own money to enable those who articulate them to have a say in the public debate. He is a Christian and thinks people of faith have much to offer the public discourse. I do, too. Mr. Santorum's presence in this campaign is one of the campaign's surprises. He is making a race of it, and the rumor in Washington is that Mr. Obama is getting ready. Soon he may have to defend his position on the bullet train and his opposition to the passenger car. I should like to grill him on it and raise the question, "Mr. President, why are you so enamored of the horse and buggy? Do you think they are safe? Who will clean up the streets?"
In the meantime, I am reassured that Mr. Friess is going to remain amiable. Someone has got to hazard a joke during Campaign 2012. It is the civilized thing to do, even if the women of the fevered brow want to talk about Rick Santorum's pants.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is the author of the forthcoming "The Death of Liberalism" (Thomas Nelson).
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