The New York Times, always a bellwether of elite spin, started its account of Santorum this way: "In the long and conflicted history between gays and Republicans, Sen. Rick Santorum--caught in a storm over his remarks equating homosexuality with polygamy and incest--is writing a new chapter."
Reference to the "long and conflicted history" is a nice touch--it connects Santorum's harmless and issue-oriented remarks to sorry gay-bashing by Republicans in the past (e.g., Dick Armey referred to Democratic Rep. Barney Frank as "Barney Fag," and Lott likened gays to kleptomaniacs). The line "equating homosexuality with polygamy and incest" is especially dishonest. Santorum didn't "equate" them. He said they would be put in the same legal category.
The fallback position of those determined to avoid dealing with what Santorum actually said is this: that he spoke in a kind of code that enabled him to slur homosexuals without seeming to. The evidence here is slim. In the remarks considered the most incendiary, Santorum said: "In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be." The senator might prefer to rephrase this passage. It's crude, but there's no horrible slur here, no code words, nothing sly or devious.
In my high school, the Jesuits used to tell us that in debate, we should do our opponents the honor of going to the heart of their arguments--no nickel-and-diming about poor phrasing, tone, slips of the tongue, or faulty juxtapositions. This would be a revolutionary approach in Washington. But they might want to try it there anyway.