Oh No: Former Klansman Was 'Appalled' by Rick Santorum's 'Insolence'

Mark Leibovich finds a late paragon of moral virtue, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, to condemn comments the "pgymy" "bully" Rick Santorum made as a senator.

New York Times political profile writer Mark Leibovich, in Manchester, N.H. on Saturday, filed 'The Santorum of 2012 Comes From a Long History of Political Brawling.' Times Watch sees a clear preference for Democrats and hostility toward Republican subjects in Leibovich's writing, and this profile of GOP candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is certainly not a game-changer in that regard.

Rick Santorum loves professional wrestling, and has been thrilled to meet savage icons of the squared circle like Bruno Sammartino, Gorilla Monsoon and Hulk Hogan. He even lobbied for the World Wrestling Foundation for a while.

When the former senator, a Pennsylvania Republican, was seeking re-election in 2006, he appeared in a campaign advertisement standing in a ring surrounded by pugilists trading eye gouges and body slams. 'It makes more sense to wrestle with America's problems than with each other,' the candidate said.

That ad, though, concludes with Mr. Santorum decking one of the wrestlers with a brutal elbow smash - a move that illustrates his no-holds-barred political style. People in both parties over the years have accused him of hotheaded name-calling, reliance on immature antics and attempts to reduce politics to steel-cage matches between people cast as heroes or heels.

'He would attack people in a smug way that was harder-edged and more insulting than was necessary, said Mark Salter, the former chief of staff to Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, adding that lawmakers in both parties shared this view. 'He was a bully who was not a potent enough force to be a bully.'


Former colleagues from his years in Washington, though, still remember his belligerence. One of Mr. Santorum's first acts in the Senate was to attack Mark Hatfield, an Oregon Republican, for opposing a balanced-budget amendment that Mr. Santorum advocated, even suggesting that Mr. Hatfield, a veteran lawmaker, be sacked as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

As a senator, Mr. Santorum bemoaned the lack of 'statesmanship' in the chamber, which many of his colleagues found particularly rich given his own decorum-busting statements (he referred to President Bill Clinton in speeches as 'that guy'), tactics (as a freshman, Mr. Santorum held a 'Where's Bill?' placard on the Senate floor to demand that Mr. Clinton submit a balanced budget) and refusal to apologize (he called Senator Robert Torricelli a liar and explained it away as merely 'calling a spade a spade'). He acquired the nickname Senator Slash, which could also work as a pro wrestling character.

In a galling move, Leibovich actually harkened back to the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, a former Klansman, to condemn Santorum for his comments on the Senate floor during the Clinton years.

The late Senator Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat and one of the most devout traditionalists in the chamber, was appalled by Mr. Santorum. After the younger man accused Mr. Clinton of speaking 'bald-faced untruths,' Mr. Byrd delivered a blistering speech in which he derided his colleague's 'insolence' and 'rude language' and suggested that Mr. Santorum might be better-suited to 'an alehouse or beer tavern.' He lamented that he had lived long enough 'to see Pygmies stride like colossuses' in the August chamber.

Mr. Santorum's antics in the budget debate inspired Senator Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska, to make a semifamous remark that 'santorum' was in fact a Latin word for an anatomical vulgarity. Mr. Santorum complained, and Mr. Kerrey clarified his remark.