Our sex-columnist-turned-political-trash-talker is coming here from Seattle to make sure Santorum gets whipped but good.
Savage, jaunty in a particularly queer sailor's cap, motored along with a smile. It was a classic Savage moment.
This week Dan Savage brings his gritty sex-advice column to the Trocadero's stage. The Troc's history as a burlesque house has rarely seemed so appropriate. Savage is coming here specifically to help defeat Rick Santorum.
To some who haven't been reading Savage's column, politics may seem a strange fit with questions about anal sex and sadomasochism, but the self-described political junkie has always integrated the two.
"I've been discussing politics in the column since the day it started," says Savage, who's lately published several political op-ed pieces in The New York Times. "I think it's one of the reasons why the column has such longevity. It's clearly written by someone who thinks about things besides blow jobs every once and a while. As a man I think about blow jobs every three minutes, but I also think about other stuff."
Though he's made a joke, Savage--on the phone from Seattle--is deadly serious about his role as a sex columnist. "Anyone who's a sex writer in America who doesn't write about politics isn't a very good sex writer. I'll stop writing about politics when politicians stop talking about sex. In America they're completely--for lack of a better term--in bed together, and you really have to be obtuse or delinquent in your responsibilities as a sex writer if you don't talk about politics."
His visit to Philadelphia this week, organized by Philadelphians Against Santorum (PAS), will no doubt bring these two ideas together, but Savage points out it's not exactly his fault his column became so closely associated with the senator. If they were children in a sandbox fighting over a toy--say, a vibrator--little Dan might say, "He started it."
And he did.
It's April 7, 2003, and Sen. Rick Santorum has no idea he's on the verge of making an ass of himself. Talking about the Supreme Court's examination of sodomy laws, Santorum tells an Associated Press reporter, "You say, 'Well, it's my individual freedom.' Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, whether it's sodomy, all of those things are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family."
Yawn. Typical Rick Santorum blather.
Then: "Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships.
"In every society the definition of marriage hasn't 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. It's one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality ... "
And that's when the reporter breaks in: "I'm sorry. I didn't think I was going to talk about 'man on dog' with a United States senator. It's sort of freaking me out."
It freaked out a lot of people. The influential lefty blog Daily Kos wrote: "Tell me, what kind of person walks around talking about 'man on dog' sex? I can confidently say the thought never enters my mind unbidden. Yet Santorum, in the course of a conversation with a reporter, casually mentions bestiality ... For a senator to bring the topic up to a reporter is, well, beyond belief. So Republicans--this is your No. 3 guy in the Senate. Aren't you even the least bit embarrassed?"
A day later Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chafee released separate statements. Snowe's read, "Discrimination and bigotry have no place in our society, and I believe Sen. Santorum's unfortunate remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity."
Meanwhile regular Savage Love readers wrote in to the column, assuming correctly that the incident was right up Savage's sex-politics alley. Outraged by the notion that consensual gay sex would be compared to bestiality, one reader went so far as to suggest that a sex act be named in Santorum's honor.
"So I threw it out there to my readers for potential definitions," says Savage, "and let my readers vote on it." There were various suggestions, but the winning entry wasn't a sex act. It was a noun--the frothy mixture of fecal matter and lube that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.
It was a perfect fit, says Savage. "There was no name for it. It wasn't competing with anything. It's unwelcome. If you're doing [anal sex] right, it's not gonna happen, and if it happens, it's a bit of a killjoy, which is what it would be if the actual senator strolled into the room."
What happened next seemed delightfully inadvertent, though Savage admits he worked pretty hard to make it happen. The term--santorum--gained real traction. Savage put up a website (www.spreadingsantorum.com), which even now gets lots of hits despite being defunct for two years. In that time the site's been on Jon Stewart's Daily Show twice, and was featured on Google Current. "It's the most discussed inactive website in the world, I think," Savage says.