Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Using Children's Tears: It's OK If You're a Republican

You probably know that there's no letup in the right-wing attacks on families with children who have gone public in support of the S-CHIP bill -- right now the most prominent detonator of verbal IEDs is National Review's Mark Hemingway, who's denouncing the mother and father of two-year-old Bethany Wilkerson as irresponsible parents, having previously declared that such children "suffer from MCS -- Manipulated Child Syndrome." At the same time, Michelle Malkin's shrill railings against "the Democrats' human shield campaign" continue to be updated.

So right-wingers think it's simply wrong to put a child before the public to help make a point, right? You simply shouldn't use children just because you have an agenda, right?

Well, perhaps not.

In today's Politico, there's a story about a new country song that's climbing the charts -- and the story (which a publicist presumably spoon-fed to the Politico in order to help it climb the charts) is ... well, all about publicizing the pain of a child.

A Republican child:

Sarah Maria Santorum's tears inspire song

This is the story of a defeated senator, his crying daughter, a Nashville songwriter and Martina McBride, the country music star.

It begins in Pittsburgh on election night 2006. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), losing to Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr. by a wide margin, gathered his wife and six children around a hotel ballroom microphone and conceded.

The little girl at his side, Sarah Maria Santorum, then 8, wept. She squeezed her eyes and wiped her tears. She buried her face in her father's arm, pulled away and cried some more -- all on live, national television.

...Now it's a country music single.

McBride released the song, "For These Times," on Monday -- a social commentary inspired, in part, by Sarah Maria Santorum.

"I always tell my children that good things come from bad things," Rick Santorum said in an interview this week....

So Santorum is giving interviews about the song. And Leslie Satcher, the songwriter, certainly is doing the same -- she explains that she and her husband saw Sarah Maria's tears (the two are "big Fox News junkies," she says) and songwriting inspiration soon struck for her.

As blogs parsed and parodied the image -- some gleefully made fun of it, others questioned the wisdom of putting a distraught child in front of the camera -- Satcher went to church. Her pastor held up the Bible.

"For these times in which we live, you are going to need this book," he said. Satcher scribbled the words into the back of her book.

At 3 a.m., she wrote the song....

In these times in which we live
Where the worst of what we live
Is laid out for all the world on the front page
And the sound of someone's heartbreak
Is a sound bite at the news break
With a close shot of the tears rollin' down their face
Blessed be the child who turns a loving eye...

She turned this incident into a pop song -- fine. But now she's going around to the media exploiting Sarah Maria's tears to sell the song. And Rick Santorum isn't standing in her way -- he hasn't said to her, "Please don't talk about the genesis of the song in the press, it's a further exploitation of my daughter." No -- he's helping her sell the song by talking about his daughter's tears.

(You can read the song's complete lyrics here. The link goes to Martina McBride's site, where you're also urged to "get your local radio stations on speed dial so you can request this song and help Martina get another hit single!!" You can also track the song's chart progress in this discussion thread.)

So, to sum up: Telling the press about your child's need for health insurance -- bad. Reminding the press about the time your child cried on TV so the memory of those tears will sell CDs -- perfectly OK.


Oh, and here's a creepy detail from the Politico story:

Santorum found out about the song through Joe Lessen, a registered lobbyist for America's Health Insurance Plans who is married to an aide to former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). The Lessens know Satcher and Santorum, with the latter two meeting years ago at an event for Frist's political action committee.

Word eventually filtered to Sarah Maria, a big McBride fan.

Santorum sat her down at the kitchen table. He asked his oldest daughter to get the video camera. And he told Sarah Maria.

"She started crying again," Santorum said.

This time, however, the tears were happy ones.

"He asked his oldest daughter to get the video camera" -- I love that. Thanks for sharing the moment, Senator -- not that you're, er, exploiting your daughter again or anything.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to put Michael Powell's Peeping Tom in my Netflix queue.

(Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.)


UPDATE: I see that in comments the songwriter is complaining about receiving hate mail -- and has been reminded by a subsequent commenter of people who've had similar rough days recently.

(Seriously, folks: Be snarky, but no hate mail, please.)