Disliking Rick Santorum, I understand. The attacks on him and his wife — in particular, one by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, for how they handled the death of their stillborn baby are disgusting. Pete Wehner speaks for me:

The second point is the casual cruelty of Robinson and those like him. Robinson seems completely comfortable lampooning a man and his wife who had experienced the worst possible nightmare for parents: the death of their child. It is one thing to say you would act differently if you were in the situation faced by Rick and Karen Santorum; it’s quite another to deride them as “crazy” and “very weird,” which is what commentators on the left are increasingly doing, and with particular delight and glee.

We are seeing how ideology and partisan politics can so disfigure people’s minds and hearts that they become vicious in their assaults on those with whom they have political disagreements. I would hope no one I know would, in a thousand years, ridicule parents who were grappling with unfathomable human pain. Even if those parents were liberal. Even if they were running for president and first lady.

The third point is it tells you something about the culture in which we live that in some quarters those who routinely champion abortion, even partial-birth abortion, are viewed as enlightened and morally sophisticated while those grieving the loss of their son, whom they took home for a night before burying, are mercilessly mocked.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the times.

Ross Douthat amplifies that last point in his column today, but points out that politicians who make their children symbols of political virtue invite criticism, however unseemly that criticism may be. Ross:

But by turning their personal choices to political ends, politicians lose the right to complain when those same personal lives are subject to partisan critiques. They can and should contest these critiques, but they can’t complain about them. In a culture as divided about fundamental issues as our own, the kind of weird attacks that Rick Santorum is enduring come with the vocation he has chosen.

It’s worth considering that the attacks on Santorum bring to mind why so many of us strongly identified with Sarah Palin when she was first tapped by John McCain: before anybody knew anything about her, other than that she had given birth to a Down Syndrome child and was some sort of Evangelical Christian, she drew hateful attacks from the left-liberal cultural elite (I especially remember the NYT blogger who said that she couldn’t be a woman because of her views), simply because of her convictions. It is a foolish mistake to support a political candidate just because she has made the right enemies, and that’s why many of us backed away from Palin once we started to learn more about her, and her unfitness for office. That said, the indecency with which some people went after Palin, especially over her disabled baby, was a shock to the system.

Jeffrey Goldberg on the Santorum situation, responding to one of his readers who accuses him of being a lickspittle to prolifers for being sympathetic to the grieving Santorums:

I have no idea what I would do if, God forbid, we found ourselves in the situation the Santorums found themselves in. It doesn’t strike me as particularly odd that he would bring home the stillborn baby. In my tradition, the body of a loved one is never supposed to be left alone, from death until burial, so the idea that the body should be surrounded by loved ones, in the hospital, home, or funeral home, is not strange to me at all. I also have no idea what the grief would do to me (I never want to find out, obviously), and I think, as a matter of decency and humility, that people who have just lost a child should be given, simultaneously,  a wide berth and unjudgmental support.

Amen. When my sister Ruthie died (at age 42), her friends kept an all-night vigil at her open coffin. This is unusual in this day and time, at least among small-town Protestants. But they didn’t want her to be left alone. It was a beautiful, life-giving thing. The idea that grieving the death of a child in a fairly traditional way (in an anti-traditional culture, mind you) would be seized upon as a reason to condemn the child’s family as a pack of weirdos is incredibly foul. I hope Eugene Robinson has the decency to write a note of apology to the Santorums.

One big regret I have from my own career is a column I wrote in 2001 after the death of the pop star Aaliyah, in which I used her lavish public funeral to make a critical point about how we mourn celebrities. I think the argument I made was a sound one, but it was tasteless and insensitive (though I would also point out that multiple death threats I received over the column were not exactly commendable). Having lived through the death of my sister, I regret that column even more — not, again, because my argument about celebrity mourning was wrong, but because, as Goldberg says, “people who have just lost a child should be given, simultaneously, a wide berth and unjudgmental support.” I was wrong, and though I believe I’ve done this before, I’ll take the opportunity again to apologize to Aaliyah’s family.

Finally, I recommend to you “Letters to Gabriel,” a beautiful book Karen Santorum wrote after the death of her son.