The former Pennsylvania Senator might be well-known on Capitol Hill, but his name more regularly produces blank stares in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, if recent polling is any guide. The likely Republican presidential candidate knows he needs to expand his name identification.
Santorum can only hope voters don’t turn to Google, the world’s most popular Internet search engine, to learn more about him.
Try it for yourself: Enter “Rick Santorum” into Google. In a fraction of a second you’ll have hundreds of thousands of results. But two of the top four cite a graphic definition for a sexual neologism. In this case, the neologism is a reference to anal sex.
This, of course, is no accident.
Santorum himself sounded slightly defeated when asked about it recently.
“It’s one guy. You know who it is. The Internet allows for this type of vulgarity to circulate. It’s unfortunate that we have someone who obviously has some issues. But he has an opportunity to speak,” Santorum told Roll Call.
Santorum’s Google problem began in 2003, when gay sex-advice columnist Dan Savage sought to mock Santorum’s comments on homosexuality. Then the third-most-powerful Republican in the Senate, Santorum told the Associated Press that April that gay sex could “undermine the fabric of our society.” The interview touched on a Supreme Court case related to sexual privacy, and Santorum compared homosexual acts to allowing for “man on child, man on dog” relationships.
“And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does,” he said at the time.
Savage soon created the website spreadingsantorum.com, tied to a contest in which he asked readers to submit definitions for the term “santorum.”
It would be among the first “Google bombs” in the modern political era. Using extensive links to other sites, Savage soon ensured that the winning definition would be among the top search results. (The search yields even less flattering sites if users search for the Republican’s last name alone.)
Those search results — not for the squeamish — have been the subject of viral Internet chatter for years. The nationally syndicated Savage inspired a coalition of gay activists and liberals from across the country to spread the term as widely as possible, creating a meme that helped now-Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) unseat Santorum in 2006, and, ultimately, one that makes Santorum’s presidential hopes laughable in some circles.