Kennedy defends Boston, slams Santorum

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) launched a blistering attack of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on the Senate floor yesterday, defending Boston — the city where Kennedy was born — while simultaneously upbraiding Santorum, a top Democratic political target.

Kennedy was responding to 3-year-old comments by Santorum and recent statements he made connecting the Catholic Church pedophilia scandal with “liberal” attitudes in Boston.

“The basic liberal attitude in that area ... has an impact on people’s behavior. … If you have a worldview that I’m describing [about Boston] ... that affirms alternative views of sexuality, that can lead to a lot of people taking it the wrong way,” Santorum told The Boston Globe this week.

Kennedy also referred to Santorum’s “self-righteousness” and called his comments “outrageous and offensive.” He said that Santorum “blamed the people of Boston for the depraved behavior of sick individuals who stole the innocence of children in the most horrible way imaginable.”

Kennedy continued that he thought Santorum had “shown a deep and callous insensitivity to the victims and their suffering in an apparent attempt to score political points with some of the most extreme members of the fringe right wing of his party.”

“Boston bashing might be in vogue with some Republicans, but Rick Santorum’s statements are beyond the pale,” Kennedy snarled.

Santorum yesterday dismissed Kennedy’s speech. “All I know is it’s purely political,” he told The Hill, “and that’s what I expect from him.”

In his original article, written for the Catholic Online website, Santorum expressed “profound sympathy” for the victims of abuse by priests. He then wrote, “When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.”

Some Republicans expressed shock at Santorum’s comments, but no one raised the issue of whether they violated Senate rules. Rule 19 states that “no senator in debates shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.”

Kennedy’s comments, unusually harsh in a chamber where members often address each other with such titles as “honorable” and “gentleman,” are an indication of increasing bitterness in one of the nation’s most closely contested Senate races.

Santorum, who is up for reelection in 2006, faces a strong challenge from Pennsylvania state Treasurer Bob Casey, who like Santorum opposes abortion rights. Casey is well-funded and has led Santorum in some polls. In the most recent Qunnipiac poll, conducted July 6-10, 50 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Casey, while Santorum took 39 percent and 12 percent were undecided.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called on Santorum to apologize to “victims and their families across America” for his comments. In an e-mail, the group pointed to the widespread nature of the sexual abuse scandal involving Catholic priests, asking, “What about your home state of Pennsylvania, senator?” Numerous Pennsylvania priests were removed from their posts after allegations of abuse.

Both Santorum and Kennedy are Catholic.

The rapid Democratic response recalls recent broadsides between the two parties over comments by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who issued an emotional apology on the floor last month after comparing U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to some of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century. Republicans had called on him to apologize and pressed him to show more contrition after an initial apology.

Durbin chuckled knowingly when asked whether Santorum should apologize for his remarks.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Durbin said.

Kennedy is just the most recent prominent Democrat Santorum has riled this week.

On Tuesday, he and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) exchanged barbs about Santorum’s new book, It Takes a Family, which slams Clinton’s It Takes a Village. The New York Post reported that the two passed in the hallway and Clinton could not resist the opportunity to take a swipe.

“It takes a village, Rick, don’t forget that,” she said.

“It takes a family,” Santorum retorted.

Clinton managed to have the last word.

“Of course,” she said. “A family is part of a village!”