On the campaign trail: Bad Dad?

This is the headline on a Washington Post story published today:

GOP hopeful Rick Santorum campaigns with a seriously ill daughter at home

My first thought: You're kidding — Santorum's still in the race!?

My second thought: What a jerk!

Then I decided to read past the editorialized title and see what the story had to say. The Lifestyle piece opens this way:

SIOUX CITY, IOWA — At the lectern in a packed convention center last month, Rick Santorum spoke haltingly, not for the first or the last time, about his seriously ill youngest daughter, Isabella , who has the genetic disorder Trisomy 18. Half of all children with the chromosomal anomaly, more common in girls, are stillborn. And of those who do survive, only one in 10 makes it to her first birthday.

“I have a little girl who’s 31/2  years old,” the Republican presidential hopeful said in his dinner speech at the annual “Defenders of Freedom” event, hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “I don’t know whether her life is going to be measured — it’s always been measured — in days and weeks. Yet here I am” — on the road so often, he was the first of the current GOP contenders to visit all 99 Iowa counties. Why? “Because I feel like I wouldn’t be a good dad if I wasn’t out here fighting for a country that would see the dignity in her and every other child.”

His is easily the most searing personal narrative offered by any candidate this season. And when he speaks of Bella publicly, it is almost always in conjunction with his top policy goal of dismantling the health-care reform legislation, which he sees as a threat to those like her, “on the margins of life.”

Amazingly enough, the 1,400-word profile attempts to tackle Santorum's personal and political motivations without a single mention of faith or abortion.

In the online version, the Post even links in the opening paragraph to the YouTube video embedded with this post. In that video, Santorum prefaces his remarks about his daughter by citing his authorship of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

The story makes vague reference to Santorum's "life" platform:

The point of his run, and indeed his whole political career, he said, is “to open people’s eyes to things they maybe ­haven’t thought through. I don’t think most Americans think through life.”

But nowhere does the story explore the role of religion as it relates to Santorum's daughter and his presidential run — or question whether his decision to campaign bolsters or undermines his reputation as a candidate of faith. (For those new to the GetReligion party, we refer to this gap in coverage as a religion ghost.)

A quick Google search turned up a recent McClatchy story on Santorum. That headline (with a slightly different slant than the Post):

Santorum keeps faith at forefront in his GOP presidential nomination campaign

From that story:

But it was his narrative about 3-year-old daughter Bella that brought him and his audience near tears.

Born premature and profoundly disabled, she almost died twice.

"I look at Bella ... and just love her unconditionally," Santorum said, then added, "That's how the Father looks at me."

"That's right," a woman responded to his allusion to God.

When he meets with pastors, Santorum points to Time magazine's decision to list him, in 2005, as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America for leading fights on Capitol Hill against abortion and same-sex marriage.

"And I'm not an evangelical," said Santorum, who's Catholic. Evangelicals are Protestants who emphasize a personal "born-again" experience, evangelism and a literal reading of the Bible.

Yet the only hint from the Post story that faith might play a role in Santorum's life and campaign comes in a passing reference at the very end:

It was late by then, and the candidate hoped, he said, to check in with his family before grabbing a few hours’ sleep, then heading off to an early morning Mass and another full day of campaign events.

Ghosts, anyone?

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