The Republican Party platform didn't mention the issue for more than 100 years. But anti-porn fervor peaked in 1992 -- and it won't last much longer.
Prior to the GOP primaries, few imagined that pornography would emerge as a minor issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, but Rick Santorum, the socially conservative candidate and surprise runner-up, has helped make it so. The proximate cause of controversy is a statement on his campaign Web site stating that "America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography," and pledging that if elected president he would vigorously enforce obscenity laws. It's a fight that few in his party are eager to pick, and the former Pennsylvania senator was widely portrayed as being out of the mainstream on the issue as soon as his position was reported in the news media.
That portrayal is probably accurate. Even so, the guff he's taken is noteworthy, because until very recently the Republican Party establishment conspicuously embraced the position that he has taken. It's all in the platforms that they adopt every four years -- and the history is fascinating.
For more than a century after the Republican Party published its first platform in 1856, neither obscenity nor pornography were mentioned, but in 1964, as Barry Goldwater sought the presidency, the GOP made the minor pledge to enact legislation "despite Democratic opposition, to curb the flow through the mails of obscene materials which has flourished into a multimillion dollar obscenity racket." In 1968 and 1972, the issue went unmentioned, and when it next came up in 1976 the position hadn't changed: "The work presently being done to tighten the anti-obscenity provisions of the criminal code has our full support. Since the jurisdiction of the federal government in this field is limited to interstate commerce and the mails, we urge state and local governments to assume a major role in limiting the distribution and availability of obscene materials."