Rick Santorum’s Remarks on Palin’s Motherhood: About Politics or Gender?

Rick Santorum couldn’t have worse timing: one day before he’s meant to address the Conservative Political Action Conference, potential presidential contender implied Sarah Palin’s skipping the event to make money and tend to her children. Let the condemnation and backpedaling begin!

Rick Santorum's Remarks on Palin's Motherhood: About Politics or Gender?

Santorum’s comments came during a discussion with conservative media personality SE Cupp, who asked Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania, why he thinks Palin decided to skip CPAC this year. Santorum’s reply? “I have a feeling she has some demands on her time. And a lot of them have financial benefit attached to them. So I’m sure that she’s doing what’s best for her and her family.”

Palin’s supporters were not impressed. Tammy Bruce, the Palin-loving conservative radio host, tweeted, “Some say Santorum wasn’t smearing Palin? His message that Palin is opportunistic and not serious is clear and patronizing in print and audio.”

Santorum was quick to walk back the financial remark and took to Twitter to call Politico’s article on the subject “garbage,” and insisted, “All I said was—she is VERY busy, PERIOD. Reporter trying to create something out of nothing.”

But the Senator has not yet addressed his more questionable comment, though: “I wouldn’t have turned it down. I don’t live in Alaska. And I’m not the mother to all these kids. And I don’t have other responsibilities, like she has, other opportunities that she has. Other business opportunities that may be in conflict with what she’s been asked to do,” he explained, when asked whether he would ever skip the event.

Basically, Santorum, a father of seven, is implying that Palin’s motherhood impairs her dedication to the conservative cause, or simply takes too much time. Well, it’s unclear what he’s really talking about here.

Justin Elliot at ‘Salon’ described Santorum’s observation as “retrograde gender politics” and “unintentionally revealing,” while Tommy Christopher from ‘Mediaite’ called it “an unfair, sexist premise that has no basis in fact.” True. There are a number of mothers on Capitol Hill, most notably New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who gave birth in 2008, two years after taking office.

Santorum’s motives become even more murky and confusing when you consider the fact that Sarah Palin has repeatedly used her motherhood as a political rallying cry. “It’s kind of a mom awakening in the last year and a half where women are rising up and saying ‘no, we’ve had enough already.’ Because moms sort of just know when something is wrong,” she declared last July.

Further, both Palin’s self-descriptions, “Hockey Mom” and “Mama Grizzly”, became badges of honor for her and her supporters. Motherhood is a sign of potency, not weakness. Motherhood isn’t simply a biological role. It’s a community-strengthening, politically essential duty.

So, was Santorum trying to undercut Palin’s political message, or her gender? Or both at once, in an attempt at a double-whammy attack on a potential presidential opponent?

Something tells me it was more female-centric than anything else, but either way you look read it, Santorum’s going to have a lot of explaining to do when he meets and greets CPAC’s Tea Party attendees, many of whom no doubt have fond feelings for Palin and her family.

Here’s video of Santorum’s comments: