The Republican Party’s Renewed Crusade Against Pornography

The party's platform calls porn a "public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions." Why?


The Republican Party’s 2016 platform is silent on gun violence. It dismisses climate change. And it has nothing to say about obesity.

But it does identify at least one clear danger to the health and safety of Americans: pornography.

In a section titled "Ensuring Safe Neighborhoods: Criminal Justice and Prison Reform," the platform states:

Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being.

When news of porn’s renewed presence in the Republican Party platform surfaced, the internet lit up with mockery, particularly over the prediction that porn amounts to a "crisis" that is "destroying the lives of millions." This entire fear of pornography seemed dated and anachronistic. (There was also the delightful irony that the party’s own nominee had once graced the cover of Playboy and even once sought to purchase the magazine.)

But mocking aside, there’s a real question here: Why, exactly, is the GOP now sounding the alarm over porn as a "public menace?" Where did this come from? 

When the issue resurfaced during the 2012 presidential campaign, it looked like a weird aberration. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was widely mocked for saying that "America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography" and that the government should ban hardcore porn. ThinkProgress predicted that this was the last gasp of a dead-ender, and that Santorum’s failed campaign marked the end of the war on pornography.

Utah anti-porn campaign billboard.

Utah anti-porn campaign billboard.

But Santorum’s crusade actually marked a revitalisation of social conservative worries around pornography — not their end. Earlier this year, the Atlantic chronicled the "intensifying anti-porn campaigns" around the country aimed at "exposing the public-health crisis of pornography." In April, anti-porn crusaders got their biggest victory yet when Utah became the first state to declare porn a "public health crisis" that is "evil, degrading, addictive, and harmful."

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