Regardless of how seriously national political circles take the potential 2012 presidential bid of former Republican Senator Rick Santorum, there's one foe Santorum will have to take very seriously: Google, which returns severely unflattering results for his own name. Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer reports on Santorum's "Google problem." If Santorum makes a nationwide bid, voters who attempt to research him will be met with unappealing Google results that risk deterring potential supporters.

This is a family-friendly site, so we won't go into detail, but Googling Santorum returns a graphic sexual neologism related to anal sex. How did Santorum's Google results get flooded with these pages, which the famously socially conservative Santorum must find highly objectionable? Mencimer explains:

Santorum's problem got its start back in 2003, when the then-senator from Pennsylvania compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia, saying the "definition of marriage" has never included "man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be." The ensuing controversy prompted syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, who's gay, to start a contest, soliciting reader suggestions for slang terms to "memorialize the scandal." The winner came up with the [neologism], Savage launched a website, and a meme was born. Even though mainstream news outlets would never link to it, Savage's site rose in the Google rankings, thanks in part to bloggers who posted Santorum-related news on the site or linked to it from their blogs. Eventually it eclipsed Santorum's own campaign site in search results; some observers even suggested it may have contributed to Santorum's crushing 18-point defeat in his 2006 campaign against Bob Casey.
Mencimer speaks to experts in massaging Google results, including the CEO of Reputation Defender, "which specializes in helping individuals maintain a positive Web presence." They say it will be very difficult for Santorum to bury the offending sites, as they have been up so long and have generated so many inbound links, which increase their Google profile. Fortunately, Mencimer finds a solution for Santorum. If he donates $5 million to gay-rights advocacy group Freedom to Marry, Dan Savage says he will take down the website.