Rick Santorum caused quite a stir this week when he argued that President Obama should oppose abortion in light of his African-American ancestry. The former Pennsylvania senator said "I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'No, we're going to decide who are people and who are not people.'" The argument essentially compares abortion to slavery. A number of pundits dubbed Santorum's remarks a cheap bid for attention, or worse inflammatory race-baiting.

On Friday, however, liberal columnist Joe Klein defended the conservative politician. "I disagree with Rick Santorum on almost everything, including abortion," he begins.  "But this recent kerfuffle... is a classic example of political correctness run amok." Here's his argument:

First, you must understand that Santorum truly believes that abortion is murder--at any point after conception, even when the mother's health is at risk (as it was in the case of one of his wife's pregnancies). This is an extreme position, but not an implausible one. If you believe that a fetus is a person, then abortion is the denial of its most basic right--the right to exist. According to Santorum, the only other category of Americans whose civil rights were so severely truncated were slaves. He's right about that. Slaves were considered property; there was also that most odious Constitutional assertion that, in terms of representation, blacks counted as 3/5s of a person. Santorum believes that this history should make the descendants of slaves more sensitive to the civil rights of fetuses. There are a great many members of the black church who would agree with him.

Now, once again, you may not believe that a fetus is a person--but if you do, as Santorum does, this is a perfectly reasonable argument, an argument against limiting the civil rights of anyone according to race or life status. (It also, I'd argue, compels Santorum to support fully equal rights for homosexuals--which he doesn't, a sad consequence of his rather straitened ideology). But those who would describe his argument as racist are either purposely trying to distort what he said or they don't know what they're talking about.