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Rick Santorum says he had 'nothing to do with' campaign slogan taken from Langston Hughes poem

April 16, 2011 | 12:44 pm

Santorum_americaamerica

Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum announced Wednesday that he was forming an exploratory committee for a possible presidential run. His slogan was, and remains on his website, "Fighting to make America America again."

But it might not be for long. Santorum, a well-known conservative, backed away from the phrase -- saying he had "nothing to do" with it -- after being told it derives from a poem by Langston Hughes.

Hughes, who died in 1967, was an African American Communist who advocated for civil rights and social justice. A key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes may well have been gay; some of his poems were homoerotic and others defended gay rights.

In 2003, then-Sen. Santorum came under fire for equating homosexuality with incest. "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything," he told the Associated Press. CNN wrote that Santorum "made clear he did not approve of 'acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.' " Pennsylvania's Log Cabin Republicans called his remarks "alarming." The Democratic caucus called for him to move out of his position of leadership.

In 2006, Santorum lost his Pennsylvania Senate seat by 18 points to Democrat Bob Casey.

On Thursday, the left-wing website ThinkProgress noticed the connection between Santorum's slogan and Hughes' poem. They caught up with Santorum at a New Hampshire event Thursday. Reporter Lee Fang asked Santorum about his use of the phrase:

FANG: Today, you unveiled your new campaign slogan, “Fighting to make America America again.” But was it intentional that this line was borrowed from the pro-union poem by the gay poet Langston Hughes?

SANTORUM: No, because I had nothing to do with that so ...

FANG: Oh, alright thanks. Wait, did you have a clarification there? Was it just a coincidence?

SANTORUM: I didn’t know that. The folks who worked on that slogan for me didn’t inform me that that’s where it came from, if in fact it came from that.

The poem that Fang references is titled "Let America Be America Again." An excerpt of the poem is after the jump.

Langston Hughes' poem "Let America Be America" begins:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Recently, Santorum was a correspondent for Fox News, but he left that position in March, apparently so that he could explore a presidential bid.

Is he going to stick with Hughes' poetic vision? So far, he has. As of this writing on Saturday, Santorum's website still bears the slogan "Fighting to make America America again." 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The borrowed slogan was still on Rick Santorum's website Saturday. Credit: RickSantorum.com

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