This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.
This time, it's a slip of the tongue on the campaign trail:
And, of course, everyone starts gabbling. "Did he start to say THAT word?" Oh, no!
Frankly, I've got much bigger problems with Rick Santorum's candidacy than whether he's "secretly" a racist who wants to terrorize the countryside with the "N" word. His positions on civil liberties across the board are odious; he's openly theocratic, he has no understanding of the Constitution, and he when he lies - as politicians do with aplomb - his lies are unbelievably, demonstrably untrue things that he "believes are true in his heart."
It's rather pointless to quibble over the specific words a person uses, anyway. Words only matter because of the meaning they convey. Intentions, not vocabulary. I don't think Santorum is a racist in the sense that most people mean to convey by using that term. I think he "believes in his heart" that certain people want a free ride, and while he wouldn't ever accuse them openly as a group, or attack them physically or do anything overtly hateful to them (that would be un-Christian!), he believes They are against Us, and wants to use the power of the presidency to put them on the "right track."
He (and Newt Gingrich, and many others over the years) have said many times that they want the freeloaders in the system to take personal responsibility for their lives and stop dragging the rest of us down. That, to them, is not a racist message - because they usually don't specifically say that the freeloaders are black people (and certainly don't use the "N" word). They simply choose to ignore the factors that keep people unemployed, under-educated, and under-represented, and that ignorance - to them - is not racially motivated. At least, that is how their message is crafted.
Unfortunately, to the people who feel trapped in the system, what these privileged white men are saying sends them a clear message. Whether it is the right or wrong interpretation, this position comes off as racially charged, racially motivated, and offensive regardless of the word choice.
Ice T put it better (and more credibly) than I ever could (and if you're offended by the screen grab, you will definitely be offended by the content):
A lot of actual racists claim that they are the victims of a double standard because Ice T "gets away with" using that word - many times - while they aren't "allowed" to say it. They miss the point completely. This is, after all, America, where you are "allowed" to say whatever you like. Their real complaint is that expressing their actual views leads to negative consequences - that "personal responsibility" that we talked about earlier. They completely miss the point by thinking that the consequences are only due to the specific words they choose, and not due to the frustrating disconnect between reality and the narrative they constantly express.
I personally don't care what words anyone chooses to use in any given circumstance. I look at what you say, and do my best to tease out the meaning you intend to convey. If you seem earnest, and your meaning could go either way, I assume noble intent. If you're just a troll, I ignore you. But if I choose not to support you for office, or if I choose to confront you on the internet, that choice will not be based on whether you did or didn't say half of a naughty word. It's going to be based on your meaning and intentions.
So, you might as well be honest. Do you think that you're right? Say so. Stand up for yourself. Don't play the victim card and whine about being misunderstood. Don't wallow in your own misbehavior and blame others for your actions. Are you truly afraid of what someone else will do to you for expressing yourself? Maybe you should rethink your position. Maybe you should seek out ways to understand their position better.
Are you a white person who thinks that black people are racist because of the way they behave around you? Maybe you should volunteer at an inner city school, or get involved in Big Brother/Big Sister programs so you can help change their perceptions. Are you a black person who feels oppressed and trapped in your life? Maybe those suggestions are a good idea for you, too.
But if you're going to stake out a position, you should own it. Don't play cute with your words and don't indulge in the same softsoap and doublespeak that you hate in your opponents.
Put yourself out there, and defend it.