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Both Sides Now: What Economy? It's the Culture War, Stupid

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By Mark Green

Based on recent news -- church-contraception, Komen, gay marriage, Santorum surge -- James (Matalin) Carville's aphorism seems to have been altered to "it's the culture war, stupid." Mary and Arianna clash over the faith-health controversy but then find consensus on Komen-Planned Parenthood and Karl Rove's kvetching over Clint Eastwood's Chrysler ad.

*On Church-Contraceptives and Komen. Mary is disbelieving that anyone could regard this as a civil rights or health care issue, arguing that a) it's only about an overreaching federal government ignoring a 2000 year doctrine that's "the heart of my Church" and b) an employee doesn't have to work for a catholic charity. The show Host wonders if it's then ok for the Denny's food franchise to charge black customers more since they could eat elsewhere?

Arianna comments that a) a manager's religion shouldn't control the provision of contraceptive services to a hospital receiving public dollars and b) "my Catholic women friends who use me for confession say they're breaking this directive again and again. If this is the heart of the church, [my friends] will have a problem in the after-life."

We listen to lawyer David Boies on The Last Word explain that secular law can constitutionally affect a religion's tenet so long as the rule applies equally to all (minimum wage, anti-animal cruelty). Which leads to the question -- does Mitt Romney think government had no right to outlaw polygamy? Mary rejects any comparisons between Catholic doctrine and polygamy or Denny's restaurants.

While there are two sides to this controversy, are the comments of Gingrich and Santorum -- respectively, "the president has declared war on Catholics" and Obama's stance takes us down the road "to the French Revolution and the guillotine" -- hysterical demagoguery? Mary explains that that kind of rhetoric has resonance "to the ears of primary voters."

Arianna talks up Hilary Rosen's blog saying that, on TV, the debate has come down to the girls
("who are the ones most affected") versus the boys (including such prominent liberal Catholic
men as E. J.Dionne, Mark Shields, Chris Matthews). Mary interrupts -- "And why isn't there a male contraceptive pill?" (On the defensive, the y chromosome host promises to find out.)

(After taping Both Sides Now Friday, President Obama proposed a resolution that would require health insurers to make contraceptive services directly available to employees who desire them without involving employers with religious objections. While prominent Catholic groups split on this proposal, GOP leaders continue to object. The White House is still "trying to impose their values on somebody else," says Rick Santorum. "Imposing your values on somebody else is definitely an area where Santorum is expert," comments Gail Collins.)

The women do find consensus on how the Komen Foundation (Race for the Cure) blew it when they suddenly suspended grants to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings because of a congressional investigation. "It was bungled and over-reported," observes Mary.

What does this say about the power of a strong constituency and social media blowing down the walls of a bad decision (see also Netflix rates, Bank of America fees, SOPA)? Arianna: "The ability of social media to organize quickly is unprecedented. I was in London when the hacking scandal broke and within days there was no more News of the World... Komen found out it couldn't get away with lies in a press release."

*On Obama as "most polarizing president". We discuss Ryan Lizza's big New Yorker piece, "The Obama Memos" and polls showing that political polarization has never been higher. Also, did Obama truly believe he should find bipartisan common ground with Congress at the start of his presidency and did he then accomplish huge legislation results only when he abandoned that strategy, per Lizza?

Arianna notes that the president "wasted a lot of precious time" pursuing the chimera of bipartisanship when he should have realized the GOP wanted no part of it and that, by listening too much to people like Larry Summers, he undermined efforts to fix the economy. "It's hard to change the status quo if you revere the establishment." Though she opposes the very idea of stimulus spending, Mary agrees that the administration was too much in the thrall of the economic elite "who attend the same schools and parties."

But is the polarization largely or significantly the fault of a president whose history -- in Hawaii, in law school, in his autobiography and Convention speech, in the state and U.S. Senate -- was to respect the other side? Neither woman accepts the premise of the question. Mary employs the Socratic method on herself. "Did Obama cause this polarization? No. Did he worsen it? Yes." Arianna argues that the real issue is the rise of independents because of the failure of both parties, hence "the real news is how many young people apply to Teach for America and the Peace Corps."

*On solutions to the mortgage-foreclosure crisis. This week the attorneys general of 50 states agreed to a $25 billion settlement with five big banks to help underwater homeowners and last week the president proposed a plan to also impose a fee on big financial institutions to help reduce the principal and interest rates of "responsible borrowers." Thoughts?

Both women argue that the AG settlement was piddling compared to the problem -- with the host wondering why BP's $20 billion was great for the Gulf but the Schneiderman-Harris $25 billion deal was bad for at least some under-water homeowners. As for the federal government pushing banks to reduce principal and rates for many other borrowers in trouble, Mary contends that would worsen the problem. Focus instead on community banks playing a bigger role. But what about Romney's suggestion to "let the market hit bottom" and permit another five million foreclosures? Mary thinks that Romney "was right on philosophy but bad at communicating it."

*On Clint Eastwood's Ad and Karl Rove's Lament. Water coolers everywhere heard talk about Clint's "half-time in America" Chrysler ad and Detroit's comeback. Why did GOP operative Rove grouse about it as "Chicago style" politics. Arianna says it's obvious -- "he'll do anything to attack Obama." Both women agree that it was a car commercial and shouldn't have been polarized. Then they jointly giggle about the actor involved. "My first thought on seeing the ad as a gridiron feminist is that Eastwood was hot," concludes Ms. Matalin. "I vant that voice in my next life" confides Ms. Huffington and is told that her own exotic accent has done her no harm.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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