From the point of view of a partisan Democrat, I can only think of one thing to say about the Republican Party's escalating opposition to birth control: go ahead, make our day.
You have to wonder if the political consultants advising the Republican presidential candidates have lost their minds. In the competition for ultra-right wing voters in the Republican primaries, the Romney and Santorum campaigns have completely lost sight of how their positions on birth control appear to the vast majority of Americans -- and especially to women -- and affect their chances in a general election.
Outside of a very narrow strata of political extremists, birth control is not a controversial subject. At some point in their lives roughly 98% of women -- including 98% of Catholic women -- have used birth control -- either to prevent pregnancy, regulate menstrual cycles and cramps or to address other medical issues.
Last week a PPP poll reported that:
This issue could be potent in this fall's election. Fully 58 percent of voters say they oppose Republicans in Congress trying to take away the birth control benefit that saves women hundreds of dollars a year, including 56 percent of independents.
And a recent Pew Poll says only 8% of Americans believe that the use of contraceptives is "immoral."
Democracy Corps published a polling memo last Thursday that said in part that:
...one of the most important factors powering Obama's gains against likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been the President's improving numbers among unmarried women, a key pillar of the present and future Democratic coalition.
Among this group, Obama now leads Romney by 65-30 -- and there's been a net 18-point swing towards the President among them...
The issue of access to birth control is very important among this group.
In addition, the memo went on to say that the battle over contraception could be another "Terri Schiavo moment" where the knee-jerk reaction of right-wing culture warriors runs afoul of Americans' desire not to have government interfering with their most private personal decisions.
And the numbers understate another important factor -- intensity. Many women voters in particular feel very intensely about the birth control issue. It's not just another issue -- it's about their own control of the most personal aspects of their lives.
Notwithstanding these facts, Mitt Romney has come out squarely in favor of the "personhood" amendment that was soundly defeated in Mississippi -- probably the most conservative state in the nation. That amendment would essentially ban most forms of hormonal birth control, like the Pill and IUD, that millions of women -- and their spouses -- rely upon to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Santorum, in addition to his support of the "personhood" amendment, actually argues that contraception of any sort is immoral.
Both Romney and Santorum have attacked the Obama administration's rule that requires insurance companies to make birth control available to all women with no co-payment no matter where they work.
Their positions are so far outside the political mainstream that they might as well be on the former planet Pluto.
And these are not positions that are peripherally related to voters' opinions of candidates for office. For many swing voters, the GOP's extremist positions on birth control could very well be dispositive determinants of their votes next November.
First, for a large number of women voters, their positions communicate two very important things:
- They aren't on my side;
And the spectacle of Congressman's Darrell Issa's hearing on contraception that featured six male witnesses -- and not one woman -- generated an iconic moment that Democrats will recycle over and over between now and the fall elections.
Most American women hear these positions and respond that the guys who control the Republican Party simply don't get it. And many add that if men could get pregnant, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
The sense that the Republican candidates are out of touch and unable to empathize with the lives of ordinary people is especially damaging to Romney, since his lack of empathy has become something of a trademark. Just ask his late dog Seamus who was famously forced to ride on top of his car for twelve hours on a family trip.
Second, Romney's current position on birth control reinforces the correct perception that he has no core values whatsoever -- and is willing to say anything to get elected. Fact is that when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the state had a provision virtually identical to the Federal Rule on the availability of contraceptives that he now opposes.
Santorum, on the other hand, is no flip-flopper on the issue. He has been opposed to birth control his entire career -- and that provides a powerful symbol of the fact that he is a right-wing extremist who is completely out of step with the views of most ordinary Americans.
Third, many Americans are wondering what in the world the Republicans are doing talking about social issues like birth control, when they ought to be talking about how they intend to create jobs.
The longer they focus on birth control, the more they will highlight the fact that the while their victories in the 2010 midterms were all about popular unhappiness with the economy, the Republican majority in the House has instead focused its energy on social issues like cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood or restricting access to birth control. Normal people look at that kind of agenda and ask: "What are they thinking?"
Finally, the birth control discussion is not just damaging the two front-running presidential contenders. It is tarnishing the entire GOP brand. That will damage the chances of Republican candidates for Congress, state and local office as well.
Initially, the GOP began its jihad against birth control reasoning that the administration's contraception rule could prove their outrageous claim that Obama and the Democrats are conducting a "war against religion."
Of course, someone might remind the right that it is the Democrats that are defending the core ethical principal of Christianity, Judaism, Islam -- and most other major religions -- to love your neighbor. In fact, President Obama intends to frame the entire presidential campaign as a choice between a society where we look out for each other -- and have each other's back -- or a society of dog-eat-dog selfishness where only the strongest can be successful, where the big corporations can exploit everyday Americans, and most people are left on their own to fend for themselves.
In Obama's State of the Union, he challenged the Republicans to remember that when people go into battle -- attempt to accomplish any mission -- they are successful if they have each other's backs -- if they are all in this together.
Loving your neighbor is the core ethical principal of Christianity, and of other major religions. It is those who oppose that principle that are conducting the real "war against religion."
The revised birth control rule that the president promulgated ten days ago, putting the burden to provide contraceptives on insurance companies, not employers, allowed the focus to shift away from the rights of religious institutions and back to the extreme GOP position on birth control, where it belongs.
But despite the fact that even the Catholic Hospital Association supports the new compromise regulation, extremist Republicans like Issa just can't help themselves. They can't stop themselves from fanning the anti-birth control flames any more than a pyromaniac just can restrain his urge to start fires. And of course the reason is simple. Many members of the current GOP Congressional caucus are in fact ideological extremists. This debate calls up something primal in their inner political consciousness.
This, of course, is not true of Romney, whose political commitments are limited to his own personal success. He has no qualms whatsoever about leveraging companies with debt, bleeding them dry and laying off workers to make himself richer. And he doesn't think twice about saying whatever he believes will help him win an election.
Problem is, that while his opposition to birth control may help him win Republican primaries, it may make him unelectable in a general election.
Oh well, maybe after the election is done, he can replenish his coffers by suing some of his consultants for political malpractice.
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