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Robert J. Elisberg

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Republicans Wave The White Flag

Posted: 02/15/2012 11:32 am

Back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president, his campaign manager James Carville famously coined the phrase, "It's the economy, stupid." Only one thing matters. Only one thing should be talked about.

If ever a presidential election since the Great Depression should talk about the economy only, it is this election. It really is the economy, stupid.

And so what has the Republican Party chosen to talk about -- deflecting all attention from the economy?

Contraceptives.

It's just - well, "bizarre" is too rational a word.

At a time of bankruptcies, bail outs, unemployment and deficits, the Grand Old Party has consciously made contraceptives its focus.

If anything shows that Republicans realize the U.S. economy has shown six straight months of improvement, unemployment at its lowest since being driven through the roof by George Bush (remember him?!), this is it. If anything shows that Republicans realize they don't have any issue now to seriously address, sinking to "contraceptives" (!) is the proof.

With consumer confidence growing and President Barack Obama's approval at its highest in a long time, the Republican Party clearly is scurrying to find some other issue. But... but this?? Contraceptives?? This is insane on so many levels.

To start with, as much as Republican leaders and pundits are trying to whip their radical right base into a religious fervor to believe this is all about religion - it isn't even remotely about religion. It's all politics.

After all, contrary to the far-right frenzy, the Catholic Church is not required to furnish contraceptive access to anyone. In fact, there is a waiver for churches and houses of worship in the mandate. This mandate is solely about business employers.

If the Catholic Church opened a restaurant, we all know they'd be required by law to pay minimum wage, provide workers comp and offer health care insurance to all their restaurant employees -- just like all employers. It's the law. We know all that.

So, if the Catholic Church - if anyone -- chooses to own a hospital, they all have to pay minimum wage, provide workers comp, and offer health care to their employees. It's the law. And that law today includes a great many benefits to Americans, among them giving access to birth control insurance to women. It's -- well, the law.

A church can even avoid all this, of course, by just being a church, and happily have its religious waiver. But... if you want to be a business employer in America, it's simple: you've got to follow the law. You have to pay minimum wage. You have to provide workers comp. You have to offer health care.

To show how this fake angst is merely politics, the White House compromise even removes churches from the equation. A church can stay completely uninvolved. It's a reasonable compromise easy to grasp -- and which takes all fire out of the GOP brimstone.

But here's the scary thing for Republicans on their continued "contraception" efforts: this whole explanation above? That's the rational part!

Purely for the sake of argument, let's accept that this does touch religion in some mystical way. Well, even if that was the case, it still means one thing.

The Republican Party wants to talk about contraceptives in the presidential race.

At a time when the economy, unemployment and budget deficit dominate our lives, the Republican Party wants instead to talk about contraceptives.

When presidential races deal with civil rights, poverty, national defense, education, foreign relations, energy, terrorism, and social justice - the GOP wants to talk about contraceptives.

The only people who talk about contraceptives this much are teenage boys.

If anything tells you about who a political party is -- the Republican Party making contraception a platform issue explains it all for you.

The attention that Republicans are giving "contraceptives" -- even after the White House made its reasonable compromise -- is going to massively backfire on them. Is that really the "issue" they want to put forth to win independents? Contraceptives??

Forgetting that the issue is really, truly not remotely what Republican leadership is trying to make it seem, most people accept the compromise completely.

And this, during a challenging economy is what they're telling the public they care about. Contraceptives. It's not that it's small and petty, it's that it's sort of creepy.

Even further, it's a controversy that most American don't much believe in. That most Catholics don't believe in. A Guttmacher Institute study showed that 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used contraception.

When America has been promoting contraception for decades, to fight unwanted pregnancies and protect against an epidemic of AIDS, the Republican Party is making unprotected sex its Big Presidential Cause.

Yipes. Eeesh.

And it goes even further. Because as irrational and creepy as this all is (at any time, but especially now when focus should be on the economy), this presidential campaign against birth control for women is going to be really, really bad for Republicans with... well, women.

Given that women are the ones who get pregnant, it's near-impossible to think that any political stand against making contraception accessible to women is going to endear itself with that particular group that's a majority of the population.

Yet there you have it. With the economy still being a critical issue, yet seeing that it's moving in the right direction, the Republican Party has dumped it overboard, waved the white flag and is marching against contraception. And any Republican believing that the economy should indeed be the important issue to discuss, without losing focus -- you're right. But take it up with the GOP leaders driving the agenda. They've decided what's more important.

It's the contraception. Stupid.


An earlier version of this post erroneously attributed the study about contraception use to the Public Religion Research Institute. It was conducted by the Guttmacher Institute.