Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is the mandate issue a blunder for the GOP?

Almost a month after the Department of Health and Human Services reaffirmed its refusal to take First Amendment conscience protections seriously, the battle over the contraception mandate is spinning — or rather, being spun by the MSM and Obama Democrats — into a pseudo-debate about contraception itself, and its role in women’s health.

The “why” of this is fairly obvious.  On face value, to prevail in a SCOTUS challenge to the Obamination’s mandate the Catholic Church doesn’t need to argue why she teaches the immorality of contraception; it’s enough that she does, and that some Catholic-Americans do indeed believe artificial contraception to be wrong — 22%, according to a recent CNN/ORC opinion poll.  As long as the issue is focused on religious liberty, slightly more Americans disapprove of the HHS mandate than approve (50% to 44%, with a margin of error of ± 3%).

But while the mandate can be seen as a part of a larger “cultural war”, conventional wisdom holds that putting it directly in those terms would be a mistake. MSNBC’s First Read argues that GOP strategists believe “Republicans should be talking about the economy, not social issues.”  And Andrew Sullivan writes in Newsweek:
The more Machiavellian observer might even suspect this is actually an improved bait and switch by Obama to more firmly identify the religious right with opposition to contraception, its weakest issue by far, and to shore up support among independent women and his more liberal base. I’ve found by observing this president closely for years that what often seem like short-term tactical blunders turn out in the long run to be strategically shrewd. And if this was a trap, the religious right walked right into it.
Is this really the situation?  Or are the chattering classes guilty of assuming too much?  In fact, we can see two presumptions already acting their way out in the MSM: 1) The pendulum only swings to the left; and 2) Today’s majorities will remain majorities through to December.  Timothy Stanley, writing in CNN Opinion, unintentionally illustrates these assumptions:

Take gay rights.  In 1992, 48% of Americans thought sexual relations between people of the same gender should be legal.  Now it’s 62% and, for the first time, a majority of Americans also support same-sex marriage.  Likewise, Public Policy Polling insists that Republican opposition to the contraception mandate will actually cost it votes.  Generational change and economic problems have rendered debates about lifestyle largely academic.

But have they really?  On the contrary: for the first time in over forty years, a space has been opened up in public dialogue where the conventional wisdom on contraceptives can  be fruitfully challenged.  The more time spent on contraception and women’s health, the more opportunities those who support the Catholic Church’s teaching have to hit on their talking points and make converts to the cause.  If abortion is a weakness now for the left, then one talking point in particular becomes deadly: contraception feeds the abortion mills.

Beyond that weakness, other problems pertain to the left’s argument.  For one thing, access simply isn’t a viable issue, no matter how much pro-aborts scream about a “war on women”.  For most women who contracept, the cost of the Pill isn’t an undue hardship; Planned Barrenhood passes it out like candy to the rest.  For the women who don’t contracept, fewer than one in ten lack access; the rest don’t contracept for other reasons.

Because of the relatively low cost and near-universal access, the left is in the awkward position of trying to show how Catholic institutions must be made to offer coverage in order for contraception’s ubiquity to be maintained.  How do you show that $30-$50 a month creates an undue hardship for an LPN making a median $41,360 per year?  Or a university librarian making $56,530 a year? (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011)  Indeed, why should a secular institution be forced to carry such coverage, let alone an institution tied to a church?

But what about the economy?  Even the GOP strategists say we should be focusing on that!  (I have to wonder: are these the same strategists that keep telling us Mitt Romney is the only Republican candidate who can beat Barack Obama?)

This would be a great tack to take if we could be assured that the recent economic semi-rally were merely an “Indian summer” ushering in the long, dark winter of a second Great Depression.  And it could still go that direction, especially if Greece fails to bring a workable final settlement to its debt to the table; if Greece collapses, so will most of the First and Second World, such are the financial interconnections.  However, if the economy does pick up steam and stabilize prior to November, then saying, “It’s the economy, stupid!” will only work to Obama’s favor.

There’s one other weakness in the left’s position that should be explored.  For several decades now, the progressivists in our education system have done their best to teach our kids moral relativism under the guise of respect for others.  Now they’ve put themselves in the position of openly imposing their morality on others … the gravest sin in the relativist doctrine. 

Where Sullivan sees an Obama-laid trap, I see deliberate wishful thinking.  The fact is, the majority of the people don’t like the HHS mandate, not because they’re against contraception or getting it covered on their insurance but because they see the Obamination forcing it on Catholics.  The young folk of today may not be as religious as their parents were at that age; it doesn’t follow that they don’t respect others’ beliefs.  That is presumably the attitude the left wanted to inculcate, and now that attitude is perfectly placed to bite the Administration in the butt.

In sum, the conventional wisdom is too enslaved by the latest polls and an unwarranted conviction of progressivism’s inevitable victory to see how the GOP and the Church can play the HHS mandate to their separate advantages.  The controversy may not by itself give the Republicans the victory, but it won’t necessarily cost them the victory, either.
Works Cited
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011, April 6). May 2010 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, United States. Retrieved February 18, 2012, from Bureau of Labor Statistics: