The Obama administration, frightened that the stinky economy will sink it, apparently thought it could divert voters’ attention by reigniting the culture wars with its disastrous attack on religious liberty.
The culture wars have been dormant for most of the presidential campaign because there has been plenty of ammunition to fire at Obama: for his fanciful and failed measures to rally the economy and his theory of federalism in which government, like the amoeba-like Blob in the classic horror movie, slithers around, absorbing every aspect of American life.
A diversion was necessary, and what better way fire up the left’s nocturnal emissions than telling those hard-right, child abusing bishops that we’re coming to get you? “Anybody who stands in the way is going to have to deal with us and our friends,” the rabidly pro-choice Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned.
The mind strains to understand why the Obama administration would want this stupid fight by forcing Catholic hospitals, social service agencies, charitable groups and universities to give their employees free insurance coverage for abortion-inducing pills, contraceptives and sterilization. The Catholic hierarchy for months had been pleading with the administration to understand that this was a matter of conscience that could never be allowed. With 2,000 years of martyrdom under its belt, what made Obama think that the church would fold?
Catholics in the pews disagree with their bishops on artificial contraception, but they recognize a blindly incoherent government assault on their community of priests and parishes when they see one. The Obama mistake was assuming that Catholics would prefer the government to step in to resolve their differences with the hierarchy. As if they were children.
Sarah Cliff, writing in the Washington Post, explained that Obama actually saw a political win in the new rule, by expanding the “reproductive health debate beyond abortion to issues like contraceptives, winning over key demographics of independent voters in the process.”
The error of that thinking was exposed by the speed with which the Obama administration retreated with a “compromise” that bill insurance companies, instead of the church, for the coverage. Whether that “compromise” is acceptable—and it’s not—the Obama presidential campaign is stuck forever with its trashing of the civil rights of the single largest religious denomination in the country, comprising 25 percent of the population. The administration’s pathetic attempt give Obama cover by leaking the story* that his advisors essentially forced him into making the original decision, is laughable.
The way I see it, Obama’s political coaches figured that there are more Barbara Boxer die-hards in the voting population than Catholics angered by this intrusion. Or they might have found comfort in the fact that 57 percent of Catholics identify with the Democratic Party, compared with 40 percent with the GOP. The problem is that those numbers are not static, especially when many of those Catholic Democrats are solid, middle-class families respectful of traditional values and who have shown they can flee Democrats when the issues are clear.
If anything, Obama has now starkly clarified the issues, and not to his advantage. He has placed his bet that young, female and secular independents that make up the swing vote are so simpleminded that they’ll see the issue in only one dimension: free contraception. There is a deep nuance to this issue that transcends “reproductive rights.” As many of Obama’s own allies knew when they jumped his bones for his blockheaded attack on the Constitution.
Obama’s tried to deflect attention away from the kinds of issues (fiscal conservatism, big government) that have fired up the Tea Party. It not only stoked up social conservatives, reminding them of Obama’s antipathy to their values, but it reminded the Tea Party folks of what they were mad about in the first place.
See, this is more than a “reproductive” or even “civil rights” issue. It goes to the heart of the Tea Party’s driving fear that Obama’s concept of government powers exceeds anything we’ve ever imagined. You don’t have to be a Catholic, a Christian, or a believer to fear that kind of intrusion. In a stroke, Obama has united independent and thoughtful secularists that hold the Bill of Rights dear and conservatives. Come November, Obama better hope that Americans have a short memory.
Meeting with his top advisers in the Oval Office last week amid rising anger from Catholic Democrats, liberal columnists and left-leaning religious leaders — a fed-up Mr. Obama issued an order meant for Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. Ms. Sebelius and agency lawyers had initially told the president they needed a year to work out a compromise that had seemed obvious to some in the administration from the start: make the new rule more like that offered by the State of Hawaii, where employees of religiously affiliated institutions obtained contraceptives through a side benefit offered by insurance companies.
But in difficult internal negotiations, a group of advisers had bested Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and others and sold the president on a stricter rule. Now the political furor surrounding it was threatening to consume signs of economic improvement giving a boost to the White House and put the Obama re-election campaign on the defensive.
Time was up, Mr. Obama told his advisers, according to officials in the meeting. Ms. Sebelius, a Catholic who, along with the president’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, had pushed hard for the new rule, was not there, but the message came through: Figure out a way to make something like the Hawaii model work.