Obama Playing Chess While Republicans Are Playing With Birth Control

What does a smart President do when faced with an opposition party who takes the word “opposition” far too literally? He cures cancer, gives all Americans calorie free, healthy and delicious ice cream and finds loving homes for all orphaned kittens and puppies. Since those options are out of his realm of expertise, he instead takes an almost universally loved American staple (contraception) and lets Republicans have at it. Guess what? They took the bait.

Every election year, we hear the term “wedge issue.” Typically it’s an issue that inflames passions, like abortion, same-sex marriage, or in 2010, Mosques. Wedge issues are meant to divide Americans. More importantly, they are meant to get us to vote. Over the last several decades, wedge issues have favored Republicans or at least for a party without solutions, it’s how they got voters to the polls. The theory is that Democrats care about a variety of issues; equal rights, the environment, LGBT issues, women’s issues, children’s issues, war, poverty and the more general idea of making lives better for all. It’s tough to get a group of voters to rally around a single issue when we care about so many.

Republicans, on the other hand, or at least those who fall into the socially conservative camp of the Republican party, are opposed to change, unless that change means taking us back to a time when societal roles were clear – a time that most benefitted those who were white, male, Christian and straight. For those against progress, the biggest motivator of all is to dangle progress in their faces.

If history has shown us anything, it’s that change happens and it’s typically to advance civil rights and personal freedoms, not to set them back. As people get used to new ideas, they become less repellant. Same-sex marriage, a powerful Republican wedge issue just four years ago, is now polling with more positives than negatives. Abortion is still a reliable wedge issue, but it tends to inflame passions on both sides and the closer Republicans come to making a complete end-run around the Constitution and banning abortions, the more motivated Democratic voters, especially women, become.

Even so, abortion is still not a strong enough Democratic issue. While the majority of Americans are in favor of the a woman’s right to choose, at least in some circumstances, support has been eroding in recent years.

Some are saying that clean energy should be the Democratic wedge issue and maybe they’re right, but there is nothing to impassion people more than to threaten to take away one of their most basic rights, a right that has been in place for 40 years, the right to plan their lives and their families.

The birth control mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act could have gone largely unnoticed; 28 states already require religious institutions such as hospitals and schools to cover birth control. 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used birth control. Birth control has become a staple of life, regardless of political affiliation. For those of child bearing age and ability, either they’re trying to have kids (or at least not trying not to) or they’re probably on birth control of some kind. In a time when money is already being stretched to its limit, the threat of being forced to have children doesn’t sit well with most Americans.

So, this is where the President comes in. He takes a position that is widely favored by the American public, one which directly impacts one of our most basic freedoms, and he lets the Republicans tell us they’re going to take it away. House Speaker, John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, wants to let any employer deny us birth control.

The GOP Presidential candidates have criticized the President on the issue, calling the mandate requiring health insurance policies to cover birth control a violation of religious freedom (apparently women have no religious freedom). For now, only Rick Santorum has gone so far as to suggest banning all birth control.

Some are making the argument that Obama has painted the Republicans in a corner. If they were to support the popular idea of family planning, they would lose their social conservative cred. So, they are forced to speak out against a right that two generations of women have taken for granted, the ability to choose when to have children.

From Talking Points Memo:

The GOP persistence could come at a cost, as the new rule bolsters Democrats’ efforts to portray the freakout over religious freedom as a Trojan horse for restricting access to contraception generally. If Dems succeed in that effort, it’s an easy battle to win: Americans overwhelmingly believe contraception is morally acceptable, according to a litany of surveys, and even a majority of Catholics agree that insurance plans should be forced to cover free birth control.

Some Republicans want to wage that battle regardless. Surging GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum told the blog CaffeinatedThoughts.com back in October that contraception is “not okay,” and called it “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) likened birth control to abortion Friday on MSNBC and said he isn’t convinced contraception helps prevent pregnancies.

TPM goes on to say:

If the debate becomes about contraception coverage, it has the potential to drive a wedge between the GOP. For instance, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have in the past championed a birth control mandate similar to Obama’s, and were in no rush to exempt religious groups. Even prominent conservatives like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) have voted for legislation that included a contraception mandate in federal employee health care plans.

The firestorm over the birth control rule has captured the attention of voters who otherwise pay little attention to politics. Republicans have largely held the upper hand so far by keeping the focus on religious freedom, but Obama’s new accommodation for faith-based nonprofits weakens that argument. And as some moderate Republicans have already warned, wading into a no-holds-barred culture war over contraception could be a political disaster for the GOP.

Finally, it appears, Democrats may have found the issue that will drive Democratic voters to the polls and away from the Party of No.

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