Shifting Into Reverse

As the 2012 Republican primary process lurched to its sad conclusion – after the caucuses and twenty surreal debates, along with the scattered state primaries – it became clear that Obama would face Mitt Romney, which was fine with the Democrats. Romney was rich and clueless, and the guy who had said, like everyone, he really liked firing people – and that was before that forty-seven percent comment, where he dismissed nearly half the country as hopeless losers, worthless moochers demanding that the good people, who had made it big, give them things. This was good for the Democrats – he was the sneering rich guy everyone loves to hate, and the guy had the charisma of a chipmunk, if that, even if he had great hair and a square jaw. He’d do. He could be beat – after all, half of his own party hated his guts for giving Massachusetts an early version of Obamacare when he had been governor there. It’s just that many Democrats had been hoping the Republicans might nominate one of the real clowns, like Newt Gingrich with his talk of making the moon the fifty-first state, or Rick “Oops” Perry, or Herman Cain the Pizza Man, or that Bachmann woman with her wild eyes and loose grip on the facts about most everything. That would have been fun, but none of them really stood a chance. Republicans knew better. The only presidential hopeful that challenged Romney, late in the clown-elimination process, was Rick Santorum – the next to last man left standing.

That would have made for a completely different race. It wouldn’t have been the sneering rich (white) guy versus the (black) man of the people, given Santorum’s rather unique political positions it would have been the deeply religious social conservative, the man of faith obsessed with the vileness of sex and outraged at those who chose sin, by foolishly deciding they were homosexual, versus the man of sweet reason and tolerance, who thought science was rather useful, and kept his faith to himself. Americans would have faced an entirely different set of choices. Obama suggested a set of national policies that would make it possible for any kid who wanted to go to college to actually go to college, even if they weren’t rich. Santorum’s response was immediate – What a Snob! He would go on to talk about how college, in and of itself, meant nothing, really, and would talk about how college also is that awful place where kids lose their faith.

That would have made for a few interesting Obama-Santorum presidential debates, about whether learning new things ruins people, and the talk about sex would have been even more interesting. Santorum opposes abortion – all Republicans do, even if abortion is quite legal in the first trimester, and even if the Supreme Court ruled long ago that a woman has a constitutionally guaranteed right to choose abortion in those first three months. Obama and Santorum might have discussed that, with Santorum doing the usual Republican thing, saying that women should not have that choice – in such matters women have no rights, as others, and God, know better. Both Obama and Santorum are lawyers. They would have discussed the Roe decision, which granted women certain new rights, rightly or wrongly, but both being lawyers, they would have ended up talking about the 1965 Griswold decision – where the Supreme Court ruled that Connecticut, even if it had banned the use of all contraception of any kind, really didn’t have the right to send the state police in to break down the bedroom doors of married couples to see if they were breaking the law. The Supreme Court established a right to privacy, not set out in the Constitution at all but clearly implied there, they reasoned, that then became the basis for the Roe decision. Santorum repeatedly said that Griswold too had been wrongly decided – in matters of sexual behavior, the government has a compelling interest that trumps any right to privacy, because engaging in any form of sexual activity, when procreation is not the aim, is not only deeply evil, it’s ruinous to any society. Theology aside – good and evil can be endlessly debated – it’s disruptive of social order. Santorum was, and is, against all forms of contraception. If you’re not making babies, abstain – and the folks in Hollywood making movies should know better.

Imagine the debate over that. Almost all adult women in America have used some form of contraception sometime in their lives, and when the issue came up in one Romney-Obama debate – in a discussion of the new mandate for all health plans to now cover contraceptive services – Romney said that mandate was too burdensome, but he quickly added that no one was talking about banning all contraception, and no one ever had. Then he sheepishly had to admit that even with his fancy law degree from Harvard, he had never even heard of that Griswold case at all. Perhaps he had been too busy buying and dismantling companies for profit – but he wasn’t against contraception, just Obamacare. Really, he wasn’t. The women of America could relax. If their boss wouldn’t include contraception and family-planning services in the company health plan, because it violated the boss’s religious principles, there were other jobs and other bosses out there. Romney also wanted to shut down every Planned Parenthood clinic in America, by cutting off what federal funds they received, but women could no doubt find other providers, private ones, not receiving federal funds. He wasn’t against contraception at all. That would be foolish, and it would also be political suicide. Guys like Santorum could lose national elections over the issue. He wouldn’t. He was no fool.

Romney lost anyway, for many reasons. This wasn’t one of them, but the Republicans, oddly, have now opted for what Romney knew was political suicide. It looks as if they plan to win the 2014 midterms and the 2016 general election by adopting the Santorum position, that contraception will ruin America, if it already hasn’t, and the government has a compelling interest in banning it outright. They know this is a deeply unpopular position – almost no one wants that – but they’ve framed the issue as one of religious freedom. The boss who won’t include contraception and family-planning services in the company health plan, because to do so would have him commit a mortal sin, according to his religion, is having his religious rights trampled by the big bad godless government, and specifically by Obama, that nasty man who hates all religion, unless he’s secretly a Muslim, which is another matter. The narrative is that Obama hates religion – all Marxists do and no Real American does – and the obvious example is the Obamacare contraception-coverage mandate.

They may have chosen the wrong example to prove their point, but this shift from harping on abortion, which even the pro-choice people see as a sometimes necessary evil, to contraception, which no one but sour sex-obsessed blue-noses like Rick Santorum have ever seen as evil, is odd. They put the 1953 Republican Oldsmobile sedan in reverse and gunned the engine.

This was an odd choice, and in Slate, Jamelle Bouie notes how odd a shift it was:

In its challenge to the “contraception mandate” of the Affordable Care Act, Hobby Lobby claims that certain forms of birth control – Plan B, “ella,” and IUDs – induce abortion and therefore go against the owners’ religious beliefs. The government’s response is that none of these contraceptives ends a pregnancy. Rather, they prevent implantation in the uterine lining.

The rejoinder, from supporters of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, is that this doesn’t matter. “Although the government has made statements that terminating a fertilized embryo before it implants in the uterus is not an abortion,” writes Bart Stupak and Democrats for Life in an amicus brief filed in support of Hobby Lobby, “the relevant matter for claim of conscience … is plaintiffs’ belief that a distinct human life begins at fertilization. It is no salve … to be told that the government defines abortion differently.”

There’s no doubt that this belief is sincere. But what’s fascinating is the extent to which, for conservative evangelicals, it’s new. So new, in fact, that when Hobby Lobby’s president, Steve Green, was a child in the 1960s, it was the minority view among American evangelical Protestants.

No, really, this is new:

“God does not regard the fetus as a soul no matter how far gestation has progressed,” wrote Professor Bruce Waltke of Dallas Theological Seminary in a 1968 issue of Christianity Today on contraception and abortion, edited by Harold Lindsell, a then-famous champion of biblical “inerrancy.” His argument rested on the Hebrew Bible, “According to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

This position was reaffirmed at a symposium sponsored by Christianity Today and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, where participants agreed to disagree over the “sinfulness” of an “induced abortion,” but agreed about “the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances,” namely, rape and incest. The document produced by the conference, “A Protestant Affirmation on the Control of Human Reproduction,” said, “The prevention of conception is not in itself forbidden or sinful providing the reasons for it are in harmony with the total revelation of God for married life” and that the “method of preventing pregnancy is not so much a religious as a scientific and medical question to be determined in consultation with one’s physician.”

Three years after the symposium, the conservative Southern Baptist Convention endorsed this view, with a call for “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

There’s much more of this, variations on the “method of preventing pregnancy is not so much a religious as a scientific and medical question to be determined in consultation with one’s physician” for years and years and years, but things have started to shift:

At the moment, few evangelicals have joined conservative and traditional Catholics in opposing birth control. It has been an extreme position for evangelicals, limited to the far right wing of the movement. Indeed, in a 2009 poll by the National Association of Evangelicals, 90 percent of respondents said that they approve of contraception.

But the fight against the Obamacare contraception mandate has begun to transform the landscape of evangelical belief about hormonal birth control. Concerns over potential “abortifacients” like Plan B have led to concerns over the “pill” itself, and evangelical leaders like Albert Mohler have warned their followers against the “contraceptive mentality,” and encouraged them to “look closely at the Catholic moral argument” for guidance.

What happened? This happened:

In short, politics, and in particular, the successful coalition-building of Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and other Christian conservatives in the wake of Roe v. Wade. Conservative Catholics were quick to mobilize against the court’s ruling, but many Protestant evangelicals were relatively apathetic. At that point, “culture war” issues such as abortion, feminism, and homosexuality weren’t on their radar (hence Jimmy Carter’s successful appeal to them in the 1976 presidential election).

It took the organizational might of Falwell and his “Moral Majority” – as well as evangelical anti-abortion figures such as Francis Schaeffer – to galvanize evangelicals around other “culture war” issues such as feminism, homosexuality, and school prayer. This in turn led to alliances with largely Catholic organizations like the National Right to Life Committee.

Belief tends to follow behavior, and working in political alliance with Catholics – a significant shift from earlier periods of evangelical political activism – led conservative evangelicals to adopt “pro-life” positions on abortion. Likewise, there was a shift in evangelical media – via books, magazines, radio, and television – toward anti-abortion beliefs. In 1980 Falwell declared, “The Bible clearly states life begins at conception.” Four years later, notes Dudley, InterVarsity Press – an evangelical imprint – was forced to withdraw a book that restated the earlier consensus around abortion.

And the rest is history, or not history, but where we are now. Contraception, universally used and universally accepted, is evil, because it’s the same as abortion, but it wasn’t always so:

Ask most (white) evangelicals about the morality of abortion these days, and you’re certain to hear about its absolute immorality in most, if not all, circumstances. But this is a recent innovation in the history of evangelical belief, a product of political forces as well as new theological insight. That’s not to say that it’s illegitimate, only that – like more liberal evangelicals and mainline Protestants – conservatives aren’t immune to the winds of the world around them. Their beliefs, like those of the people around them, change with time and circumstance.

If the Hobby Lobby fight over the contraception mandate is any indication, we’re seeing history repeat itself. There’s a good chance that, in ten years, conservative evangelicals will hail their opposition to birth control as a “timeless biblical truth,” the traditional view of “traditional” Christians.

What can you say? Biblical truths ain’t what they used to be, but some of this can be countered with humor. At The Wire, Ben Cosman has a clip of John Stewart on the Hobby Lobby case, with this summary:

Hobby Lobby believes that as a private company, it deserves the same religious freedom as a church or individual, and that the ACA’s demand it provide contraception coverage to its employees violates that freedom. Because Hobby Lobby is an exceptionally pious corporation! “There would never be a case emanating from that other craft store, Michaels,” Stewart said. “For god’s sake, that place is a godless fuck palace with yarn.”

But wait, there’s more:

The kicker about this whole case is that the government must accept Hobby Lobby’s views on birth control at face-value, with no mind for accuracy. Stewart explained: “So let me get this straight, corporations aren’t just people, they’re ill-informed people, whose factually incorrect beliefs must be upheld because they sincerely believe them.”

And this:

“What would a biblically-based insurance plan even cover?” Stewart asked.

Senior Legal Analyst Jordan Klepper had the answer: Along with leprosy, a plan would cover “stoning-related injury, flood damage. It’s a great pre-modern medicine, first-century, biblically-based health-plan that covers you from birth through your elderly years, which I believe is up to 36 years on this plan.”

That’s true, if biblical truths are what they used to be. Biblical truths seem to be an unreliable source for public policy, and once even Justice Scalia knew that:

It all started with peyote.

Two members of the Native American Church in Oregon were fired from their positions as drug counselors for using the drug as part of a religious ritual, and then denied unemployment benefits because their drug use, though religious in nature, was considered work-related “misconduct.”

The two men argued that their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion had been violated. The Supreme Court disagreed. Siding with the former counselors, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith in 1990, would “open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” The court majority lowered the legal standard by which governments were generally expected to accommodate individuals’ religious beliefs. The risk, Scalia wrote, would be “in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

The backlash to the decision was swift.

“Nothing mattered except that the religious community thought that the Supreme Court had slapped them in the face,” said William Galston, the former Clinton administration policy adviser…

So we got that Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that allowed Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties to sue over that Obamacare provision, not peyote this time – and it looks like Justice Antonin Scalia will now undo a majority decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia.

Ah well, Scalia is a good Catholic, and at Catholic Culture, Phil Lawler knows what Scalia should support:

Catholic politicians are under a moral obligation to oppose contraception because they are obligated to serve the common good, and contraception violates the common good. The use of contraception is not merely a moral offense for Catholics, similar to eating meat on a Friday in Lent. As Pope Paul explained in Humanae Vitae, contraception is a violation of the natural law, harmful to anyone who engages in the practice. Contraceptives harm people (especially women) and harm our society. Catholic politicians – all politicians, actually – should look for opportunities to restrain the practice.

The argument that contraceptives harm people, and especially women, is given here as self-evident and obvious and not worth discussing, but it would be interesting to see if one could find a single woman anywhere who agrees, and Ramesh Ponnuru wonders about the loneliness of this position:

I’m part of the small minority of Americans who agrees with nearly all of those words. They do not, however, establish that prohibition is the right policy.

There are many potential-harms that we have good reasons not to seek to prohibit. … I think a faithful Catholic politician could reasonably conclude – because it is true – that there is not much that government can do to restrain contraception (there are few “opportunities”), let alone much sensible that government can do; and that in the case of many oral contraceptives, the restriction on over-the-counter sales in our society serves no useful purpose.

Santorum never felt that way, but he’ll never hold any elective office ever again – no one who says the government has every right to monitor and direct your private sexual behavior is going to get a lot of votes – and Andrew Sullivan, another good Catholic, suggests that this is how it should be:

I don’t buy the Magisterium’s argument against contraception, believe it profoundly weakens the much more important case against abortion, and was a prime example of what is wrong with papal supremacy in the church. Pope Paul’s own commission came to the opposite conclusion, as have the vast majority of Catholics. But, look, I have no objection whatsoever to Christians who agree with Pope Paul actually living out the reality. The best approach if this is your view is to proclaim it by example, rather than enforce it imprudently by law.

What a concept! What, a concept? It is one. Don’t use the law to bludgeon all others into acting the way you think your particular god demands that they act, but live the way you think your particular god demands of you. People might notice. They might give it a try, even if right now they don’t think abortion is murder. Murder is murder, and using a condom doesn’t seem very much like murder either, and the judicious use of contraception really does dramatically reduce the number of abortions, if abortions bother you. And by the way, people enjoy sex, for the fun of it. Don’t even try to tell them it’s no fun at all. Show them it’s no fun at all, if that’s your position. Or, conversely, shut up. Or like Rick Santorum, run for president again. Everyone needs a hobby.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Shifting Into Reverse

  1. Rick says:

    Wow! Where do you find this stuff?

    I had no recollection whatsoever that Romney had never heard of Griswold, nor that the present American evangelical attitudes toward abortion and contraception only came about in recent history.

    But the fact that present-day Republicans have now glommed on to these positions leads me to suspect that one of our Democrat dirty-tricksters must be running their campaigns nowadays — assuming we even have any of those. And I suspect we don’t; dirty tricks are just not our style.

    I keep wondering, with gleeful anticipation, what silly goofball the Republicans will settle on this time around, and keep thinking 2016 should be fun — but then I remind myself to be careful what I wish for, especially given that the Democrats themselves don’t have a candidate yet, either.

    After all, does not pride goeth before the fall? (I think it says that in the Bible somewhere, but how the hell would I know?)


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