Why Rick Santorum doesn’t owe us a “contraception speech”

posted at 8:18 pm on February 15, 2012 by J.E. Dyer

… but could do a lot of good with a “nature of government” speech

Time has called out Rick Santorum for “wanting to ‘fight the dangers of contraception’.”  Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller sees electoral danger for Santorum in his insistence on discussing social issues and registering committed opinions on them, rather than parrying such questions with a kind of unifying boilerplate.

Lewis isn’t necessarily wrong on the point about electability.  But I see much more danger for America’s future in the fact that so many Americans are now apparently unable to make important distinctions about the operation and functions of government.

Consider the method by which Michael Scherer presents the video of Santorum’s interview with the evangelical blog Caffeinated Thoughts in October 2011.  Scherer includes in his article a transcript of the comments he wants to discuss, and helpfully tells readers to start watching the video at the 17:55 mark.

I decided to watch from the beginning (in spite of the awful audio quality).  Out of context, Santorum’s remarks sound like he might have a plan to “fight contraception” the way Democrats always want to fight something: that is, outlaw it, impose fees and penalties on it, sue the bejeebers out of it in court, sic the IRS and all the other federal agencies and commissions on it, demonize it in the media, teach children in the public schools that it is associated with hate, racism, violence, and fascism, and make movies in which the left’s point of view about it is validated by George Clooney.

But in context, it turns out that Santorum has no plan to do anything with federal law other than ensure that ObamaCare is repealed and that federal money is not used for contraception or abortion.  (Federal money is currently used to fund both.)  Santorum was speaking in October in the Caffeinated Thoughts video, before the contretemps over the ObamaCare insurance mandate for contraceptive services; otherwise, he would presumably have referred to that as well.

To appreciate the context in which his remarks were made, it is necessary to start no later than the 10:00 hack.  The overall discussion is about various social issues (e.g., fatherlessness), and the theme Santorum emphasizes is that a president can shape a national debate on these topics, which profoundly affect the social health of our communities.  He repeats the word “debate” quite a few times.  His examples of positive intervention in such issues come from the local level and involve community groups and local governments.

He says explicitly in the 16:00-17:30 timeframe that laws in Congress are just a small part of what he’s talking about, and his examples of working through federal law – there are only two – are ensuring that no federal funds are going to abortion, and repealing ObamaCare.   He is also explicit, if fleeting, about the federal government not being the right level at which to actually deal with social issues by adopting government policies.

Santorum isn’t coming after your contraception.  He does consider it an issue that affects the health of society, and his hope is to foster a debate on that and other social topics, a rhetorical power he ascribes – along with millions of other observant Americans – to the president.

Many readers will think it’s misguided of Santorum to want to use the bully pulpit of the Oval Office to spark a national discussion on contraception.  But let’s make the minimal effort required to at least understand what Santorum’s position actually is, and oppose it for what it is, instead of taking cherry-picked soundbites from him and reading into them the themes of governmentalism popularized by the left over the last century. The left doesn’t own the idea of “government” and what it’s supposed to do to and for us.

Regarding contraception itself, as it happens, I hold the fairly typical Protestant view that our virtue does not depend on things like contraception being proscribed to us, and that while the unborn child is a human being, his or her human status before conception falls in the category of what Paul calls “disputable matters” (see Romans 14).  Protestants frame the argument about contraception a bit differently from Catholics, although I have sympathy for the Catholic Church’s viewpoint on the larger issue of sex, procreation, and human life.

Ultimately, I don’t know how much social good a national debate on contraception would do, if it were promoted by the president.  I view the federal government, including the presidency, as too compromised and suspect an entity to honestly broker such a debate under current conditions.  (I am very happy for the churches to foster the debate, and indeed, to see the Catholics sticking to their guns.)

But what I do believe is that the government – and the federal government in particular – should have no policy on ensuring the distribution of contraception.  Santorum is right that the federal government should neither fund contraception nor subsidize its advocates’ prowling the land in various guises, encouraging young women to resort to it.  It should not be the policy of the state to subsidize or promote the avoidance of pregnancy, any more than it should be the policy of the state to prohibit contraception.  A government that interests itself in this matter is too big.  It needs to be slapped down hard.

The more things government subsidizes – and therefore promotes – the more likely it is that the actions of government will become topics of religious and moral dispute.  Americans can handle this one of two ways.  We can take the bait every time, getting into knock-down-drag-out fights over the issues as if the only solution is for one side to end up with the weight of government and the taxpayers’ money behind it.

Or we can take the issues out of government’s purview, and let reality, nature, and people’s consciences decide.  We can also reduce the weight of government, so that the cost when government decides to endorse a position – an act that should be rare, and exceedingly so in the case of the federal government – is not unacceptable to those who may lose the argument.  “Tolerance” does not mean “obligation to subsidize,” for example, nor does “unwillingness to endorse” mean “intolerance”; these creeping inversions only make sense to the narrow mind in the context of an all-encompassing government – a context that is unnecessary and avoidable.

I would like to hear from Rick Santorum what his philosophy of government is.  I don’t disagree that the executive has a hortatory function, although I would define the scope of it pretty narrowly.  The problem with wanting to engage the people from the Oval Office on the topic of contraception is that there is so much water under the bridge now:  the mode in which government approaches social issues has been established as overweening “big-governmentism,” on the model exemplified by FDR, Lyndon Johnson’s social legislation, decades of judicial activism, and the geometrically expanding activism of the executive agencies created by both parties since 1952.

What we chiefly need is to disestablish that very convention.  It distorts, often decisively, all our public dialogue on contentious topics.  Can Rick Santorum articulate a philosophy of government that defies this model, to which so many Republicans and conservatives are justly opposed?  Does he want to?

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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OK, here’s a new twist on this whole ongoing debate. Then I’m going to duck.

How about:

Not only will government pay for your contraception ladies, but if you are on welfare, you must take contraception to be eligible for a check.

After all, if you’re broke enough to need a government check, then who will be paying for additional children in your household?

Don’t want to take birth-control pills?

Fine. No government check for you.

This would have a way of balancing out a whole lot of thiings….

/DUCKS

cane_loader on February 15, 2012 at 8:38 PM

How about this?
Obamacare will next require prenatal testing-for the health of women, of course. Then, if the fetus is found to be defective, Obamacare will require that the woman have an abortion to spare her the trauma of giving birth to a defective child (and to spare society the costs of caring for the child). Then they’ll go after the elderly. Then, depending on their perception of how best to continue total government control under the Democratic party, they’ll start looking at how to copy China’s one child policy. Perhaps they will come up with a means to selectively apply this to maximize the number of Democratic voters, who already significantly outnumber Republicans.

Once the government takes control of health care, there a very few limits on their power.

talkingpoints on February 16, 2012 at 4:43 AM

Once the government takes control of health care, there a very few limits on their power.

talkingpoints on February 16, 2012 at 4:43 AM

CW on February 16, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Once the government takes control of health care, there a very few limits on their power.

talkingpoints on February 16, 2012 at 4:43 AM
———–

OMG MY GOVERNMENT HAS LIMITLESS POWER OMG OMG OMG

Dave Rywall on February 16, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Wow. That is a wagon load of spin JE!

Santorum’s multiple comments on his personal beliefs are almost always intermingled with discussion about how he will govern. He wants to push his views on Americans.

csdeven on February 16, 2012 at 3:11 AM

I love it when people call it “spin” to make exactly the distinctions about government that the Framers of the Constitution made.

It’s no wonder we’re in the political mess we’re in today. Liberty doesn’t mean no one in public office should have an opinion on social issues. It means government’s scope should be limited, and those in public office should respect the limits of the office they hold, when it comes to doing something about social issues.

When the US Constitution was adopted, there were cities and counties that still punished adultery by putting people in the stocks. There were states with state churches, and some of those states taxed the people to support the churches.

The Framers didn’t care, because that was local law. What they were adamantly against was writing any such level of interventionism in the people’s lives into the federal constitution. They understood the grave dangers of trying to write social-issue beliefs into the documents of nationhood.

In the 20th century, our education system inverted that reality to make it seem that the founding of the United States was all about social-issue beliefs. It wasn’t. It was about government. The Framers were exceedingly careful to place their limits on the scope of government, not on beliefs about liberty and justice.

The distinction will always be valid. The left has labored to make it seem as if it’s not, by trying hard to make “government” in general be about imposing social-issue beliefs, and by trying to eliminate the distinctions of federalism. But we don’t have to be duped on that head.

Santorum has made it clear that he doesn’t intend to push for additions to the US Code on the social issues he’s always being asked about. I’d like to hear him explicitly justify that posture on the basis of the Framers’ principles for writing the Constitution. That’s something to hold our leaders to, as opposed to vague sentiments.

J.E. Dyer on February 16, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Santorum is the biggest nanny stater in the field.

Dave Rywall on February 16, 2012 at 2:08 PM

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