The president clearly thinks it’s advantageous to keep conservatives preoccupied with his contraception mandate because he sure ensures the topic stays in the spotlight. Today, he did that with a rare personal phone call to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who earlier this week testified in support of the mandate by saying that she and her peers are “going broke” to buy birth control.
In response to Fluke’s congressional testimony, radio host Rush Limbaugh called the Georgetown coed a “slut” and a “prostitute.” With those comments, he touched off a larger controversy. The DCCC and Emily’s List raised funds off Rush’s comments, while Congressional Democrats immediately demanded that Republican leadership disavow his words. House Speaker John Boehner did so tepidly, calmly calling Limbaugh’s remarks “inappropriate,” while also condemning any attempt to use his provocative rhetoric as a fundraising tool.
Today, Obama decided to weigh in, as well, calling Fluke to praise and encourage her and to say her parents should be proud of her activism.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “The president called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke because he wanted to offer his support, express his disappointment, that she was the subject of an inappropriate personal attack and thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on public policy.”
Carney said they spoke “for several minutes. It was a good conversation. Like a lot of people said the personal attacks directed her way are inappropriate. The fact that political discourse has become debased in many ways is bad enough. It’s worse when directed at a private citizen simply expressing her views on a matter of public policy.”
Asked what Obama thought about Limbaugh’s comments, Carney said, “They were reprehensible. They were disappointing. It is reprehensible that those kinds of personal and crude attacks could be leveled at someone like this young law school student who was simply expressing her opinion on a matter of public policy and doing it with a great deal of poise.”
Fluke also relayed the substance of the call to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. (Incidentally, Fluke might not be the wide-eyed, 23-year-old she purports to be; sounds like she had the intention to raise this issue before she ever enrolled at Georgetown.)
Rush brushed aside the president’s phone call.
Amid his reaction though, Rush makes a great point. He says that he has been asked why he was so insulting to Fluke. He responded by making the point that his whole “free contraception” movement, on top of the “rich aren’t paying their fair share” movement is highly insulting to him. He likened it to a woman he didn’t know knocking on his door asking for money for contraception because she wanted to go and have sex with 3 guys that evening. Rush explains:
“Where is it written that when all of a sudden if you want something and don’t have the money for it, somebody else has to pay for it. I think the whole notion of being insulted here – there are a lot of us insulted by this whole idea that is growing throughout the Obama administration, that the people who make this country work are somehow doing their fair share, not paying their fair share, that we have to be punished even more. Here’s the latest example of it.”
Of course he ends the segment by suggesting, tongue-in-cheek, that he is waiting for Bill Clinton to call Sandra Fluke to see if she’s OK. Ha!
Dare I suggest that, somewhere along the line, this has gotten a bit — to borrow a word from Ron Paul — “silly“? Don’t misunderstand me: The contraception mandate is very, very serious. As conservatives have said from Day One, it represents an unconscionable assault on religious freedom. Similarly, sexual morality is a very serious issue. But this has become nothing more than a top-my-trauma contest, in which both sides attempt to make it sound as though they’ve been more seriously insulted than the other side.
Let’s not forget who started all of this. Nobody ever threatened to take away anybody’s contraception. Nobody (except George Stephanopoulous) was even talking about contraception until the administration reiterated its mandate to religiously-affiliated employers to provide insurance coverage that covers contraception against their religious beliefs.
The president knew what he was doing when he made the contraception mandate the first detail of Obamacare to be truly “felt.” He was willing to risk that it would rouse religious leaders because he knew it would rouse those who would perceive opposition to the mandate as a threat to consequence-free sex. It’s not — with or without the mandate, any two consenting adults are free to have sex and with contraception as much as they can afford — but don’t tell Sandra Fluke that. To her and to others like her, sex is apparently not consequence-free unless it’s also flat-out “free” for the folks having it.
The best bet for conservatives is to try — somehow — to rise above this fray and to espouse a higher, better way. That necessarily entails advocating conscience protections for religious employers and patiently, repeatedly explaining that contraception is widely accessible and affordable, but not a medical necessity. It might also entail (and I duck as I write this) the willingness to love women (and men!) by inviting them to lives as something other than moochers who can’t see past their own desires for instant gratification. “Hey, kids, try a life of personal responsibility and earned success! You might like it!”