For the last few years, liberals have been pointing out that conservatives radically shifted their opinions about certain ideas once those ideas were embraced by Barack Obama. The two biggies are an individual mandate for health insurance, which was conceived by conservatives at the Heritage Foundation as a way to get (nearly) universal coverage while maintaining the private insurance system; and a cap-and-trade system for reducing harmful emissions, which was conceived as a way to use market forces instead of government regulations to achieve an environmental good. All kinds of conservatives liked those ideas, but once Obama advocated them, the ideas became not just disfavored but presented as something so vile and socialistic they could only have been coughed up by Joe Stalin's decaying corpse.
That happened a couple of years ago, but now we're in an election year, so it's only going to get worse. And watching the entire conservative universe get pulled toward opposition not just to abortion but to contraception, for goodness sake, one has to wonder what they're thinking inside that universe. They surely know that opposing contraception is very, very bad politics. And for most of them I'm sure it's not even something they agree with on the substance. But all it takes is a couple of people within the movement to stake out a position, and before you know it everybody else has no choice but to follow along. There just isn't any incentive for any Republican to say, "Hold on fellas, I think we're going a little far here."
Because for them, everything is seen through the prism of Barack Obama. If he's for it, they have to be against it, no matter what they and everybody else used to think. I was reminded of that today hearing this story from NPR, about a move in New Hampshire, driven by Republicans and the Catholic Church, to allow any organization in the state to deny contraception coverage to its employees. The revealing part is in the history:
New Hampshire has required contraceptive coverage in all prescription drug plans since 2000. The law was passed by a Republican Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor. Nobody at the time, it seems, saw the policy as a blow against religious liberty.
Democratic state Rep. Terie Norelli, who co-sponsored the law, said that objection never came up. "There was no discussion whatsoever — I even went back and looked at the history from the bill," she said. "There was not one comment about religious freedoms."
It wasn't just lawmakers who were silent; religious leaders were, too.
"I wasn't here back in 1999," said Diane Murphy Quinlan, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester, "and we didn't have a full-time lobbyist in the Legislature. It's possible that it was missed."
The diocese isn't itself directly affected by the contraception mandate because it, like the state's largest Catholic hospital, has chosen to self-insure. But if the church gets its way, contraceptive-free insurance may soon be widely available on the open market.
The Church didn't have a full-time lobbyist in Concord then, but I'll bet it does now. One of the results of this controversy is that the Catholic Church hierarchy is working to turn the Church into a Republican political operation that does some religious stuff on the side. That's not completely new—you might recall that back in 2004 there were some bishops proclaiming that John Kerry shouldn't be able to receive communion since he's pro-choice—but they really have taken it to a new level of intensity. And Republican politicians, whether they like it or not, see little choice but to go along for the ride, one that will take them to some very politically damaging places.