Punked and Clueless

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Obama Administration

Sorry I’ve been scarce. This upper respiratory infection has just wiped me out.

Anyway — I have been following the contraception flap and am persuaded President Obama played the bishops, and the Republicans, like a fiddle (see Blue Girl for commentary). The best article I’ve read on this is by Helene Cooper and Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times. According to Cooper and Goodstein, the President didn’t give a hoo-haw about appeasing the Catholic bishops. However, he was getting some flak from people like Sister Carol Keehan, head of an influential Catholic hospital group, and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a nuns’ social activist group. Now the sisters are happy and Planned Parenthood is happy, so it’s all good.

Even better, the bishops are still pissed. They and some GOP politicians are holding out for allowing employers to pick and choose what health care coverage their employees may have. So if the employer is a Christian Scientist, does nothing get covered?

Poll after poll says the public is in favor of the HHS policy. This includes a majority of Catholics. Yet cluelessness abounds. Possibly the oddest commentary is from rightie blogger Tom Maguire, who titles his post “The Contraception Controversy Would Have Been Avoided If Obama Were President.” The implication, of course, is that the President is not in charge, but based on my reading of Cooper and Goodstein, the President has been driving this issue exactly where he wants it to go.

And see the comment by Extraneus

It’s amazing that they’re [the Obama Administration] willing to go to the mat for … birth control? Seriously?

We should already have a candidate who’s up ten points on this douchebag.

This brought to mind a post by John Cole from a few days ago:

Others here have talked about the issue in more detail, but I really just can’t believe that in the year 2012, with everything that is going on, Republicans want to pick a losing fight over condoms and the pill. I thought they were stupid, but I didn’t think they were that stupid. It’s like they’ve given up on taking us back to 1950 and have just decided to pretend it is 1950 all over again.

Or, to paraphrase — It’s amazing that they’re willing to go to the mat to stop … birth control? Seriously?

See, unlike fantasy issues like the President’s birth certificate and imaginary death panels, birth control actually makes a difference in the lives of real people. Yes, many people fork out the money themselves. But since we’re talking mostly about women’s health care, when contraception is not covered by insurance it amounts to a womb tax.

Cluelessness abounds. The congenitally clueless Ruth Marcus writes at WaPo,

The biggest puzzle is how the administration landed itself in this fix. There was going to be no satisfying the Catholic bishops. From the church’s point of view, no exemption could be broad enough. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that contraception “is not properly seen as basic health care” and that the mandate “should be rescinded in its entirety.”

But the public was not in an uproar about the mandate itself. The administration’s self-inflicted wound involved its refusal to write a large enough exemption.

Marcus, you dimwit — the public was not in an uproar at all. The public overwhelmingly is opposed to allowing Catholic hospitals an exemption from birth control coverage.

And, of course, we’ve got some “Obama caved” snorting coming from the Left (see especially comments). I think this was a fight the President needed to have, however, and I think on the whole he has come out of this in better shape than he went in.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 12, 2012 @1:56 am

    Glad you are back, Barbara.

    The MSN talking heads are talking about contraception, not abortion, and the fringe lunatics that want to prevent, obstruct or prohibit OTHER women from using contraception. It’s not about them – it’s not about an unborn fetus they pretend to be defending. They want to throw up every possible roadblock to an adult woman who wants to decide for herself that at this time in her life, the pleasure of sex won’t be associated with the risk of pregnancy.

    This is crucial if the mask comes off. The abortion argument is not about babies – it’s about controlling the sex lives of sinful women -harlots – who cheat God from dispensing the punishment of an unwanted pregnancy and hopefully the shame and scorn (if they can bring that back) of a cruel and judgmental society.

    The media has chewed on the abortion argument from every angle. Obama has put a new spin on the discussion, because IMO, most of the people who have recently decided that abortion is wrong believe women now have safe medical alternatives to abortion in contraception. It’s come to light this week that the most vocal element of the anti-abortion crowd would also prohibit contraception – and that will cause moderates to reconsider their position on abortion rights.

    The debate is moving in the vicinity of truth – which is more profound than just fact. This is about women having control over their bodies. It’s politically good for Obama, but it’s HUGE for women. Let’s hope the GOP doesn’t realize how big a hole they are shooting in their foot.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 12, 2012 @8:09 am

    maha,
    Glad to see you back.
    I hope you feel better – or, betterer than you do now.

    Oh, the poor, “abused,” Catholic Bishops have their mitre’s in a twist!
    But what do the Imams think?
    And the Rabbi’s?
    Shamans?
    Were any non-Christians asked their opinion?
    SATSQ: NO!

    Yeah, I think Obama played the right like a lyre.
    First, they over-reached with Komen and PP. And then, on the heels of that fiasco, the Bishops, after months of planning how to react, went all Bill Donohue, frothing-and-spitting-mad, on the President’s ass after this policy took effect last month.
    And of course, when they’re not praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Bishops like to prey on children (preferably alter boys) and women – so their reaction was predictable. “What right do the ladies have to control their lady parts? That’s OUR job!!!”
    And then Obama “compromised,” and the Bishops were left standing with their pants around their ankles – a position they usually favor – but not this time.
    And they, and the right, want to continue this argument?

    Dear Conservatives,
    It’s 2012.
    Not 1912.
    You want to battle over contraception?
    Ok – but it’s YOUR funeral…
    BRING IT!!!

    Of course, anyone with a second brain-cell clanging around in their cranium, knows that health care insurer’s will gladly cover the contraception – because the cost of that is minimal, compared to labor. Especially if there are complications. And, since we’re nowhere near the best nation anymore regarding infant/mother mortality, the insurer’s will be handing out ‘The Pill” like tic-tac’s if women ask for them.
    Hell, if I were in marketing for an insurer, I’d come out with PEZ-like pill dispensers that look like Bill Donohue, Cardinals, or Bishops – to remind women to ridicule Bill and the Boy-toying Bishops, every day when they take “The Pill.”

    Obama is either lucky – or good – when dealing with his enemies.
    With the economy and job growth improving, but nowhere near as fast as we’d like (due to Republican intransigence), he should be in a precarious position if the Republicans had some good candidates and positions.
    Instead, the Conservatives have decided to act like Wile E. Coyote, single-mindedly focusing on that pesky little black Road Runner. And the Republicans, like Ol’ Wile E., have proven to be rather less than “Super-Geniuses.”
    Obama, that pesky little Road Runner, stopped at the edge of the cliff.
    I’m waiting for the Conservatives to realize that they’ve run past the edge, and that they’re now standing there, in the open air for a split-second, looking down at the valley below – and realize there’s no going back.
    Only down.
    Turn to camera, Conservatives – wave ‘bye-bye.’
    POOF!

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 12, 2012 @8:27 am

    Dennis G., at Balloon Juice has an interesting take on this issue:
    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/02/11/the-bishops-make-their-move/#more-94250

    The Bishops have gone “all-in” behind Santorum – who, unlike JFK, WILL listen to, and follow, the dictates of the Catholic Church, and the band of dour, angry, reactionary men who wear the miter’s, and want power that’s off-the-meter.

  4. erinyes  •  Feb 12, 2012 @9:11 am

    Sorry to hear you’re ill, Barbara.
    I’ve been taking an immune system booster from Aloha Medicinals that includes cordycepts, shiitake, and argaricus blazei.Seems to be working, everyone around me has been sick; so far, so good for me.They are available online at a discount price. (thirty bucks for 3 month’s supply)

  5. Hunter  •  Feb 12, 2012 @9:37 am

    Good take on Ruth Marcus. I haven’t read anything by her in a while, and now I remember why — but you have to admit, it can’t be easy to write a piece on an issue and avoid all the substance. I mean all of it.

  6. tom B  •  Feb 12, 2012 @9:40 am

    I hope you are fully back to normal soon, Barbara.

    I was amazed about the headlines in the media about a “huge firestorm of controversy” about this issue, when it was already well-known that even amongst practicing Catholics, a majority use non-rhythm contraceptive methods. That said, I agree, gulag nailed it, the dumb*ss coyotes ran off the top of the cliff leaving Obama smiling. It is also astounding (if they truly believe this) that some of rightie commentators don’t seem to grasp that this is an important economic issue for many, many people.

    The President is addressing head-on those cynics who whine “Democrats, Republicans– not much space between them; both sides corrupt”. Dems are not perfect, but there’s a canyon between the parties, and I hope people start looking LONG AND HARD at their individual Representatives as well— many clowns were elected in 2010.

  7. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 12, 2012 @10:28 am

    An article by Charles Pierce has been overlooked. The ‘money shot’ of the blog is a quote from the decision of the majority, penned by none other than the esteemed US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia,

    “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

    ooops.

    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/supreme-court-religious-freedom-6652940

  8. Swami  •  Feb 12, 2012 @11:06 am

    Maybe the pope wasn’t a Nazi, maybe he was just plain Wehrmacht or Volksstrum, but I can’t make the leap from blowing B-29 liberators and Lancaster bombers out of the sky to becoming God on earth. Oh, me of little faith! What must I do to be saved?

  9. Rick Massimo  •  Feb 12, 2012 @11:46 am

    I’m with Oliver Willis on this – the GOP is where the Dems were in 2004. They hate the president so much that they assume the entire country does, and they can just roll anyone out there and win in a landslide. Now, the country SHOULD have hated GWB so much that that should have happened, but they didn’t and it didn’t. And they don’t hate Obama like the GOP thinks they should.

  10. muldoon  •  Feb 12, 2012 @1:22 pm

    Glad you’re on the mend, Barbara. Nasty stuff going around.

    It is my understanding that 28 states have required contraception coverage for some time now, and that Catholic hospitals and schools in those states have operated in compliance with those requirements. (Sorry about the lack of link, I think it was a Kos post.)

    If this is accurate, then my question is: Why are the bishops now making such a stink over something they have willingly gone along with in the past?

    Try as I might, the only thing that kinda sorta makes sense to me is that this is political attempt to move their faithful altar boy–Santorum–into the presidency. By his own admission, he has “not read as much of the Bible as I should”, but instead takes his marching orders from Catholic Church doctrine. In short, he’s a good l’il authoritarian follower.

    Were I a Catholic bishop, I think I’d see some advantage in that.

  11. maha  •  Feb 12, 2012 @1:42 pm

    “the GOP is where the Dems were in 2004. They hate the president so much that they assume the entire country does, and they can just roll anyone out there and win in a landslide.”

    I don’t remember thinking that way in 2004.

  12. Felicity  •  Feb 12, 2012 @1:57 pm

    maha – sounds like you have what I had last December. I’m still getting over it. Good health!

    Doug – that’s the first rational statement I’ve ever read coming from the (wrongly, usually) esteemed Scalia. Obama, as a constitutional lawyer, may have made his original decision on the contraception issue based on constitutional law in practive. He was probably surprised at the back-lash coming from those great defenders of the Constitution, conservatives.

    (I’m beginning to think that Obama lived his life-before-president surrounded by rational, reasonable, thoughtful people and so was, in a sense, unprepared for a job that would require dealing with irrational, unreasonable, non-thinking people. Must have been quite a shock.)

  13. Lynne  •  Feb 12, 2012 @2:20 pm

    “the GOP is where the Dems were in 2004. They hate the president so much that they assume the entire country does, and they can just roll anyone out there and win in a landslide.”

    I have to disagree with you there,

  14. paradoctor  •  Feb 12, 2012 @2:34 pm

    Get well soon, maha.
    I don’t think Obama consciously punked the bishops and the candidates; it’s more like he’s installed auto-punking algorithms in the nation’s political operating system. He just applied principles of good government, with reasonable accommodations for religious sensitivities; then the misogynists and the opportunists punked themselves.

  15. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 12, 2012 @2:47 pm

    There’s a movement, related to a bowel movement IMO, that seeks to innoculate conservatives from the consequences if they declare actions to be a matter of conscience. Thus, as an example, an ER nurse could not be fired for denial of service in a variety of scenarios involving a pregnancy or potential pregnancy. A pharmacist or clerk could not be be fired for refusing to process a prescription they objected to.

    As a mail carrier I KNOW what the consequences would be if I refused to deliver GOP advertising that included lies. Republicans would be the first to complain if carriers deemed they had a moral obligation to pass judgement on the materials they deliver.

    That’s not to invalidate taking a moral stand. But it SHOULD have consequences if it’s important.

  16. Xecky Gilchrist  •  Feb 12, 2012 @7:30 pm

    And, of course, we’ve got some “Obama caved” snorting coming from the Left (see especially comments).

    That has been pretty jawdropping to see, hasn’t it? This incident seems to have shown just who’s willing to concede they were wrong about Obama and who would rather throw a hissy fit.

  17. Tom Maguire  •  Feb 12, 2012 @11:35 pm

    “It is my understanding that 28 states have required contraception coverage for some time now, and that Catholic hospitals and schools in those states have operated in compliance with those requirements. (Sorry about the lack of link, I think it was a Kos post.)

    If this is accurate, then my question is: Why are the bishops now making such a stink over something they have willingly gone along with in the past?”

    From the Times:

    “Some New York Catholic institutions — including the Archdiocese of New York, led by Archbishop Dolan, and the Diocese of Brooklyn — chose to self-insure rather than pay for contraception after New York State adopted a requirement in 2002 that any insurance policy with a prescription drug benefit provide coverage for birth control.”

    Or, on the other coast:

    “…One of the most contentious laws was approved in California in 1999; the measure effectively provided an exemption to churches but not to religiously affiliated hospitals, universities or social service organizations. Catholic Charities of Sacramento unsuccessfully challenged the law in court.”

    “It was pretty much a useless exemption, because the large employers are not churches,” said Carol Hogan, a spokeswoman for the California Catholic Conference. She said many large Catholic institutions in California, like hospitals, have since elected to sidestep the law by insuring themselves. ”

    Try as I might I can’t see how someone could fail to notice that. At the Federal level, the self-insurance escape hatch does not seem to be available9 (although I have also read that the rules may be in flux.)

    As to the notion that Obama always wanted a plan like the one announced Friday (as per the Times report) but deferred to Sebelius because he really wanted to talk about contraception rather than the good jobs report, liked the idea of leaving his Catholic allies out to dry, and was comfortable seeing Democratic Senators desert him – wow, I hope that KoolAid is tasty.

  18. Tom Maguire  •  Feb 13, 2012 @12:00 am

    Back on the self-insurance question – this is a fact sheetfrom the Massachusetts Governor’s office:

    State insurance laws apply only to the “fully insured” market, which is regulated by the state Division of Insurance. If an organization elects to self-fund its employee benefits plan – i.e., pay health claims from its own resources rather than buy health insurance – that organization is not subject to Massachusetts state insurance laws and would not be required to provide any particular outpatient services.

    Some large employers, including municipalities, corporations, hospitals and universities, have their own private agreements with insurers and are considered to be “self-insured.” Pursuant to the federal Employee Retirement Insurance Security Act (ERISA), self-insured plans are regulated only by federal law, and would not be subject to Massachusetts health insurance laws. However, both fully insured and self-insured health plans will have to comply with the federally mandated benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

    And from some NY news outlet:

    The federal rule being debated in Congress would supersede state laws – and would also force self-insured institutions to cover contraception (and to accept other mandates from which they’re currently exempt, such as covering young adults on parents’ plans through age 26). In New York, about 45 percent of people with employer-based health coverage get it from self-insured plans.

    …The Archdiocese of New York, on the other hand, does not offer contraception to the 6,000 employees who work for its main office, school system and charitable wing. It’s allowed to do this not simply because it is a church – it’s actually much more than that – but because it’s “self-insured.”

    Organizations that are self-insured directly pay for employees’ health benefits without outside insurance, so they are not subject to state regulations.

    IANAL, but that certainly could be a clue as to why the state rules were less vexing than the Federal rule.

    Hmm, no ‘preview’ function… well, preview is for cowards.

  19. maha  •  Feb 13, 2012 @12:18 am

    As to the notion that Obama always wanted a plan like the one announced Friday (as per the Times report) but deferred to Sebelius because he really wanted to talk about contraception rather than the good jobs report, liked the idea of leaving his Catholic allies out to dry, and was comfortable seeing Democratic Senators desert him – wow, I hope that KoolAid is tasty.

    OMG, you are right. The President just committed political suicide by standing firm on a policy supported even by a majority of Catholics and not caving in to the demands of a crazy fringe who won’t vote for him, anyway.Whatever will we do?

  20. Swami  •  Feb 16, 2012 @5:22 pm


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