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Mar 17 2012

What’s in this birth control debacle for Republicans?

A week or two ago I got an email from a conservative leaning lady friend who has argued politics with me for years. It had three words in it: You Were Right.

I’d like to think my finger is on the political pulse of the nation, or at least near a major artery some of the time. But I cannot for the life of me figure out the calculus driving the recent Republican obsession with birth control, and neither can any of my otherwise well-informed peers. Any ideas? I’ll post any halfway coherent idea below the fold.

1. The most common retort is little more than insults couched as an explanation: conservatives are just stupid, or they hate women. Can we dispense with that? Professional political advisors are anything but stupid when it comes to winning elections, it’s their job, and of course they’re aware women voters make up a big chunk of any given electorate and that they’re losing more of those voters every day this shit goes on. 

2. Like the scorpion riding the frog, they can’t help themselves, it’s just their ugly nature. That could help explain how it started, but the GOP has bailed plenty of times on similar issues when it became clear they were political losers. Remember how fast they backed off on Terry Schiavo when it went down the drain?

3. They’re so misinformed and sequestered inside the conservative media bubble that they believe they’re winning on this. But it’s clear from Boehner and McConnell’s actions, and various op-eds and comments (Or avoiding making any comment) they’re at least partially aware of how bad its playing out.

4. The conservative apparatus is coming apart at the seams: the interests of national lawmakers, local state houses, and the grifters who exploit the socially conservative base have all sharply diverged. Maybe, but that smacks of wishful thinking. Who wouldn’t love to see the whole stinking thing unravel like that?

5. Some conservative observers are floating the crazy ass idea that democrats laid an eleventy-billion dimensional chess trap. Obviously that’s nonsense, but it does reinforce that they’re aware of the mess they’re in, which cycles back to the initial question, why the hell are they doing it?

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  1. 1
    Reginald Selkirk

    Hanlon’s razor

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

  2. 2
    ogremk5

    I’m going to bet that the GOP as a whole thinks that the Tea Party is much more prolific than anyone thinks and is really catering to them.

    I think that’s a misconception because of all the votes going to Santorum. Of course, that’s because there are very few conservatives (especially in the south) that consider Mormons to be actual Christians.

  3. 3
    bobwoodruff

    Since the advent of the “Southern Strategy” Republican politics have been built around demonizing particular demographics. They’re simply running out of groups to vilify.

  4. 4
    Andrew G.

    Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

  5. 5
    neonsequitur

    My current theory (subject to revision by the moment, thanks to our 24 hour news cycle) is that it’s all a deliberate distraction. They know discussing the economy would be a disaster. They know that the “Obama can’t fight terror” strategy will flop. They’ve got nothing…

    …except they *still* know how to control the national conversation, and the birth-control furor proves it. It’s a non-issue guaranteed to create an uproar, and every minute spent covering an anti-birth-control, anti-abortion, or anti-woman bill in a state senate, or the latest misogynistic brain-fart from some Jurassic right-wing pundit, is another minute they *don’t* have to talk about real issues on which they’d get pulverized, and they know it.

    For the moment, it’s working. They’ve renewed a debate which should have been settled (hell, it WAS settled!) decades ago, and it’s almost completely dominating the news cycle at a time when we all should be talking about more important things.

    I think this is why so many of the anti-woman bills are so completely unconstitutional: the more outrageous they are, the more coverage they get, which sucks up time which could be spent covering issues the GOP doesn’t want to talk about. So what if the few bills that pass will inevitably face a court challenge and be struck down? Bonus! That means more wasted time covering the story instead of talking about how Obama’s policies are, you know, working. Anything but that!

  6. 6
    New England Bob

    It is just the usual business of Republicans who try to tell everyone else what to do and how to live their lives while being hypocritical in how they mis-conduct themselves.

  7. 7
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    I wa skicking it around with some friends, and we were thinking that these days, there’s a lot of competition for wingnut foundation dollars. One way people try to get noticed by the powers that be is to be the most vicious and outrageous, which drives the base to think more viciously. After awhile the cycle starts to feed back on itself, the establishment loses control.

  8. 8
    ambassadorfromverdammt

    The most wingnut candidates are garnering the most financial support. Money talks, but sometimes it hasn’t anything constructive to say.

    Perhaps there should be a corollary to Hanlon’s Law: Never attribute to incompetence that which can be explained by billionaire sponsorship.

  9. 9
    Didaktylos

    Money, I think is part of it: they’re not out to get elected, just to make a personal profit from their campaigns.

  10. 10
    deanbuchanan

    Republicans know that the current polling reflects that the majority of U.S. voters don’t like the Affordable Care Act. This was a preplanned strategy (along with the bishops and the religious freedom argument) to bring that dislike and misunderstanding to the fore during the election year. These bills are occurring in many state legislatures as well as at the national level, it is co-ordinated. Republicans had a good strategy to reframe the election along both economic and ‘Obamacare’ simultaneously which would then feed the narrative of Obama trying to control our lives in a ‘socialistic’ way.

    What they did not count on was the reaction to this strategy. They are trapped, for the moment, in not being able to stop all of these pre-planned legislative attacks without looking to their base like cowards. Look to them to pivot away as fast as possible to the ‘gas price’ issue and any other cudgel with which to attack Democrats and Obama.

  11. 11
    deanbuchanan

    To clarify a little:
    Most USians don’t know what is in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and react negatively to the concept as a whole but support it’s individual parts.

    The Republican legislative strategies are also aimed at passing bills that make the legal questions raised by the ACA more difficult to resolve and through dust up around this implementation of parts of it.

    Rally the base to keep em’ in line and and angry at Obama
    Confuse the legal issues around the bill
    Describe Obama as a socialist and an ‘other’

    I can totally see why this strategy was implemented. It’s just not working because the message is overcooked and pissing off so many independent and moderate women (and those men who love them).
    The Issa panel, and then Sandra Fluke has kicked their asses…for now.

  12. 12
    ScottM

    I’ve had the idea floated past me that it’s a distraction…an easy issue to get people riled up about and avoid the heavier stuff.

    But no one seems to agree on what the distraction is supposed to drag attention from.

  13. 13
    'Tis Himself

    The biggest worry the GOP political handlers have is that the religious right will stay at home on election day. McCain had to pick Palin as his running mate four years ago because folks like James Dobson and Pat Robertson were quite lukewarm towards McCain and he needed someone who would appeal to them.

    This time around, the Republicans in general and the candidates in particular are trying to out-fundamentalize each other. “You’re against abortion? I can beat that, I’m against contraception.” Especially since a few candidates, Santorum in particular, actually are anti-contraception, the rest of them feel they have to fall in line.

  14. 14
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    Some conservative observers are floating the crazy ass idea that democrats laid an eleventy-billion dimensional chess trap

    Mwahahah… MwahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHhahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHahahahahahah!

    Dance, my puppets! Dance on my strings! MWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!

  15. 15
    jnorris

    Didaktylos in #9 is partly correct. I think that after decades of campaigning and fund-raising to over turn Roe v Wade, the Religious Reich has indoctrinated itself into actually believing it can overturn RvW.I also think they know they only have this one shot at their agenda. The 2012 elections will shift state houses and Congress to the centralist Democrats. After that the Republican Tea Party will start fund-raise on ending abortion all over again and we will see the results in another forty years.

  16. 16
    peterh

    @#4: I just stole that.

  17. 17
    Physicalist

    A theory: They figure that electing Romney doesn’t really count as a win, so they’re going to lose, so they might as well shift the Overton window.

  18. 18
    wardwest

    Here’s my theory. I don’t think that the big players are even remotely interested in birth control, I think they’re interested in moving goalposts. The contraceptives debate pushes the conversation so far to the right, that suddenly the old-guard right wing agenda seems liberal by comparison. They know that they’ll lose on birth control, but the fact that the fight even exists means that the left will give away concessions and compromises that solidify the conservative hold on the national ideology. The Democrats seem to be a party of reconciliation — no matter what — and the conservatives are jumping at the opportunity to see just how far they can push it.

    In the meantime, while we’re fighting for the most basic of human rights on a very emotional and charged issue (once Rush opens his fat mouth, that is), the big players continue to hatch plans that sell us out to the highest-bidding hedge funds and multinationals, which just doesn’t grab the “slut-shaming” headlines.

  19. 19
    Physicalist

    So with wardwest, that makes two votes for the Overton window hypothesis. So then how do we counter it? Start pushing for the forced sterilization of anyone making over $200K?

  20. 20
    Donovan

    I agree with neonsequitur,

    This election is not about choosing a president. This election is about power in both the elected branches. The people funding these campaigns care nothing of abortion or Jim Crow or evolution in schools. They care about keeping the public eye off of the checks leaving the treasury and going into their pockets.

    We’re all yelling at each other over who called who what. While we’re in the front yard fighting with our neighbors over Sandra Fluke and the Dover School District and same sex marriage, the 1% is sneaking in both of our back doors and robbing us blind.

    As an example, who knew that while all this Republican Party meets Jerry Springer BS has been going on, Obama’s been supporting a global SOPA-like treaty, ACTA? Placating the American people to rob us is dumb. Making us fight each other like rabid dogs is working great.

  21. 21
    bad Jim

    The debt ceiling debacle made it clear that the political professionals are no longer in control. People like Boehner and McConnell know that what their fellow Republicans are doing is suicidal, but they’re unable to stop them.

    States all across the nation are competing with each other to make access to abortion as difficult and humiliating as possible. Arizona is contemplating a law to let employers know whether their employees are using birth control. It’s difficult to read anything but (presumably religiously inspired) misogyny into these initiatives.

  22. 22
    wardwest

    Physicalist – I have no idea if it’s even possible to move the window leftward through our current political system. Hard-left progressives don’t have the clout… I’m much more worried that the elected Left is in on the game, fighting on this issue so that we thank them while they hand billionaires another tax break, legalize governmental assassination, and find new and creative ways to extend the powers of the Patriot Act.

    “what could we do? You saw how crazy the conservatives are, they wanted to ban birth control for chrissake, and we barely stopped them! There was no way we could prevent this!”

    In this fight, the only people who really lose are We the People. Elected Liberals get to look tough on social issues, elected Conservatives get to feed red meat to their base, and at the end of the day, all the politicians get to funnel cash to their donors and help ensure their lobbying futures, and blame the other party for it.

  23. 23
    Ace of Sevens

    I was going to say basically what 21 did: This move isn’t being driven by the professional political calculators with tons of consultants. They can’t quite ditch the bad elements without breaking the party, but they don’t want to go along, so they try to soft-peddle it. I don’t think Gingrich wants the Republicans to win and everyone else involved is not part of the Republican elite.

  24. 24
    Emu Sam

    I don’t think Gingrich wants the Republicans to win and everyone else involved is not part of the Republican elite.

    Is that what he’s doing? Sort of, “If I can’t be president, then none of you can either”?

  25. 25
    johnbrown

    I would make three points. First,the relative demographic decline of whites is a driving force behind the wingnut’s rage. Second, the US white population’s fertility rate is below replacement. Thus the idea of making babies appeals to the right wing as a means of slowing the demographic decline. I believe Pat Robertson, during his presidential run, also suggested that the birth rate should be higher.

    I also think that perhaps Republican establishment types were so intimidated by the Tea Party’s hijinks in 2010, that they don’t feel able to control the base any more. I had drinks last night with a Demo friend who has years of insider experience in Washington. He says the establishment types he knows (Reagan/Bush I era sub-cabinet and staff types) are completely sitting this election out.

  26. 26
    Christoph Burschka

    Some conservative observers are floating the crazy ass idea that democrats laid an eleventy-billion dimensional chess trap.

    But how does that even… *David Silverman WTF*

    Did we manipulate republicans into being raging misogynists? Did we somehow goad them into fundamentalism?

    I won’t deny the likelihood that the present insanity of the Christian right is a consequence of the 2006-2008 takeover of the mainstream by moderates. But it’s not the moderates’ fault that the conservatives are crazy. At most, they can be credited with tricking the conservatives into openly displaying their craziness, which would be worthy of congratulations.

  27. 27
    'Tis Himself

    johnbrown #24

    I had drinks last night with a Demo friend who has years of insider experience in Washington. He says the establishment types he knows (Reagan/Bush I era sub-cabinet and staff types) are completely sitting this election out.

    This is what my contacts in Washington are saying. The Republican political party controllers are losing control of their party. When folks like the Koch brothers are pouring millions into the Teabaggers’ coffers, the Teabaggers can sneer at the party establishment because they don’t need to beg money from them.

  28. 28
    Nick Gotts

    ‘Tis Himself@25,

    So we can see this as an outcome of the Supremes’ “Corporations are people too” ruling. It would be amusing if that ruling’s second big victim (after Democracy, of course) were to be the Republican Party.

    They know discussing the economy would be a disaster. – neonsequitur

    They do? Certainly it’s looking a bit healthier than a year ago, but according to a statistical model of Presidential contests since 1952, Obama would be expected to lose, based on the almost complete lack of real per capita income growth during his term. If Obama wins, it will be in large part down to the Republicans.

  29. 29
    unbound

    I think the Republicans think that the Tea Party is their answer (heck, it worked in the 2010 mid-term elections) to getting votes for Congress. I think they know full well that none of the presidential candidates are winners, but the extremist language around things like birth control will force moderately extreme rethuglican and some independent voters to make their choice…which they are betting will be more for the ambiguous good moral side that they are on vs the the ambiguously immoral side.

    And, you know what, living in Virginia seeing what my whack-job state is starting to do, I can’t seriously say that the Republican leadership is wrong on this issue. The simplier, naive message (abortions are bad) do not represent the reality of the world, but it is a much easier message to sell…just like lower taxes. There will be plenty of people that will follow this message.

    …which makes me want to find a new planet to live on…

  30. 30
    jennifermiley

    I think that the entire social agenda of the republican party is designed to drive voter turnout in support of candidates who will craft laws that benefit a very small minority of the population economically. Republicans have traditionally relied on several tactics to get voters to vote against their own best interests:

    1. Tap into fear to drive the panicked herd away from opponents without giving the time to evaluate alternatives. This works best by setting up false dichotomies – Biblical literalism or amoral society

    2. Use linear, oversimplifications to appeal to those with limited, damaged or overtaxed mental capacity. Conservatives LOVE The Little Red Hen.

    3. Link unrelated concepts through repetition- Jesus and Freedom, Christianity & Capitalism

    4. Tap into unrealistic fantasies regarding social class. You may not have the wealth of the 1%, but if you use their cologne, er political party, someday you might.

    Birth control is a natural extension of all four points with two of the conservative’s main constituencies: people over 50 and not-so-bright, angry white men.

    For the elderly, the fantasy is that their children will give them grandchildren. Talk of the selfishness of young women in delaying motherhood plays especially well to this group. If they can layer a bit o’ the fear of god behind the push, there is no need to acknowledge that they are being wankers to their own children. “If it were up to me dearie, I would say go out and be yourself, but it’s Gawd’s will that you stop being happy and go make me tons of grand-babies with that dimwitted redneck from down the street.”

    For the dimwitted red neck down the street, the appeal is what it has always been. Not only will he now probably be able to land a mate, she’ll have no escape once the babies start coming.

  31. 31
    llewelly

    Professional political advisors are anything but stupid when it comes to winning elections, it’s their job, and of course they’re aware women voters make up a big chunk of any given electorate and that they’re losing more of those voters every day this shit goes on.

    Your belief that intellect or professionalism magically rules out misogyny is charming but naive.

  32. 32
    Pierce R. Butler

    31 responses and no one’s used the C-word?

    I hypothesize that top Repubs have come to place way too much faith in the promises of their Roman Catholic bishop buddies about the size and solidity of “their” voting bloc.

    Also, more than a few “right-to-life” organizations still wave poor Terry Schiavo’s bloody shirt as opportunity allows.

  33. 33
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem
    I don’t think Gingrich wants the Republicans to win and everyone else involved is not part of the Republican elite.

    Is that what he’s doing? Sort of, “If I can’t be president, then none of you can either”?

    Not exactly, I don’t think. I think it’s like this: His unsuccessful run for the white house in 2016 will be considerably more lucrative if we’re coming off a disastrous 2nd Obama term than a disastrous 1st Romney/Santorum term. Not to mention all the money he’ll raise in the meantime, that he won’t be able to raise with a sitting Republican president.

  34. 34
    Ace of Sevens

    @33. That’s where I was going with it. His money comes from grievance, so a Democratic president would be more profitable than a Republican one.

  1. 35
    Ask Iris: How can any woman possibly support the Republicans? |

    [...] am mystified that supposed allies of women are themselves mystified at where all the attacks on women’s reproductive rights are coming from.  There is no [...]

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