For years people have talked about “pack journalism,” but increasingly our politics is “pack politics.” Someone seizes on an attack point, and then it’s all over the ideological cable shows, talk show hosts pick it up and run with it as an attack point. And then — before the people using the attack point know it — it seemingly has a life of its own. Perceptions are formed — and solidified. Is that’s what happening now with the Republican Party’s raising of the issue of contraception? NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, Brooke Brower, and Carrie Dann think some political history could be starting to repeat itself:
*** Shades of Schiavo? When the Terri Schiavo controversy first turned into a full-blown national story — in March 2005 — no one was sure of its political implications. Even some Democrats feared it was a loser for them. But after congressional Republicans and the Bush White House acted to keep the Schiavo alive, despite being in a vegetative state and despite her husband’s wishes that her feeding tube be removed, their move backfired. The American public thought they went too far, and it marked the beginning of the end of GOP control over Congress and the White House. Flash forward almost seven years later, and is history repeating itself? Just like with the Schiavo case, we’re unclear how the debate over contraception, women’s health, and religious liberty will play out. But after the Obama White House initially bungled its contraception rollout and especially after it released its accommodation compromise, there are warning signs this week that the GOP has taken that issue — and other social ones — too far.
I believe they’re on the dime. To many Americans, the debate over birth control may not have been definitively settled but it was a “given” that many women used it. Just as some GOPers revived the debate about evolution, now this issue is coming up. And even if this is coming across in a way that isn’t entirely what some Republicans mean, perception means a great deal in politics. Yesterday was a terrible day for women’s perceptions of the GOP, although some have tried to rectify it. Republicans are starting to ponder and discuss what Plan B for election 2012 will be if the economy continues to improve. One pollster notes that there are signs that the Republican brand has been seriously damaged.
It’s not just the issue that could hurt the Republicans. It’s the attitude: a joke about women and birth control that probably dates back to burlesque (delivered during an era when old mothers-in-law jokes raise eyebrows and ethnic jokes truly do offend many) and the smelly seeming abuse of political power (a chairman of a Congressional committee holding hears on the Obama administration’s contraception policy not allowing a single woman to speak — and hurriedly adding the names of some women for the next day, but only those who already agree with him).
The GOP will need moderates, independents and women to win. Social issues could help get out the GOP base vote. But Republicans can find that the are also going to cause a lot of women and other groups to move heaven and earth, contribute and get out to work to defeat the Republicans and Republican presidential candidate — even if they are disappointed in Barack Obama.
It has been accepted that an election means the Supreme Court is in the balance.
But now…aspects of contraception??
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.