Last week I wrote about the fact that Catholics simultaneously reject the teachings of their hierarchy on sexuality and support the right of religious employers not to pay for contraception. I have been getting some pushback from Obama supporters, pushback that generally demonstrates how clueless they are in continuing to try to portray this as a pro-sex or anti-sex issue, a pro-woman or anti-woman issue, when what it is is a liberty issue. Here’s an e-mail that pithily summarizes their point:
“Catholics, liberal and conservative alike, were galvanized in opposition to the mandate,”
Do you find that if you write things on the Internet they come true?
Yes, the Catholic Jr Anti-Sex League has really damaged Obama! If there is one thing Americans hate it’s sex.
If this e-mailer were correct in his characterization of the issue, the HHS mandate would indeed be a huge plus for Obama, because the American people by and large do love sex, and do reject sexual repression. But we need to go back and look at that New York Times poll from last month, which asked whether religiously affiliated institutions should have to cover the full birth-control costs in their insurance plans. Of all respondents, 57 percent said no, 36 percent yes; and of women, 53 percent said no, 38 percent said yes.
If the Obama supporters confront these New York Times findings seriously, they will have to acknowledge that their spin of the opposition to the mandate as a reflection of anti-sex and anti-woman sentiment is failing — unless they wish to suggest that 57 percent of Americans are against sexual freedom (which, I agree with the e-mailer, is a ridiculous notion), and that 53 percent of women are anti-woman (which, if per impossibile true, would be an achievement of false consciousness that even Marx himself would have staggered at).
More fundamentally, we need to reject even the notion that it is counterintuitive that a nation that embraces sexual autonomy (as is clear from, among many other things, the pro-gay-marriage poll numbers I cited last week regarding Catholics) would be opposed to the contraception mandate. Indeed, I think the two arise from the very same source. In our culture, Joe and Jane Average get to do what they like sexually, as consenting adults who don’t harm others. Part of that “freedom deal” is that nobody else is coerced to endorse or participate in such activities. It has long been settled that forcing a religious employer to pay for contraception is a violation of that employer’s freedom — because the same sexual autonomy that Joe and Jane Average enjoy is also enjoyed by people, such as Catholic bishops and hospital administrators, who disapprove of various sexual practices.
If the New York Times poll is right, Joe and Jane Average understand this — and the Obama administration doesn’t.
Perhaps what is confusing the Obamaites is that there are people out there who claim to oppose “personal autonomy” in sexual matters — most notoriously, Rick Santorum (though I’m pretty sure that even Santorum himself, were he placed in a position of authority, would not try to legislate that view in anything like the draconian way the unfortunate words he used suggest; anyway, we’ll never find out). And, sure, there’s no shortage of op-eds arguing that the “sexual revolution” was a bad thing (an interesting question on which reasonable people can have broadly differing views). The Obama campaign would dearly love to tar opposition to the HHS mandate with the brush of sexual repressiveness. But when a solid majority of women think the religious exemption is OK, and when even people who think gay marriage is OK support the religious exemption, I think this Obama tactic will fail.
Which means, politically, that they’ll be stuck — once the “war on women” stuff runs out of gas — right back where they were: trying to defend the economic record of the last three years. As I said, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.