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Disease Progress

by James Lileks

A previously respected blogger who now specializes in turning mush into froth warned of a “misogynist” plot by the GOP, bent on returning women to the “Dark Ages.” Chastity belts? Forced marriages with inbred chinless princes? Tossing women into bonfires to see if they’re flame-proof witches? No, you suspect, this has to do with contraception, which has become the dominant political issue of the 2012 election. No one wants to ban it. No one’s talking about banning it. But if a presidential candidate says, “You know, I don’t see the point in Juicy Fruit–flavored birth-control pills. Even if you chew them, the flavor’s gone after a few seconds,” it’s interpreted as an assault on CHOICE.

The issue that got the blogger steaming over the pickle-pussed Puritans bent on whipping women back to the kitchen? Conservatives mused that any employer — not just religious institutions — should have the right not to offer birth-control coverage. How things change: It’s not whether people should have the Pill, it’s whether they should suffer the hardship of buying it with their own money. Well, religious objections aside, some employers may just want to invoke the Eliot Spitzer principle: You want sex? Fine. Just pay for it like everyone else.

This is a recent twist. Let’s imagine a dockworker in 1948. He’s got a hot date with a fast chippy, but y’know, like they told him in the Army, the last thing a fella needs is a dose of the drip. So he goes to his boss, who’s in the office talking on the phone. “Give me a dollar out of petty cash,” the worker says. “I need to buy some French letters.”

The employer might have regarded the employee with confusion: I must have misunderstood. For what purpose do you require the loan?

“I need some rubbers. And it’s not a loan.”

This would have been unthinkable. But we’ve moved forward. We’ve grown! Now it’s assumed that your employer will defer the cost of zygote determent, because fertility is a preexisting condition. What’s more, free birth control protects women from the adverse impact of a strange, mysterious situation that affects millions every year: sudden-sex syndrome. We don’t fully understand how it works, or what the causes might be, but apparently there’s nothing you can do about it. All of a sudden you’re just having sex! There’s not a moment to exercise free will or consider the consequences; it’s just like being struck by lightning, and lightning doesn’t call you afterwards for days, either.

Hence the panic over letting employers decline to provide tools to cope with sudden-sex syndrome. They have to! Mommy, make the mean man give me my pills. All the people who wanted government out of their bedroom insist not only that it take a seat in the corner, but that it bring in business and compel it to leave its wallet on the nightstand.

The expansion of assumptions should be no surprise. A government program that starts out subsidizing a small group of distressed legume farmers inevitably ends with a 400 million–square–foot subterranean Strategic Peanut Reserve. If a bill is defended by a liberal senator who says, “If this leads to quotas, I’ll eat my hat,” then quotas are inevitable. For heaven’s sake, look at NASA! They started out doing low orbits and ended up on the moon!

Okay, bad example. But the news is full of bad examples. Tony Bennett responded to the recent death of Whitney Houston by noting the chemically assisted expiration of Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson and pleading with his audience to support the legalization of drugs. That way, he said, they could get them from a doctor. Mr. Bennett might have been unaware that the stars already get their drugs from doctors; when you’re ultra-rich you can get morphine mixed with nitrous oxide and served up in a Dior inhaler mask. With the right doctor you can get a script for horse tranquilizer if you claim you’re having nightmares about Seabiscuit.

But let’s assume he’s correct, and drugs should be made legal. The distribution centers for self-administered oblivion will be set up in poorer neighborhoods, of course; you want to see the residents of tony zip codes pitch a NIMBY fit, wait until Bob’s Meth Shack wants to open up in that storefront that used to have the artisanal-cupcake bakery. More people will use drugs, more people will claim disability, and after ten years we’ll go from paying for treatment to requiring employers to provide free lines of coke in the break room.

You’ll still have to go outside if you want a smoke, though.

No, drugs and birth control aren’t the same. But once we reinterpret the basic relationship between employer and employee to mean that the boss should provide everything the government hasn’t gotten around to giving you yet, anything’s possible. It is difficult to win an election opposing this set-up, since at least 40 percent of the population believes that the proper role of government is extracting money from trillionaires and giving it to the People in the form of pills and checks. This leads to another condition, referred to as GGP, or gradual Grecian paralysis. Unlike SSS we know exactly how it comes about, and the progressives know well how to treat it: with indifference.

These issues start with sensible sentiments — be decent to gay people, permit contraception as a private matter — and after a while we end up with a married lesbian who can get an abortion against her partner’s wishes and force someone else to pay for it against his will.

Not a perfect world, the progressive says, but we’re getting close.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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