“No one is making birth control a topic,” Rick Santorum’s long-time media consultant and friend John Brabender told me. “It’s not an agenda that anyone’s running on. But it’s a distortion that works to [the other side’s] benefit to imply we’re for limiting access to birth control.’’
The narrative that it’s conservatives who won’t stop talking about pills, gels and contraceptive foam is probably set in stone at this point; a story in today’s Washington Post reports that contraception has “suddenly become an obsession of the 2012 presidential campaign. To many observers, it seems that the clock has indeed been turned back.”
The first two such observers quoted in the piece are leaders of the contraception lobby, whose job is to monetize real and perceived attacks, exactly as their counterparts on the right do: “As Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, said incredulously on Saturday during a rally in Austin: “Somehow in this country, in 2012, this election might turn on whether women should have access to birth control.’ ”
Incredulously, or hopefully? It’s Democrats like Richards who keep saying this is what the election will turn on. Which is smart, if you are Cecile Richards, because for any campaign or cause these days, outrage is oxygen. (See Komen vs. Planned Parenthood.) And if the election does turn on contraception, her team wins.
When I looked back at a tape of what Republicans have been saying on the topic, what’s striking is how reluctant they are to go there.
Yes, even including Santorum’s 71-year-old bankroller, Foster Friess, whose assets may until now have buffered him from the news that his jokes need work.
But when he recycled a fragment of an (at least) 50-year-old funny about an aspirin held between the knees being all the birth control a nice girl needs, it was in response to Andrea Mitchell’s question about whether he was concerned that Santorum’s views on birth control and women in combat roles could hurt his viability as a candidate.
His first response was to deflect the question: “I get such a chuckle when these things come out. Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed, we have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex!”
The aspirin inanity that followed has been successfully cast as his candidate’s “agenda,” mainly through the efforts of Democratic fundraisers: “We’ve already accumulated 65,000 signatures on our petition opposing their Aspirin Agenda,” Sen. Patty Murray said in a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraising letter Friday. “But I’m too mad to stop at ‘opposing.’ It’s time we punished the people responsible by taking away their jobs. The DSCC is ready to send the GOP agenda back to the 1950s where it belongs — and send these Republicans packing. Will you click here and give $5 or $10 to help us raise $100,000 by the end of today to fire anti-choice Republicans?’’