I bet Rick Santorum is a very happy man right now.
Not only is he being treated like a rock star at this week’s CPAC conference, the big conservative political action committee get together, but President Barack Obama’s inept handling of the contraceptive rule for the Affordable Care Act just handed Santorum a big platform on which to really distinguish himself, not just from the incumbent, but from the GOP frontrunner, Mitt Romney, whose record on contraceptive mandates more closely mirrors the president’s.
In fact, Romneycare’s mandates on contraceptives were exactly like Obamacare’s before this new compromise -- no matter that Romney is now decrying the Obama rules as “an attack on religious freedom.”
But never mind Romney. Santorum’s the conservative king on contraceptives. Long before this mess, he was out front on its perils.
“[Sex] is supposed to be within marriage. It's supposed to be for purposes that are yes, conjugal… but also procreative. That's the perfect way that a sexual union should happen,” he said before the Iowa caucuses. Then he added that contraception is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
So imagine Santorum’s glee, his utter glee -- just days after unexpectedly stomping Romney in three state contests -- to see his pet cause come to the fore.
The whole Susan G. Komen debacle -- first denying funding to Planned Parenthood, then rescinding that decision -- had already set it up. You see, whenever conservatives talk about Planned Parenthood, it doesn’t matter if it’s abortion or mammograms that’s on deck, the bottom line is always contraception -- the idea being that any attempt to control fertility is wrong.
But here’s the rub: 99 percent of women -- all women -- in the U.S. have, at some time in their lives, used contraceptives. About 30 percent use contraceptive pills, about 16 percent use condoms with their partners (both, by the way, banned by the Catholic Church for its adherents).
That means a majority of Catholic women are using contraception, Church teachings be damned. (And a majority of Catholics support the President’s contraception mandate, by more than 60 percent.)
So it’s a real screw up for Obama -- who absolutely needs women to win re-election -- to let this issue become such a hot potato, especially during the CPAC conference, just as conservatives are feeling the sting from the Komen mess, and allowing anti-contraceptive warrior Santorum to look like a hero instead of the whack job he really is on this issue.
(A long story in Politico details the role of Bill Daley, in forcing a meeting with Obama and Catholic Church leaders -- a meeting in which no women were present -- to try and box in the president.)
Obama’s compromise is mostly fine in all but its political execution. It exempts churches and other religious institutions, including parochial schools, from offering contraceptives through their employee insurance plans.
But it does not exempt religiously affiliated hospitals and universities. And that is correct because, for all intents and purposes, they do not function as religious institutions but as secular ones. Still, under the new rules, while contraceptives will be made available at no cost to any woman who wants it, the cost will fall not on the university or hospital but on the insurer.
This is red meat for Santorum, who got an extra bonus issue this week with the 9th Circuit Court’s decision on Prop 8, now headed straight for the Supreme Court. Washington state will legalize same sex marriage next Monday, so Santorum will have tons to work with for the next few days.
It almost makes you feel sorry for Mitt Romney.