For the past couple weeks, people who get paid a lot of money to talk about stuff and the people who listen to them have been carrying on about HHS Secretary Sebelius' decision to include contraception within the coverage provided under ACA rules. The Roman Catholic Church, in the persons of the Council of Catholic Bishops, objected, as artificial contraception is considered a mortal sin, thanks to Paul VI and his disastrous encyclical Humanae Vitae. I say disastrous because, hot on the heels of the Second Vatican Council, just as the Church of Rome chipped away centuries of paint and lacquer and threw open the windows, the Curia and the person sitting in the chair of St. Peter decided to enter a debate that, by and large, had been decided by people without the strict guidance of any religious body. I say disastrous because it created a situation, at least across much of the industrialized west, and in particular in the United States, where Roman Catholics discovered it was OK to disobey a moral teaching of the Church and still feel like a faithful member of God's Holy Church. The ensuing years and decades have done little to restore the undermined moral authority of the teaching office of the Church, with the nearly decade-long serial revelations of predatory pederasty by the priesthood with a certain complicity after-the-fact by the hierarchy in covering it up tossing dirt in the grave of the church's moral authority.
OK, so that's the situation with regard to what Charlie Pierce calls "the clan of of the red beanie". Sebellius' decision is simple enough to understand. Under ACA rules, employers who provide health insurance as a benefit are to include coverage for the contraceptive pill as part of the package. No one, as far as I know, is requiring any woman to take the pill. All they're doing is saying, "If you need it, here it is." The Bishops cried and stamped their feet, and, at first, I was on their side.
Then, it dawned on me. The benefit is just that. It's part of a compensation package. No woman employed, say, by Catholic charities or a Catholic hospital is going to be forced to buy the pill if they don't want to. The Bishops don't see it that way, and want an exemption for Catholic institutions (I keep waiting to hear from Baptist, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Adventist organizations on this matter; the Mother Church, it seems, has hogged the limelight).
Let's say they get it, and a woman (who, for the purposes of this supposition, is not Roman Catholic) in the employ of a Catholic hospital goes on the pill. Without the benefit, she is forced to pay out-of-pocket for the pill. That money comes from her salary and benefits package from her employer. Are the Bishops going to insist that, as a condition of her employment, she is not to use any of the money she makes to purchase the pill or, say, a diaphragm or IUD?
Do you understand, now, why I find the Bishops complaint, by and large, bogus?
The ensuing shouting match has been interesting, and at times entertaining. Coming down squarely on the side of the Roman bishops, the Republicans decided to hold a hearing, calling a group of witnesses on the pill that didn't include a single woman. This, by the rules we all know govern these things, started a whole bunch of harrumphing and, in the end, yet another hearing was called that included some women. 'Round about all the huffing and puffing about the pill, the talk descended from the quite obvious reality that contraception is health care to whether or not covering the pill was subsidizing immoral lifestyles. Some of the pills "defenders" decided it was best to play, "the pill is good for more than just contraception!" card, which is ridiculous. I mean, sure, the pill is good for more than just contraception, but that misses the point that contraception is health care. Pregnancy is a health care issue in the same way its a personal issue and a social issue. In many ways, the decision whether or not to get pregnant is, first and foremost, a question of the health of the woman. One would have thought that a matter that centers on the health of women might have been listening for women's voices on this matter, but from the beginning, the shouting heads have all been men, by and large.
One of the witnesses called to the second set of Senate hearings was a young woman, a law student from Georgetown University. At the hearings, she spoke clearly and eloquently in defense of the need for contraception as health care, and the need for health care coverage to include it as much as prophylactic antibiotic care and high blood pressure medication because of the impact contraception has on the lives adult women lead. For her troubles, Rush Limbaugh called her a slut. He also said that women who want their contraception paid for should restrict themselves to making porn films.
It didn't take long for the outrage to begin. From sitting around and claiming "shock" and "surprise" that Limbaugh would ever say such a thing, folks around the internet started sending email alerts and circling petitions, trying to force advertisers to drop Limbaugh's radio program. As of this morning, six have done so.
On the one hand, I think this is commendable. Rather than sit around and whine about Limbaugh, folks are taking the only action that can finally rid the AM airwaves of this pustule. I don't know if it will be effective; the same kind of campaign managed to get some big-name money-baggers to drop Glenn Beck, but his TV show was canceled only when ratings dropped enough that disposing of him became safe. Limbaugh is a much bigger fish, and there may well be enough advertisers willing to take a few weeks of chain emails and bad things said about them by liberals on the internet to jump in and replace those who backed away.
See, here's the thing. I don't really care whether or not Limbaugh stays on the air or not. While certainly reprehensible and offensive, I've been scratching my head for the past couple days trying to figure out how this particular incident crosses some line that Limbaugh has never crossed before. Calling then-candidate Obama "Halfrican" wasn't crossing a line? Making fun of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's Disease not once, but several times, on air wasn't crossing a line? Calling a local Detroit television reporter an "info babe" isn't crossing a line? Holding up a picture of teenaged Chelsea Clinton and referring to her as a dog isn't crossing a line? Do you see where I'm going with this?
Whatever "line" Limbaugh allegedly crossed when he called this young woman a slut has never existed. All the outrage and shock I keep hearing from liberal folks on the internet is about as real as the people who were shocked when then VP Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy to "go fuck yourself". Oh, the horror! Nasty words! Crossed lines!
The problem isn't Limbaugh. He's a mouth with legs, getting paid to say stuff. All this attention is part of his business model. Years, decades even, of frustration with Limbaugh's verbal antics are spilling over here, and while I applaud the effort to do something about ridding our airwaves of this running sore, I'm not going to support it. Not one single signature.
Like I said, he's not the problem. The problem is Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney and the members of the United States House and the United States Senate and the various state legislatures that are proposing various bills regarding women's health care and abortion that are invasive, that taken as a whole reveal a segment of the Republican Party that does not believe women are competent to make their own health care choices, whether its contraception or abortion. Serious, earnest liberals can't do anything about the hydra sprouting heads around the country, bills in hand mandating object rape based on the notion that a pregnant woman doesn't understand she's carrying a baby. They can't stop Rick Santorum from speaking, or Mitt Romney from insisting he would remove the contraception mandate if he's elected President. The hard work of dealing with various proposed pieces of legislation is long and tortured and, by and large, not a national matter, but one for residents of the states in question to handle. Presidential candidates can and will say pretty much anything.
Limbaugh, though, is easy pickings, at least in theory. Festering on the butt of American for over two decades now, his daily AM talk show has survived changes in Presidents and attacks by domestic and international terrorists and even the rise and fall of boy bands. Targeting his advertisers is good politics; most corporations are gun shy about "controversy", which basically means a burst of bad press. Backing off in the midst of "controversy" is good business, even if a bit cowardly, in particular in Limbaugh's case, because his show is a daily exercise in controversy.
The real villains in this whole episode aren't being targeted directly. That's what frustrates me. It's much more difficult to make a coherent case for sustained action against politicians scattered across national and state legislatures, doing whatever it takes to limit women's access to health care. So, instead, folks are going after Rush Limbaugh. If it weren't being done with so much cloth-rending and carrying on about how hurt and shocked they are about something Limbaugh said, I might be able to get behind it a little more. If Limbaugh weren't a scapegoat, because taking on the real culprits is just too difficult, I would jump in which both feet.
The whole campaign, though, is duplicitous and nonsensical, an exercise in moral outrage at the expense of any actual work to make the simple point that women are competent agents in the decisions about their own lives. Limbaugh, while certainly large, isn't the real target here.
He's just easier to hit.