Nothing could more obvious – and to a progressive, encouraging. Barack Obama has managed, particularly since the disaster of the 2010 midterm elections, to box in the GOP into narrower and narrower confines. And in doing so he has opened up a 15 point lead in some polls over his likely challenger, the erstwhile “severely conservative” Mitt Romney. Obama, by luck or design, is beginning to stand out as the only sane guy in the room.
On issue after issue, the GOP exposes itself with out-of-touch positions on nearly everything from a woman's sexual health, to extended payroll tax cuts, to foreign policy, to jobs creation, and darned near anything else of major or minor importance. Whatever position the President stakes out, the GOP can dependably be certain to not only disagree with, but press it home, bullhorn in hand (aided by Fox News Channel and Rush Limbaugh (along with a host of minor media “conservalebrities”) with the electorate.
And the electorate seems to be responding in ways in which the Grand Old Party may pay a significant price in November. Though 9 months is an eternity in politics, the trend is working for the President at this juncture, and may even work for the Democrats in general come November
Birth control: Not again!
The latest dust-up over whether or not a Catholic organization operating a medical or other business (not just a hospital) must abide by the same work rules as any other business hiring non-Catholic employees and treating non-Catholics is the latest installment of GOP polemics and the Catholic Church's totally out-of touch hierarchy. Once again, the subject of birth control seems to be being re-litigated in the public commons and it is clearly going the wrong way for the GOP and the bishops. (My God, this issue has so much dust on it that it's like the old Singer sewing machine in the attic.)
And once again, the likes of hyper-Catholics like Rick Santorum, a current pretender to the GOP nomination for the presidency, Newt Gingrich, recent convert to Catholicism (after having wandered in the desert trying out multiple wives and faith traditions), House Speaker John Boehner, the leader without a following, have declared the godless chief executive of the United States of America to be waging a war on faith itself.
Wrong voices, wrong messages
It was bad enough watching every Republican who can get in front of a TV camera or grab a microphone rail on about the coming culture war. But it was even worse to see Catholic bishops – a class which is so divorced from reality, so out-of-touch with its flock of self-described Catholics, 98% of whose couples have used birth control - call out the President for his policy of having religious-affiliated medical institutions and insurance companies provide full service coverage to anyone who asks for birth control pills, or even to carry condoms in its dispensaries. The fact that the average number of children in white Catholic families has dropped from between 4 and 7 a couple of generations ago to about the same as non-Catholic families now, somewhere slightly north of 2, would seem to lend credence to the notion that most Catholic couples are simply doing what they want to do. Somewhere along the way, Catholics figured out that sex is fun, and not just a way to make women have as many kids as they are biologically capable of producing.
I can't help but think that a television viewer who sees a bishop complain about Obama's health plan details sees not a shepherd to his flock but someone who has been part and parcel of the Catholic Church's continuous predations of children on the part of significant numbers of its clergy by simply hiding errant priests. There simply can be no traction with any pronouncements of a Catholic bishop anymore, not after a decade or more of continuously bad press and continuous refusal to flush out the bad apples among its clergy for decades. The tragedy of predatory priests is too fresh, too current, in the public's memory.
As with abortion (which, oddly, has taken a back seat to this discussion in recent days), the church believes that it can and should be the arbiter of morality not only for Catholics but for all Americans. Thus, it would deny certain services to non-Catholics as well as forbid any non-Catholic employee from providing them. The Catholic Church, like its evangelical counterparts among the Protestant traditions, conflates choice and freedom with moral imperatives based on the Christian bible.
The GOP blatts and mouthpieces have, as usual, grabbed the issue, caressed it and made it its own so they can show the world the callousness of this President. It will not work. Once again, as with the payroll tax deduction issue, the cessation of the war in Iraq and the removal of American troops from that sad country, the refusal to equalize the tax liability of the rich with that of the middle class, and the refusal to look at anything which might lend a helping hand to the jobless by actually creating jobs, they find themselves on the wrong side of both history and the politics of the issues.
Obama: lucky or brilliant?
It hard to imagine that Barack Obama could be so consistently lucky to have as his opposition a political party and slate of potential electoral opponents who are so outside mainstream American political thought. About a third of the electorate are doctrinaire, hard right-wing conservatives. The other two-thirds are hard core liberal/progressive types and independents. It is this last category of voter which, even though polling miserably last summer, is slowly but inevitably migrating over to the Democratic Party and its sitting chief executive.
By the same token, Obama has learned his lessons well, as must all first term presidents learn. He has learned to stand his ground, filling blocked high level jobs with recess appointments, taking his jobs program (and now his budget proposal) to the people and generally building his rapport with the electorate. He is finally drawing lines in the sand and daring the GOP to step over that line. (The word is out that the GOP House will vote to continue the payroll tax exemptions - and without asking for a thing in return! They know that it's a loser to oppose the President again. So much for deficit reduction, Mr Cantor.)
Has Obama resorted to “Rope-a-Dope” in the year of his running for a 2nd term? It may be that the GOP - and even the Catholic hierarchy - is punching itself out. There is no groundswell for any of its current positions. The anger and discontent of 2010 has perhaps made them realize that they threw the baby out with the bathwater (with current congressional approval at around 9%). And while Mitt, Rick and Newt decree that the imminent destruction of America is at hand, there has never been a politician who has been elected without something positive to ask the voter to imagine.
So far, all they ask of us is to allow them and their obscenely rich friends to keep their hands in the cookie jar a while longer, while we all sing “America the Beautiful.”