When President Obama announced his mandate requiring religiously affiliated institutions to cover contraception, I was admittedly disappointed.
I felt that he should have made a good-faith effort to create compromise on the issue, and I was happy to see that he finally did. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. One only needs to turn on the news to see how toxic our political atmosphere has become. Partisanship runs so deep that the offensive comments made by people like Rush Limbaugh are more commonplace than we may care to admit.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that both sides of our political spectrum were more than happy to exploit this complex issue for their own political gains. Conservatives screamed that religious liberties were being violated with such vigor that one might think Obama had just burned a Bible. The rhetoric that Republican presidential candidates have been using to describe Obama’s “war against religion” dramatically overstates the political realities of his actions. After all, the controversy involves religiously affiliated organizations’ being compelled to pay a small amount of money for something that violates their consciences.
This may sound unfair, but it happens all the time. Pacifists — including Quakers and Anabaptists — have nearly 25 percent of their tax dollars in defense spending, in violation of their religious faiths.
However, the left is not free from blame either. Realizing that it would probably be easier to rally support and garner sympathy if they framed the entire problem in terms of women’s rights, liberals accused conservatives of starting a “war on contraception.”
Let’s be clear: Obama’s mandate was adding coverage that had not previously existed. Even completely repealing it would simply return things to the status quo. It’s also important to realize that women who work for Catholic organizations can go to clinics like Planned Parenthood for birth control. Rather than trying to find other ways to increase access to birth control, many on the left reacted using the same tactics of fear-mongering that had been used against them.
It has disturbed me for quite some time that sound bites and bumper stickers often dominate the way that we discuss issues in American politics. Demagoguery often carries more clout than diplomacy.
Consider two individuals who have both been very influential in this issue in very different ways. The first is Melissa Rogers, a scholar at the Brookings Institute and the former head of Obama’s Office for Community and Faith-Based Initiatives. The other is Rush Limbaugh, a well-known conservative radio talk show host.
Limbaugh makes over $30 million each year enlightening Americans with his self-proclaimed indispensable commentary. His contributions include his now-infamous accusation that a Georgetown Law student advocating for the mandate was a “slut” and his request that she post pornographic videos of herself online. For this, he has received loads of publicity — even after apologizing.
Melissa Rogers’ salary is not $30 million. Her name is not recognizable like Limbaugh’s. Yet her contribution — helping to draft Obama’s balanced compromise, which has calmed the fears of millions of Americans — has been infinitely more helpful.
Rush Limbaugh has received exactly what he was looking for.
While I am disgusted by people like him, I find encouragement in the fact that oftentimes, policy is written by people like Rogers, who care more about their integrity than they care about their paychecks and reputations. I pray that, moving forward, cooler heads will prevail and any dialogue on this issue will be based on substance — not on misguided talking points.
Joshua Donovan is a junior in the College.