Friday, February 10, 2012


In a true White House JANAFU, it was announced a few days back that all employers, irrespective of religious affiliation, would be required to make available on their healthcare plans birth-control coverage. At that time the president's poll numbers were ticking up and the seven dwarves on the Republican side were down to four. In other words, things were looking quite nice for the administration. Then the always dangerous Sebelius struck.

Your friendly basin has no interest in discussing the merits of the policy or even whether it is about "women's health" or is just "anti-Catholic." I am, however, very interested in the politics of it.

First, why would the administration announce this as a stand-alone provision? Even Sebelius had to know that this would be controversial. Second, why would the administration let its intention to do this leak out over the course of a year? Third, how insulated and arrogant does an administration have to be to not realize that the Catholic Church had its white papers and skilled spokespersons, within and without the opinion press, ready to go as soon as the announcement was made? Finally, wasn't it completely predictable that NBC and ABC would adopt administration's arguments and even take the editorial position that the White House had the better of this debate.

On the first point, the administration's performance has to be given a failing grade. If, as a matter of principle, Sebelius thought she had to champion this provision, she should have brought it out with a bunch of features that were highly desirable. Sticking it out there as a sole spoonful of foul tasting medicine to be swallowed by Roman Catholics was just plain dumb.

It was funny when this announcement came out. The people who opposed it vigorously were completely ready for the argument. This is thanks to the numerous leaks from within the administration that it was, indeed, coming out as policy. On the other hand, the administration and supportive legislators were not prepared at all to argue for it. They spent at least a day backing and filling until they finally came out with what I call "the slavery analogy argument." "The slavery analogy argument" is simply "gosh, a lot of states are already doing this… ."

For centuries, when some nation tries to get into the Catholic church's wheelhouse, the Catholic Church has done adept politics with the skill set worthy of Bill Clinton. (Of course they completely gagged on the Child Sexual Abuse issue, but they are back on their game now.) Is just plain shameful that the administration is not prepared with whatever it thought might be a uniform but effective counterargument.

The dutiful NBC, ABC and MSNBC opinion generators argued the merits of the provision. To that I say "okay, there are valid points to be made on both sides." But the same people also made the argument that the administration had the political high ground and that ground would be particularly meaningful to the 6 to 10% of independent voters who would decide the general election. That is a large crock. Most citizens do not take a very scholarly view of this stuff. Certainly, most of those folks do not spend a lot of time on the nice distinction between mere service to the community and the profession of faith. Even if they did, they would just get a headache. the line between charitable good works and profession of faith is fundamentally impossible to draw. As a result, independent people will probably just hear that the Obama administration was trying to boss churches around. That cannot be spun as a plus, even with the lipstick of "women's health" pasted upon the plan's porcine corpus.

Pretty clearly the origin for this fun was Sebelius. But how did it filter through what should be a politically wise White House staff and ever actually see the light of day? Where were the grown-ups in the Executive Office Building? Where were the people with the skills and team motivation to prevent governmental self – inflicted wounds?

I can think of a couple of non-– exclusive reasons. First, there simply might not be the skill set in the executive staff to play these things out. The best evidence of this is the presence of advisors like the light hitting and mistake prone Valerie Jarrett. The second reason is even scarier, perhaps everyone there is such a top-down, uniform social policy tinkerer that it simply never occurs to them that people with their own independent beliefs are capable of pushback when faced with what they think is a clanger. It could be both.

Hanging this albatross around the president's neck constitutes Sebelius placing into jeopardy the president's second term. If there is one, she should not participate in it. That part is easy but the other people who failed to send up a flare should walk the plank with her.


At 9:49 PM, February 12, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this policy begs the question "How can one be both a Catholic and a Democrat?


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