WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many viewers scratched their
heads during a Republican presidential candidate debate when George
Stephanopoulos, an erstwhile Clinton administration official, suddenly
brought up the question of contraception.
Not a single state in the nation was considering the idea of banning
the birth-control practice, nor was it a matter of national debate,
raging or otherwise. Why then was it raised? Mitt Romney, after trying
to navigate the seemingly never-ending cross-examination from the Democrat
with press credentials, declared the line of questioning to be "silliness."
One month later, the administration announced an Obamacare policy
of requiring religious-controlled institutions to cover birth control
pills as part of their employee insurance policies.
That stirred a push-back from high officials of the Catholic Church,
but spokesmen for other faiths added their criticism that the administration
initiative would infringe on religious liberty — i.e., if they
can force the Catholic Church to buckle on this issue, how long before
they deny other denominations their rights?
One-way street #1
The White House offered a fig-leaf compromise, which left most critics
dissatisfied. Religious entities are often lectured they must observe
the traditional "separation of church and state." As the
White House strong-arm tactic has demonstrated, few such critics aim
their rhetorical fire at the failure of government entities to observe
that same "wall of separation."
So why would the Obama administration in an election year risk "the
Catholic vote?" Did the White House calculate that picking a fight
with religious groups would fire up its secular base? Possibly, and
besides, the president's supporters likely figured since many Catholic
women have used birth control, the political price to be paid would
be minimal. They learned, however, that even casual church members
resented the intrusion.
But one smells an even more obvious "rat" here. It was
not long before Rick Santorum (not Romney) was pelted with more questions
on contraception. He answered that, in keeping with his faith, he personally
believes the practice is wrong, while adding that, as president, he
would in no way seek to impose that belief into the sphere of government
policy and would resist any attempt to do so. You may have noticed
that the latter point is usually ignored or played down by the media.
You are also earnestly urged to believe there was absolutely no collusion
between the White House and Stephanopoulos in the timeline of this
one-two punch. Was the former Pennsylvania senator the real target
from the start? Directing the question initially to Santorum, who had
already written and spoken on the matter, would have been be too obvious.
After all, part of the Santorum tax plan would triple the deduction
for each child — which would encourage more child-birth. (Governor
Romney's faith also has encouraged large families, but he has not put
it at the forefront of his political discourse).
The result of the entire public firestorm is that it has delivered
to the media a golden opportunity to focus on contraception at a time
when Iran is on the cusp of nuclear weapons capability and as the whole
Western world's economy is on the verge of tanking because of its indebtedness.
Even some of Senator Santorum's supporters concede that he could
have done a better job of handling the political curveball that has
been hurled in his path. (Contrast that with the media's servile obedience
to Nancy Pelosi when she refused to answer any further questions on
an embarrassing moment for her. If Rick Santorum were to do the same
thing in this case, he would give the press corps scribblers an occasion
to demonstrate how "unbiased" and "non-partisan" they
There is a widespread consensus among political consultants that
our "Birth Dearth" problem (to quote a 1987 book by that
name) is not something any candidate for public office can hope to
tackle. It is deemed too "personal" for the electoral arena.
Which does not mean it should be ignored in other venues. Quite the
opposite. Demographers have reported that birthrates in Europe and
much of North America are way below those of previous generations and
are — or in some cases soon will be — inadequate to produce
population replacements. How did that happen?
One-way street #2
Recall the "counter-culture" of the late sixties/early
seventies gave birth to the so-called "feminist movement" with
an anti-family message. Some of its highest profile proponents condemned
monogamous marriage as akin to rape or prostitution; rated pregnancy
as a disease; and declared that "the nuclear family must be destroyed." Books
such as Ellen Peck's The Baby Trap remained on the best-seller list
Did you notice how such "personal" views were confined
to the private, non-public arenas (Not!)? On the federal, state, and
national levels, you will find pressures on government to enact directives
and legislation aimed at encouraging the anti-family agenda.
While Third World poor nations have ignored the dire Malthusian "small
families" message propagated by anti-intact family groups, Western
nations — Europe and North America — have taken it to heart.
Americans don't need a politician to publicize the problem. It is simply
a well-publicized fact. As we have seen, a candidate (Santorum or whoever)
who talks about it can find himself walking on eggs, but overall public
silence will not cause the statistics to vanish.
It was Ernest Hemingway who said, "The richer a nation
becomes, the fewer its children, and the sooner it begins to
Is Western Civilization on the road to its own funeral because
of the birth dearth? That question may be too hot for the political
class to handle. But on some level and through whatever means,
we need to have that national conversation.
The Big Picture
Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer whose broadcast career included
25 years with CBS Radio.
Copyright © 2012 by Wes Vernon and
the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. A version of
this article appeared at rewamerica.com on
February 27, 2012.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
To sponsor the FGF E-Package, please send a tax-deductible donation
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
or donate online.