My father liked to tinker with writing simple poetry—the type of “greeting card” poetry that can be very touching or funny, or simply lame. I recently have been reminded of the following part of a funny poem he wrote for me when I graduated from law school, which he entitled “Lawyer to Client”:
You say you hit the other guy,
Broke his nose and blackened his eye,
Split his lip and damaged his face.
I think you’ve got an excellent case.
The man is daft and obviously
Was in a place he never should be.
With devious means and grievous twist
He put his face in front of your fist. …
As I’ve followed the debate over the “Obama mandate” for insurance coverage that narrows the conscience exception that had protected religious institutions for many years, I feel as though we conservatives have once again put our face in front of the left’s fist on this issue. Normally, I would advocate just licking our wounds and changing the subject back to the economic issues facing the country. But, the problem is that what underlies the thinking of the left on this issue is what also is strangling the long-term neck of our economy.
Before we go further with that point, we first need to understand how our face found its way into the left’s fist. Back in January (it seems like years ago), during one of the many GOP debates over the last few months, George Stephanopoulos asked the candidates about their view of a half-century old Supreme Court ruling that constitutionally prohibited states from banning the sale or use of contraceptives. Virtually everyone on the stage, and in the auditorium, was shocked by the question because it seemed to come out of left field. The candidates all answered in one way or another that the issue was irrelevant and no one is advocating banning contraceptives, and Stephanopoulos looked really silly and petty as he continued to press for an answer from the candidates—but the key is that he continued to press for an answer. Why? It made no sense—at the time.
Then, not long after that debate, Secretary Sebelius announced that the Obama Administration would mandate that all employers would have to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their insurance plans, including religiously-affiliated hospitals, schools, and charities. The “conscience exception” that had previously exempted such institutions from such mandates was to be narrowed to just the direct employees of the houses of worship of such religious institutions.
The negative reaction was stunning and swift, but it was not about women’s health or access to contraceptives—which must have further surprised the likes of Stephanopoulos and Sebelius. Instead, it was about the use of the governmental fist in violation of the First Amendment to force churches to act at variance with their beliefs, or get fined—the type of direct assault on religious liberty that the U.S. Supreme Court had just told the Obama Administration it could not do as the court struck down another attempted regulatory invasion into the operation of a religious school. Hoping to find a compromise, people of goodwill from all over the political spectrum called on the Obama Administration to reconsider and re-embrace the full conscience exception that both political parties previously had honored, and that had provided a federal safe-harbor from mandates at the state level, while exploring other constitutional ways to maximize women’s access to medical treatments and prescriptions. Instead of such a compromise, Obama announced a unilateral “compromise” with himself, which—of course—was no compromise at all. It, instead, was a new fiat that was even more extraordinary for its hubris—mandating that insurers pay for, but not charge for, providing contraceptives to employees of religiously-affiliated hospitals, schools and charities. Incredible!
Why was the second fiat incredible? Let’s look closer at Obama’s magnanimous act of self-compromise for a moment:
- it ignores the fact that, in order to take advantage of the historical safe-harbor provided by the federal conscience exception, many religious institutions became self-insured, and those plans cover both the employees of the churches as well as the affiliated entities;
- it ignores one of the most basic facts of economics—there is no free lunch. Regardless as to whether we are talking about free-market or government-planned economies, goods and services (including contraceptives, and the doctor visit and prescription needed to obtain the contraceptives) cost money; and, in this instance, those costs will be paid either directly by the employer or self-insurer, by all the insureds of the insurance company (including the religious institutions and their employees) through higher premiums, or by taxpayers through higher taxes or more public debt;
- it continues to ignore that these religiously-affiliated institutions only exist in order to fulfill the mission of the church in the community, so that they are an important part of the practice of religious faith by the ministry of the church, regardless of whether the church employs or serves persons of other faiths (or of no faith) in the performance of such practices; and
- in making all these mistakes, it shows that Obama refuses to acknowledge and abide by the limitations on governmental power, and the exercise of that power, that our Founder’s enshrined in our Constitution, including the preservation of a separate church and the importance of its separate institutional role in our society.
So, the Obama fist came in a second swing toward the face of those of us who still believe in those limitations on government power, and in religious liberty. But this time, like on so many other occasions over the last two generations, it is our face that was now alleged to be the aggressor, rather than the victim. Those on the left who initially had called for Obama to re-consider his decision miraculously found this new fiat to be a welcome compromise, and then fell back in line as the lemmings that they are. And, of course, their fellow travelers in the media lauded the magnanimity and wisdom of Obama’s act of self-compromise, and fell in line, too. Then, returning full circle to the Stephanopoulos question, they found further criticism of the second swing of Obama’s fist to be a new assault on women’s health by the face of conservatives—an assault so grave that it could not be tolerated. Unfortunately, some of our candidates and pundits played into this narrative, by allowing themselves to be drawn into debates about specific religious views of contraception, rather than keeping their focus on the fundamental flaws with Obama’s aggressive mandate. As a result, in the latest twist in this story, the U.S. Senate could not muster the votes to return federal policy to the full conscience exception, and the left walked away from the debate claiming their fist had been assaulted by our face.
I want to be clear about some things. I am not a Catholic, though I have great respect for the Catholic Church. I am a father of three girls, and I’m a grandfather. I care very much about the health of my wife and daughters, and their access to the care they believe they need. Finally, I see no societal, economic or political benefit to, or wisdom in, re-visiting the legal issue of medical privacy related to the sale and use of contraceptives, which was decided a half-century ago. Contraception should not be, and really never was the issue in this political debate—we must remember that point as we move forward from here.
Now, back to my the point I started to make. The shear arrogance of a political leader of this nation who would so cavalierly ignore basic economic principles, ignore basic constitutional rights, and ignore the basic limitations of governmental power that allow us to practice our constitutional rights, in order to advance an agenda to regulate by fiat an industry that represents at least 17% of our economy, and, in the process, create a new entitlement scheme, has not earned our trust and must not be re-elected. We will never recover our economic vitality as a nation, let alone our full individual freedoms and responsibilities, if we re-elect this arrogance and give it four more years at the helm of our country.
To those of you who are involved in GOP campaigns this year, I remind you of the seriousness of the mission we have this fall, and ask you to keep your focus on that mission and what the real issues are. Don’t get sidetracked into the left’s narrative—don’t stick your face into the left’s fist. Simply fight back based on our narrative of liberty, personal responsibility, limited government and economic opportunity. As Reagan once told us a generation ago, “there is no substitute for victory.”