Conservatives really wanted a fight about religious freedom. It appeared to be an easy win: turn an ObamaCare mandate that insurers cover birth control into a war on religion.
The GOP, void of any ideas Obama hasn't contaminated by agreeing with, finds itself in an election year frantically looking for a bold battle cry. That sweet, hot-button issue that can excite their party and (hopefully) win them the White House (or maybe the Senate).
Their old standbys have fallen flat: Iran, abortion, climate change, child labor laws, and even gay marriage don't have the sparkle they once had for the Grand Old Party.
Republicans can't seem to get excited about Mitt Romney as their '80s-teen-movie-smug-rich-guy-stock-character nominee. Worse yet, he's Mormon, which makes evangelical leaders grumble.
So having a common enemy is the best way to bring everyone together for the proverbial good fight: Freedom.
"It's important for us to win this issue," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters last week. "Our government for 220 years has respected the religious views of the American people, and for all of this time, there's been an exception for those churches and other groups to protect the religious beliefs that they believe in. And that's being violated here."
Is Boehner coming out against anti-Sharia laws?! Or is he just conveniently forgetting that the government isn't always so deferential to the pious?
Mormons had to forsake polygamy to gain statehood, for one. In 1862, the then-General Ulysses S. Grant expelled Jews from his district of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky. And there were plenty of states where you couldn't hold public office if you didn't swear to believe in God (as opposed to Allah, Buddha or a flying plate of spaghetti) until the Torcaso v. Watkins decision in 1961.
This whole charade of religious freedom collapsed under the girth of Rush Limbaugh.
He pivoted what was supposed to be a church-and-state issue into snickering about young women having sex. For three days, Limbaugh railed on law student, Sandra Fluke, who testified for congressional Democrats, calling her a prostitute and a slut for speaking in public about the need for birth control coverage.
So the GOP was trying to take the high (read: holy) road, and there was their mouthpiece driving them all off a cliff demanding that Ms. Fluke post sex videos on the Internet.
Now here's the thing: Even Rick Santorum who (oddly) thinks birth control leads to more teen pregnancies — who has previously said states should have the right to ban contraception — now tells Piers Morgan, "It should be available."
This was tempered with the now-irrelevant point about religious freedom. But even the way-out, cringe-inducing, extremist-in-a-sweater-vest has to confess that birth control should be available.
Affordability is accessibility. If it's out of your price range — it's out of your grasp. It doesn't matter if the pill is offered over-the-counter or in vending machines — if you can't afford it — you can't have it.
Fluke's testimony was not about the legality or morality of contraception — it was about students not being about to shell out over $1,000 a year for a medication, in addition to purchasing medical insurance.
If Republicans admit they think birth control should be available — that means they believe it should be within price range.
The conservative talking point on health-care reform was summed up by Rep. Virginia Foxx: "There are no Americans who don't have healthcare," adding, "Everybody in this country has access to healthcare." In other words: Everyone has access to cake!
We don't say everyone accused of a crime has access to a lawyer without providing one. We don't say everyone has access to police protection, but charge more than anyone can pay. We don't say every child has access to education, but require an outrageous tuition.
Access is not abstract ... unless you're a Republican lawmaker.
No, when you're a Republican, "access" gets muddied with whatever sham controversy they hope will help them. This week it's basic health-care services for women.
Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer and the managing editor of “Crooks and Liars.” Tina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., Newspaper Syndicate.