It has never been clear whether Rush Limbaugh is the Republican Party's philosopher or merely its herald, but he always comes through when the party needs him.
So it was again when the party and its presidential candidates tried to persuade religious voters, particularly Catholics, that President Obama was trying to destroy religious freedom in America by requiring health insurance policies to cover birth control. The new insurance law seeks to lower medical costs over the long term by insuring preventive care, and the administration said contraceptive medicine was a fundamental part of it.
Despite their cries that the rule would force Catholics to violate their conscience and Catholic employers to breach church doctrine, polls showed that Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich weren't getting the point across, so like Custer at Little Bighorn Limbaugh came to the rescue and illuminated the issue clearly where the presidential candidates and party leaders had only muddied it.
It's all about U.S. women wanting to have sex and making others — taxpayers and employers — pay to keep them from getting pregnant, Limbaugh explained, calling a female student who favored the coverage a slut and a prostitute and suggesting that she tape herself having sex and put it on the Internet so he could watch it.
More such help and the Republican chances of winning the White House and the Senate will vanish. Republicans by the weekend were looking for a strategy to hold onto a few women voters outside the Tea Party ranks, and Limbaugh was struggling to hold onto his lucrative radio program, or at least his sponsors. When businesses started canceling their ads, Limbaugh apologized to the woman snidely, but when nine of them canceled he amended his apology to say that he was sincere about it.
Limbaugh had undertaken to help the GOP in the way that he had learned 20 years ago from Newt Gingrich: Demonize anyone on the other side as an indecent human being or an enemy who intends to destroy the United States. The best target seemed to be a student who had been trying to get her college, the Jesuit university in Washington that graduated Bill Clinton, to amend its insurance plan to cover contraceptive pills that control a disease that causes ovarian cysts.
Although he clearly did not know anything about Sandra Fluke, understand anything about birth control (he thought women took them only when they were going to have sex) or know anything about the health insurance law and the proposed rule (he thought taxpayers paid for the insurance), Limbaugh really did illuminate the issue. It had nothing at all to do with religious freedom, but if it triggered any constitutional issue it was equal protection of the laws for women.
Limbaugh, you may remember, uses Viagra, which is usually covered by insurance, to overcome his erectile dysfunction and maintain a virile sex life. (He's with his fourth wife, with no children, so someone must be practicing birth control.)
To support the presidential candidates, Senate Republicans proffered a bill to allow all employers — not just Catholics and church-affiliated enterprises — that provide health insurance for their workers to opt out of covering any kind of medical expense that violates the boss's beliefs. Sickened by the rank hypocrisy of this and other snipe hunts by her party, Sen. Olympia Snowe voted against it and announced that she would not run again.
So how would that law work if it had passed? A Baptist preacher of my acquaintance has maintained for years that gluttony is a sin condemned not once but dozens of times by the Bible. I have an idea that the reverend maintains that covering treatment of diabetes and other diseases that may be related to food and alcohol excess violates God's word. A conscientious Baptist employer would have to cancel that coverage, wouldn't he?
No one has been more pious than Romney on the birth-control coverage. No federal or state law, he said, can go against the doctrine of a church and expect acolytes of the church to adhere to it.
But what about the Morrill Act, passed by Republicans and signed by Abraham Lincoln, which outlawed polygamy, then the holy doctrine of Romney's Mormon church. Lincoln didn't enforce the law in Utah for a time in exchange for the territory not joining with the Confederates, but the church eventually accommodated its teachings to the law of the land. Romney now supports the government's action, as presumably do Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Maybe even Rush Limbaugh.