In the heat of a presidential election season, The Washington Post disingenuously asks, "Birth control as election issue. Why?"
The title is disingenuous (methinks) because it's clear that the main reason why we are talking about this is the rightly controversial mandate in President Obama's health care reform plan that virtually all employers, including those for whom contraception is religiously proscribed or not a core business focus, give their employees free-to-them contraceptives.
Well, that and the current leader in the Republican search for a losing presidential nominee rarely seems to miss an opportunity to diss anything that makes getting pregnant tougher. But let's face it, long after the term Santorum exists only under vine-covered ruins of safe-search-off Google queries, we'll still be talking about the beast-with-two-backs in public policy venues. Or at least in JFK-themed memoirs.
But in the hopes of moving past the issue and never having to hear about state-mandated "vaginal probing" at least until tonight's GOP debate (a series that has now tied Gunsmoke and Meet the Press for longevity and coma-induction), I propose three relatively frictionless ways to take birth control out of current political discussion.
1. Scrap the employer mandate, which is just as problematic as the mandate that all god's children need to show proof of health insurance as a condition of drawing a breath. Apart from all the other issues about how to pay for health care, an employer-based system is just a mess (not least of which because most companies can't be expected to know what the hell they're doing in picking and choosing for the needs of all their workers).
If employers want to help their workers pay for health care, they can give them money—preferably taxed or not taxed as normal income to minimize economic inefficiencies—to pick and choose among the myriad of competing health-care options out there (and we all know even more options would come online if workers were en masse picking health insurance like we do car insurance). I think the individual mandate is screwed-up and unconstitutional, but scrapping the employer mandate doesn't even have anything to do with that. So it's something that even reform advocates could get behind.
Think about it: If the goal of Obama's health care reform was to guarantee universal coverage for people (and it won't do that, but never mind), all it has to do is decree that everybody needs to have coverage. Businesses would then be able to either keep offering coverage, give a cashout for at least a big portion of the cost of foregone benefits, or just cut that portion of their expenses. If they chose the latter, their employees would squawk or walk if they didn't get most of what they want. Even in a crap economy.
2. Stop searching for old Rick Santorum quotes. Whether he's talking about Satan's designs on the good ol' US of A or yammering on about the libertinism made possible by Trojan Twizzler-flavored condoms or what have you, Santo has been out of office and on the rubber-chicken (not that kind of rubber!) circuit long enough to provide years worth of oddball quotes.
3. Stop having sex. It's already happening among high schoolers whose frequency rates declined during the Clinton years (can you blame them?), so maybe the children will lead us on this issue, as they do in so many other areas of life (they are, after all and god help us all, the leaders of tomorrow).
A steely-eyed appraisal of each of these options, alas, yields the plain truth that none is likely to happen.
But at the very least, can we acknowledge that forcing all sorts of lifestyle issues into a realm not simply of public discussion but one of legal coercion is a very bad thing? Conservatives and liberals characteristically make an Evel Knievel-style leap from deciding that some activity is good or bad to decreeing with all the force of law that said activity should be banned, subsidized, or mandated.
That's never a good idea, even as that very mind-set pervades local, state, and national politics. If liberals want to keep the Rick Santorums of the world out of their bedrooms, all they need to do is renounce the idea that even people they agree with have the right to sniff around in private quarters. And if conservatives are afraid that Lord Obama is going to force them into sexual-reeducation camps or start wrapping state-sanctioned school lunches in rimming squares made from 50 percent recycled materials or whatever, then they simply need to admit that rendering unto Caesar doesn't give them the right to go all Gladys Kravitz on the neighbors.
It is hard enough to work alongside people on a daily basis without having to wonder about what sorts of health problems, sexual proclivities, and inherited diseases they have. I think about this because I work with people such as Matt Welch, whose life choices, particularly when it comes to rooting for the baseball Angels (what town are they falsely claiming to represent today?), leave me alternating between laughter, sadness, and fear that he's going to shoot up the office. Isn't it enough that two strangers, raised on different coasts by different people, can get along well enough to write a pretty widely praised book that costs just $17.15 (hardcover)/$11.50 (Kindle) at Amazon and has been called "the up-to-date statement on libertarianism," "an inspiring vision," and a better beach read than Ludwig von Mises' Human Action? Must we also be yoked together for all eternity like Holmes and Moriarity falling into Reichenbach Falls because of goddamned stupid health-care policy?
God, I hope not. And I hope that at least for the last 30 seconds or so, you were not thinking about contraception, Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, or the events of this coming fall, when regardless of how you vote, who you root for, and what happens, you will be at least mostly disgusted at the turn of events on Election Day. Just like Angels fans every October but one.
Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.tv and Reason.com and the co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.