Santorum: Aspirin Remark a “Bad Joke.”

Yesterday, Rick Santorum defended the honor of women contraceptive-users everywhere…sort of.

During a debate in Congress on the Obama administration’s mandated contraceptive coverage, Santorum backer Foster Friess told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception,” he said. “The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”

Santorum later responded, “Foster is a well-known jokester. That was a stupid joke. I’m not responsible for every bad joke someone I happen to know or who supports me tells, adding, “Obviously I don’t agree with the basic premise.”

What’s obvious to Santorum might be less so for people who’ve been following his career since his days in the Senate. Santorum has condemned contraception on ideological grounds, recommended that the federal government withhold funds from it, and criticized the reasoning in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision that found state prohibitions on contraceptives unconstitutional. The left-leaning press — your humble blogger here included — has made the most of this. Irin Carmon’s Salon piece, “Rick Santorum Really is After Your Birth Control” is only the most eye-grabbing representative of the genre.

But that was then, this is now. Since the opening of primary season, says David Weigel, Santorum’s been playing down his social conservatism in favor of the economic kind. His views on abortion and gay marriage are well enough known among values voters than he can afford to. He’s even managed to “genericize” his anti-contraceptive views, casting his stand against mandated birth control coverage strictly in free-exercise terms. This is probably a good move, according to Weigel. “In a new New York Times poll,” he writes, “only 47 percent of Republican voters say they’re against any legal recognition of gay unions. In the 2008 entrance poll taken of Iowa caucus-goers, only 26 percent said that ‘the economy’ was their top concern. In 2012, the number was 42 percent, with 36 percent saying ‘the budget deficit’ was tops.”

If Santorum wants to finesse moderates, may he do so in good health. He’s got the vest for it. But to make the act really convincing, he ought to consider treating Foster Friess to some free dental care. Afterward, Friess can borrow some Aspirin from one of his lady friends.

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