HHS Mandate: Obama’s Polarizing Bet and How It Played Out

President Barack Obama, official portrait

I’m going to write about the Democratic Party’s turn to polarizing wedge-issue campaigning quite a lot in the months to come. I think it’s one of the most important aspects of the 2012 election.

This tactic of using wedge issues to push segments of the electorate to vote the way you want has been used heavily by the Republicans for decades. They’ve built their constituency primarily around abortion, but they’ve also used attacks on homosexuals and hispanics that went so far as attempting to deny them basic government services and civil rights.

I know. I’ve had to vote against some of their egregious legislation in this area.

This wedge issue electioneering by the Republican Party made it easy for the Democrats to come along and use the other side of those wedge issues to drive their own votes to the polls.

The problems with this are many and extensive, but perhaps the worst of them is the damage it does to the country. Once you call out the dogs of inflamed hatred and blind rage in order to get people to vote the way you want, it’s a little difficult to shut it back down when it’s time to govern. That is especially true when the other side of the political war is still out there, firing things up in hopes of regaining the power you just took from them.

That’s the core reason we are already hearing that Congressional leaders are planning their votes on key issues dealing with major things this country needs to save it from going over the economic cliff as chips for the 2014 election. Two days after we vote, and these jerks are already talking about doing it again. They’ve completely skipped past any consideration of actually doing the job they were elected to do.

Governing the country, the common good, the welfare of the American people are all non sequiturs to wedge-issue politicians.

The article below describes the calculated considerations that were weighed with the creation and enactment of the HHS Mandate. Notice that the First Amendment, the good of the country, and right and wrong did not have a column on the balance sheet when this decision was made. The only consideration was: Will it work to drive votes to the President in the 2012 election?

That’s ruthless.

Unfortunately, it’s not confined to one man or even one political party. It’s the way business is done among the new politicians of both parties.

The Worldwide Religious News article reads in part:

Religion, marriage and the GOP’s demographic challenge brought to the fore by 2012 election
Eric Schulzke (“Deseret News,” November 6, 2012)

Salt Lake City, USA — America is sharply divided along multiple fault lines, but one of the sharpest, according to Tuesday’s exit polls, is religion. Polls showed that Mitt Romney won 59 percent of the votes of the 42 percent of people that attend church weekly. But Barack Obama won 56 percent of those who attend only rarely and 63 percent of those who never attend church.

Rather than seeking to smooth over this gap, the Obama camp decided during the early stages of this election cycle to magnify it to its advantage, according to Brookings Institution Fellow Bill Galston.

The Obama team strategically picked a fight with the Catholic Church last spring, Galston said, when it chose to draw a hardline on the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

“They made a decision way back in December 2011 that the only way to save the Obama presidency was to go all out to mobilize the core elements of the 2008 coalition,” Galston said.

When the Catholic hierarchy rose to the bait and fought aggressively against the requirement that Catholic institutions provide contraceptives with their health care, Galston said, the Obama camp did not “just stumble into that.”

The Catholic vote is one of two key voting blocks that were destined to play a central role in the 2012 election. The other was the white evangelical vote, a core Republican block that Romney had a delicate and doubtful relationship with due to his Mormon faith and his waffling on social issues over time.

“Catholics are swing voters that neither party can take for granted,” Galston said. “It is very rare for one party to get more than 55 percent of the Catholic vote.” Two keys heading into the election centered around which way Catholics would tilt and whether evangelicals would turn out in large enough numbers to vote for a man few of them wanted to nominate.

And, as Galston observes, all this was set against Obama’s gamble that he could mobilize his base to overcome Catholic pushback. By lighting a fiercely partisan fire, would the Democrats be able to turn out their base in sufficient numbers?

The answer turned out to be yes.

And in answering that question, America got a glimpse at the demographic challenges that now face the Republican party, which now finds itself squeezed on all sides — trying to lay claim to an ever-shrinking base of white, married, religious voters.

Risking backlash

A key policy adviser in the Clinton White House, Galston speaks wistfully of his former boss, who took a more centrist path to re-election and governance, winning huge swaths of red territory in two elections, and he sees difficulties in governing and healing a country that is now sharply divided. (Read more here.)

“I know for a fact that the Obama people were warned in advance. They were under no illusions about what the reaction of the Catholic Church and the Catholic community would be,” he said. “It wasn’t something they sought, but it was something they were willing to accept as part of a package, whose upside they judged to be greater than the downside.”

And so the Obama White House drove hard at the Catholic Church, refusing to budge, infuriating bishops and even drawing the ire of a number of liberal Catholics. “Even moderate and liberal Catholics thought the administration was pushing the church around,” Galston said.

But in the same motion, Obama pivoted to the “war-on-women” theme — casting a dispute over who pays for contraceptives as an effort by old, conservative men to control women’s bodies.

The upshot: the Obama camp was willing to cede the GOP a greater share of the Catholic vote in order to bolster its base, particularly its core constituency of unmarried women. (Read more here.)

  • Chris


    • Rebecca Hamilton

      My word is ruthless. Cold-blooded, ruthless. We probably mean the same thing.

  • Beverly

    “This wedge issue electioneering by the Republican Party made it easy for the Democrats to come along and use the other side of those wedge issues to drive their own votes to the polls.”

    It doesn’t seem, from your article, that the Democrats were doing anything worse than what the Republicans were doing.

    Are you accusing the President of playing dirty politics?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I’m saying that if you put them all in a sack, shook them up, then upended the sack and dumped them on the ground, the first one out would be a snake.

      • Ted Seeber

        Thanks for giving me my first laugh about politics this week (as opposed to wanting to cry).

  • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

    I’ve got to dispute your interpretation of the motives behind the contraception mandate. I think the people who stuck with the mandate did so out of principle. They honestly believed that contraception was medical care which people had a right to access (which makes sense, since more than half of all people on the pill are using the pill for a medical reason). Even if they were just doing whatever they felt like, rather than standing on principle, I still don’t think they were trying to make a wedge issue out of it.

    In the first week that the issue got real national attention, the administration’s response seemed flatfooted to me. It seemed to me that they were surprised at the attention the issue received. Whatever their motives, I don’t think the administration anticipated the mandate being an issue at all, much less a wedge issue.

    I will accuse Obama of playing dirty politics all you like, just not over this issue.

    • Ted Seeber

      “They honestly believed that contraception was medical care which people had a right to access (which makes sense, since more than half of all people on the pill are using the pill for a medical reason).”

      If so, then their ability to reason or have faith is in serious doubt. The medical reasons for the pill are attempts to change nature.

      • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

        Not all medical reasons for hormone therapy (the same chemistry as contraception, but a different use) are “attempts to change nature.” Some are, like all good medicine, attempts to correct or redirect nature to its proper course.

        The Catholic Church does not oppose the drugs themselves; they oppose prescribing it or using it as a contraceptive. This has been abundantly clear from the beginning of the debate, but the media has chosen to ignore the distinction.

        @Reluctant Liberal – while it is impossible to determine the motives of the heart, public actions and statements are available for examination. One can make a strong argument that, since the Obama administration had plenty of warning about the Catholic understanding of the HHS mandate, and proceded publicly as they did, and have explicitly made it a campaign issue, that their actions were intentional, and “picking a fight to make political hay” is an apt description.

        Whether that constitutes “dirty politics” depends, I suppose, on whether and how you think “dirty” can be separated from “politics.”

  • rachel

    hmm, where is my post that I sent here earlier?

  • rachel

    Ok, it looked like it didn’t post. Anyway what I was asking is what can be done? If its true that the administration used the HHS mandate as a wedge issue, is it possible that it can be reversed? a compromise??

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      There are three ways to overturn the HHS Mandate.
      1. The president can simply sign a letter rescinding it. I don’t think that President Obama will do this.
      2. Congress can overturn it. They would need a 2/3 majority to make this stick, since President Obama would almost certainly veto any statute.
      3. The Supreme Court can overturn it.
      The best thing we can do as individuals is encourage our pastors to preach about the mandate. I think a lot of people are confused about it and need more information. We can also ask our local legislators to lobby Congress about it, as well as lobby our Congresspeople ourselves. There are many other things, all connected to raising public awareness, which include talking to your friends and letters to the editor.

  • Peg

    Reagan had his bear in the woods, Obama had his war on woman. I wish for more education and unity to stave off the fear mongering. I have noticed a few commonalities among those seeming to succumb to wedge issues and distortions, myself included over the years. First and foremost, no active faith or knowledge of Christ, a lack of understanding of absolute and relative truth, a tendency to only read, talk to or follow those points of view that align with ours, a lack of research or emotional control and empathy and patience. The result can be fear and bitterness that can divide friends and family. We are one country under God. Hopefully we’ll try harder and grow stronger in these next four years. And push the media in that regard too! Thanks for the legislative insight.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I think you are right that those are all factors Peg.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    “This tactic of using wedge issues to push segments of the electorate to vote the way you want has been used heavily by the Republicans for decades.”

    I really bristled at that. My thoughts.

    1. As if Democrats don’t use wedge issues? Really. Tell me next time about how the rich aren’t “paying their fair share.” Wedge issues are in the eye of the beholder.

    2. I don’t begrudge Obama for politically picking a fight with the Catholic Church. If that’s where the electorate is, then he is obligated as a candidate to put forth a winning coalition. I may not like it, but then again, wedge issues are in the eye of the beholder.

    3. Racial preferences and quotas are ligitament issues. If you are going to call those opposed to them racist, then my conversation ends here.

    “This wedge issue electioneering by the Republican Party made it easy for the Democrats to come along and use the other side of those wedge issues to drive their own votes to the polls.”

    Oh how innocent the Democrats are. *extreme sarcasm* The bottom line is that Obama effectively “killed” Mitt Romney with ad hominem attacks, the most effective implimentation of the politics of personal dsestruction that I have ever seen on a national level. Mitt Romney is a good and decent man who was smeared with the worst of lies. Such politics will have lasting and bitter effects.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Manny, I disagree with most everything you said here. I don’t feel like going over all the whys of that statement right now. But you are too partisan by half. I’m actually critiquing President Obama, but you only see what you perceive as an unwarranted criticism against your boys. Christians are at a serious juncture. Decide if you want to be on the Jesus team or the Republican team, because you can not be on both. I am on the Jesus team, not the Democrat team. I doubt very much if you’ll find many blogs which criticize BOTH the Rs and the Ds as much as this one. When they’re wrong, they’re wrong. If people don’t like it, they’re still wrong. Stop defending the Rs and start defending Jesus. Always. Without exception. Every. Single. Time.

      • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

        I thought Rebecca’s point was pretty clear, that the political parties are INTENTIONALLY casting around for votes, over and above what is good for the country. Of course, parties are going to try to attract votes. It’s when they purposely create division to the detriment of the country that’s it’s unconscionable. In this kind of climate, there is no real possibility of unity and working together, only ever-deepening partisanship.

        • http://jscafenette.com Manny

          1. Politics aint bean bag. Let’s not be simplistic and think both sides don’t play hard ball. I would bet that hard ball is the state of politics everywhere in the world. So let’s grow up a little.

          2. What is good for the country is from one’s point of view. There are people who think that illegal immigration is very bad for the country, perhaps a majority, and there are others who think it’s good. Let me take an issue to which I very much oppose, abortion. There are those who think that legalized abortion is good for the country, perhaps a majority, and there are those like me who don’t.

          I do not believe that any politician willfully votes to hurt the nation INTENTIONALLY.

          • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

            I think that there are MANY, very likely the vast majority of politicians who take certain political positions because they are popular and even use them as a wedge issue, but don’t really feel strongly about them. I see no evidence that most so-called pro-life politicians really care about it all that much. Read some of Rebecca’s older articles about so-called pro-life politicians in her state who vote pro-life once something comes to a vote (so not to ruin their “record”) but also kill important pro-life bills behind the scenes. It’s not pretty.

            • http://jscafenette.com Manny

              Dave, you’re just a disatisfied voter like almost everyone. The system is made so that no one gets to play monarch, not you, not politicians, not the Bishops or the Pope, nor sadly even me. Most of the time the general population feels like they’ve been cheated. It always feels like we lose more often than we win. Perhaps you should live in a third world nation and tell me who has the better system.

      • http://jscafenette.com Manny

        I understand, but you make a partisan claim such as that and even in passing it closes off the other side from even engaging in the discussion.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Good piece, Rebecca. Remember, Sebelius admitted to the congress that she didn’t consider constitutional “nuances” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2012/04/28/sebelius-obama-nuance-and-the-hhs-mandate/

  • Sheila

    Such a sinister world. The average person just wants the death culture to stop. Stop the killing of babies, stop the communist push against religious freedom, stop shredding our constitution, stop forcing the average taxpayers and business owners to fend for the whole nation and stop redefining our principles and values. enough of this crap. There is going to be a revolution. People are going to stop buying, including networks. We’ve all had enough games on both sides. The next four years will be ugly. Welcome to the new world order, the new communist nation. Where you can continue to kill babies for convenience sake, where the unproductive elderly can ‘take a pain pill’ instead of getting treatment. Where drones will watch you. Where you can be a citizen and be detained for as long as the federal government wants you to be detained. Where our online activity is monitored. Where the federal government will have access to every bit of health and financial data on each individual. Yes, absolutely… this side will not become too violent. Had the other side won this election it would have been a bloody war.

  • http://catholicsforobama.blogspot.com/ Katherine

    Galston doesn’t offer any evidence for his claims. I will tell you what I’ve been told by people in the Administration and those who work with them. In 27 states, there already is a contraceptive mandate in some form or another and the Church continues to operate in those states. The Adminsitration was surprised by the USCCB’s reaction. There was a significant internal debate in the Administration about modifying the original proposal. Some Catholics (outside of both the Administration and the USCCB) suggested the Hawaii model — a compromise the Diocese of Honolulu agreed to in which contraception would not be part of the Catholic agency’s health care plan but separately provided by the insurance company. But the Adminstration, in deference to the Church, decided to go a further step to give the Catholic agency “clean hands” by making it the duty of the insurance company not the employer to inform the worker of this benefit. Some in the Obama Administration were not sure why they had to go further than what one diocese already found acceptable, but it was done. The compromise was floated and the USCCB was asked if they had an objection, to which they never responded (negative or positive). The Adminsitration then announced the modification. It took the USCCB a whole week before they decalred it unacceptable.

    • http://signsshadows.blogspot.com/ Colin Gormley

      Nothing about this is true.

      “In 27 states, there already is a contraceptive mandate in some form or another and the Church continues to operate in those states.”

      Most states have exemptions if the plan is self funded. Only three states do not allow this, Cali, NY, and the third escapes me at the moment.

      “ome Catholics (outside of both the Administration and the USCCB) suggested the Hawaii model — a compromise the Diocese of Honolulu agreed to in which contraception would not be part of the Catholic agency’s health care plan but separately provided by the insurance company.”

      Which is a shell game. The CHA went for this until the insurance companies said it was a worthless compromise.

      “But the Adminstration, in deference to the Church, decided to go a further step to give the Catholic agency “clean hands” by making it the duty of the insurance company not the employer to inform the worker of this benefit.”

      See above.

      ” The compromise was floated and the USCCB was asked if they had an objection, to which they never responded (negative or positive).”

      Baloney. It was released and in three days the bishops responded. Obama did it over the weekend so that the response would be out of the news cycle.

      “The Adminsitration then announced the modification.”

      Except it did not go into effect. The original rule, not the compromise, is the one in force.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      This is from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
      Fact-Checking the White House: False Claims About the HHS Mandate

      Because the truth isn’t always convenient

      After Sebelius’ misleading op-ed in USA today, a misguided blog post by the head of White House Domestic Policy Council, and complete inaccuracies in a recent press briefing by White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, it’s time for some serious fact-checking.

      False White House Claim #1: “28 states — more than half — 28 states in the country have laws with contraception coverage mandates.”

      Truth: This is not a true comparison because the state mandates are for the most part insurer mandates, not employer mandates. Moreover, the federal contraceptive mandate is unquestionably broader in scope and narrower in its exemption than all of the 28 states’ comparable laws. Religious organizations in states with a mandate—even those where there is no express exemption—may opt out by simply self-insuring, dropping prescription drug coverage, or offering ERISA plans. The federal mandate permits none of these alternatives, and therefore is much less protective of religious liberty than any of the states’ policies.

      False White House Claim #2: “Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception.”

      Truth: This is at most true only of churches that (1) primarily employ people of their own faith; (2) primarily serve people of their own faith; (3) qualify under Section 6033 of the Internal Revenue Code as a “church”; and (4) have as their “purpose” the inculcation of religious belief. Even then, these churches only “may” be exempted. Thus churches that view their “purpose” as doing unto others as they would have done unto them won’t qualify. And of course this claim avoids the elephant in the room: religious organizations that aren’t houses of worship — like thousands of hospitals, colleges, universities, religious schools, soup kitchens, charities, and others — get absolutely no protection under the White House’s rule.

      False White House Claim #3: “States like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions.”

      Truth: North Carolina’s religious exemption applies to any religious non-profit, not just houses of worship, does not require churches to serve only co-religionists, and does not require that “the” purpose of the non-profit be inculcation of religious values. California’s and New York’s exemptions are similar to the federal mandate, but even they do not include the “may” provision that the federal mandate does.

      False White House Claim #4: “Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all.”

      Truth: Even in states without a written religious exemption to a contraceptive mandate, there are broad de facto exemptions for those who self-insure or use ERISA plans. The HHS mandate contains neither of those exemptions.

      False White House Claim #5: “Drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy.”

      Truth: Drugs that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, such as Plan B (the “morning-after pill”) and ella (the “week-after pill”) are covered by the policy. The White House claims that “abortion” can happen only after implantation, but the White House’s beliefs about when abortion can occur are irrelevant–most Christian denominations in the country, including the Roman Catholic Church, believe that taking drugs to prevent implantation is an immoral abortion. And it is that immoral activity that they have an objection to. Semantic games by the White House will not remove the problem.

      The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is the first and only law firm to legally challenge the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate. This controversial rule requires religious institutions, in violation of their conscience, to pay for contraceptive drugs—including those that could cause an abortion. The mandate was issued in August 2011, and the Becket Fund quickly raised the alarm by suing on behalf of both Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts college founded by Benedictine monks, and Colorado Christian University, an Evangelical Christian college located outside of Denver. Visit Becketfund.org for more information.

  • Katherine

    I’m afraid you are both mistaken. It is your responses that are in error. The hawaii compromise didn’t come out of the air. It was vetted for more than a month before it was announced and the USCCB staff was well aware of it. I had a conversation myself with a USCCB staff person.

    27 states have provisions somewhat similiar. Yes, there was the self-insurance as a way to opt out. The Right-Wing bishop of Madison, faced with this choice, decided to offer a plan that included contraception because he would have to pay a little more under self-insurance. The Diocese of Honolulu also accepted the compromise. And the insurance companies never said it was a worthless compromise.

    Churches are exempt. And anything that is part of a diocese, eparchy, parish, religious order, seminary, or monastery is exempt. Anything that is a “church” under Roman canon law is exempt.

    The definition of church is the same as the Civil Rights Act of 1964/

    • http://signsshadows.blogspot.com/ Colin Gormley

      Nothing you have said is true, nor are you providing any evidence to do so. You are engaging in propaganda. Either provide credible information to back up your claim or take a hike.