In a political season full of stunning twists and turns, the latest self-immolation by Republicans over the issue of birth control trumps all others.
You'd think that anti-abortion groups would be proponents of contraceptive availability and use, as a means of reducing unwanted pregnancies. But the dirty little secret of many anti-abortion leaders is that they don't just hate abortion, but sex as well.
The problem is, most Americans like sex, and they really like contraception.
"One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country," Rick Santorum said last October. "Many of the Christian faith have said, 'Well, that's okay, contraception is okay.' It's not OK. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
And what is it, exactly, that people do "in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be"?
Well, they enjoy it.
But Santorum's not down with that. "If you can take one part out that's not for purposes of procreation—that's not one of the reasons—then you diminish this very special bond between men and women," he says. "And all of a sudden it becomes deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure."
That's the guy conservatives are betting on to stop Mitt Romney, and he got a huge boost out of the manufactured outrage over new rules requiring insurers to provide birth control services without a co-pay.
Republicans and conservative pundits are chortling with glee at President Obama's "unforced error." But what error? The policy is wildly popular with the American public. A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 55 percent of Americans supported the rule while 40 percent opposed it. That number was even higher among Catholics, with 58 percent supporting it and 37 percent opposing it. So much for wedging Catholics away from the Democrats.
And lest one think those results came from a biased polling outfit, Fox News found even better results for the new rule: Sixty-one percent supported it, while just 34 percent opposed.
Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women have used birth control, as have 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women. On this particular issue, the Catholic rank and file long ago abandoned their bishops. And frankly, if there's a church that lacks credibility on matters of sexuality, it's the one that spent decades covering up the systematic rape and molestation of children by its clergy.
"Severe conservative" Mitt Romney is now parroting conservative talking points about Obama's supposed "war on religion." Yet while his pathetic pandering earns him little love from conservatives, it has certainly gotten the attention of independents.
According to the Pew Research Center, Romney led Obama 50 percent to 40 percent among independents in mid-January. A month later, in a poll conducted the second weekend in February, it was Obama who led independents 51 percent to 42 percent—a dramatic 19-point swing.
Given that Republicans appear eager to outsource their agenda to the Catholic bishops, perhaps they'll take up other Catholic priorities such as ending the death penalty, defending labor rights, passing comprehensive immigration reform and ending wars?
Of course not.
Instead, they've adopted the Church's least popular agenda item, and are cackling with delight as though they've hit a grand slam. In reality, they've joined a lost battle against modernity.
Markos Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos and a columnist at The Hill.