I don’t mean to post about politics frequently, preferring theology and cultural issues, but as the State’s reach into life grows ever longer, it is hard to avoid.

Now, the recent HHS mandate requiring health plans to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient medications (e.g., “ella”), is perhaps the most cynical ploy in recent American political history (and that is of course saying something). The Administration is populated with people from head to footsoldiers who advance the culture of death in service of their disordered version of the common good with zeal and abandon, so we shouldn’t doubt for a moment that Secretary Sebelius meant her mandate to advance an ideology. But the politics and rhetoric are cynical, for the Administration’s members are not only zealous but wickedly smart.

Or are they?

Again, the whole episode looks like a cynical ploy playing for women’s votes, as Obama had been faring less than fair among women: George Stephanopoulos asks a question about contraception at a GOP debate, probably precipitated not by any conspiratorial collusion with the Administration but rather by the fact that the home-schooling, sweater-vest wearing, Latin-mass-attending Rick Santorum lives the Church’s teaching on life and family issues and speaks out about it. Seeing an opportunity presented, Sebelius issues the contraceptive-abortifacient mandate, the Administration thinking either (1) that American Christians would go along, as liberal Protestants favor and advance contraceptive culture while conservative Protestants and evangelicals have little problem with it and the Catholic episcopate hadn’t stood united with courage against much of anything in memory — not even Roe vs. Wade in 1973; or (2) that whatever resistance was mounted would be isolated, fractious and ineffective. Whereas after their losses in 2002 and 2004 Democratic politicians talked of toning down their liberalism on life and family issues and reaching out to religious voters, all of the current Administration’s moves regarding religion involve a plan to divide and conquer traditional Christians in this country, rightly seeing them as a real obstacle to its plans. (Overly dramatic? Consider that the New York Times reported recently that the Administration is involved in planning a “prayer rally” for the survival of the Affordable Care Act while challenges to it are heard at the Supreme Court. Interesting times, these, when those who practice a traditional form of their faith are desperately fighting for some semblance separation of Church and State.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to Whitehall. Christians of all stripes along with many Jews and other people of faith (and of no faith) decided a detour to Canossa was in order, issuing statements, writing letters, and organizing commissions to overturn the mandate through whatever legal and peaceable means possible.

Seeing an opportunity, then, a mythical conservative “War on Women” was created ex nihilo. Even here in North Dakota, reddest of red states, certain politicians are using the meme in their fundraising and campaigns. All we traditional Christians are asking for is the status quo ante, but a certain political party’s politicians, candidates, and operatives are willing to run roughshod over conscience and Constitution for the sake of raw power. Cynical. Diabolically cynical. And then one conservative commentators in particular piled on the unfortunate Sandra Fluke with language no one should use. It appeared the Administration and members of its party had been handed a raw gift born of rhetorical stupidity. They seemed to have succeeded in shifting the debate from religious liberty — a winner for traditional Christians — to contraception and so-called “women’s issues” — a supposed winner for cultural liberals.

Except that it isn’t, as the polling is showing:

If the Times says women were “split,” you know that must mean they were actually narrowly against the NYT‘s preferred position. Sure enough, when asked, “Should health insurance plans for all employees have to cover the full cost of birth control for female employees or should employers be able to opt out for moral or religious reasons?” women favored opting out by a 46-44 margin. The margin increased to a decisive 53-38  for “religiously affiliated employers, such as a hospital or university.”

That’s among women. Unbeknownst to those who read only the Times’ main story, the poll asked the same question to men. They were not split. Men favored opting out by a 20 point margin (57 vs. 37), except when a “religiously affiliated employer” was involved, in which case the margin increased to 25 points. Combining men and women, a substantial majority (51-40) favors allowing an opt-outincreasing to 57-36 where religiously-affiliated institutions are involved.

The members of the Administration are indeed smart, and when it comes to politics, savvy beyond all measure. Why, then, have they miscalculated so badly? Why is Obama sliding in the polls, causing much fretting on the left? Best explanation I’ve seen:

One explanation for the Obama administration/media misstep in the contraception contretemps is that the decision makers may be thoroughly cocooned that they really could not see how this would play out.

I think it is entirely possible of Obama’s inner circle and (to a lesser degree) the MSM that a) they don’t know many practicing Catholics b) they really did not recall how much more often left wing commentators and entertainers had said things about right wing women that were far more vile than anything Rush Limbaugh said, and c) Sandra Fluke seemed like a person whose life story would resonate, because her story is so similar to about half of their circle of friends.

A little more contact with the real world would have led them to the cautionary advice that a) many Catholics _actually believe_ that forcing religious institutions to pay for contraception and abortion in health coverage is a violation of their religious freedom, b) the Left says horrid things about conservative women all of the time, and they really would lose a tit-for-tat on this subject and c) Georgetown law students who want free contraception are really not as awesome of a victim group as it might seem on first look.

I don’t think this will be the last time during this campaign that Republican “losses” and Democrat “wins” get revised in the court of public opinion.

More on “Lies, Cynicism, and the Spin Cycle” from the Anchoress. And in the future, less on politics from me. But remember, I didn’t pick this fight.