Those worried about a government-sponsored health care system have sounded warnings for years saying a program like that would eventually regulate people’s eating habits and any other areas of risk behavior. Those fears were put to rest by the president, even though he cannot really assuage those fears since the new policy will continue after his presidency.
He assured people that the concerns they had, such as death panels, were political hyperbole. The latest mandate, however, the one that forces Catholic institutions to comply with free birth control and perhaps sterilization, feeds into the fears that skeptics had about this plan.
The worst of this is the fact that there is no reason for it.
It’s easy to throw the typical “slippery slope” argument at any kind of change, and it is not always fair to do that with government. In this case, however, it might not be out of line. People were assured that the bill that went through in the last Congress was going to be the policy.
Would so many Catholic Obama supporters have gotten behind the bill if the administration had been upfront about this? It has been written here (and elsewhere) that Catholic voters tend to focus on more contemporary issues than solely the concerns of the Church. That is still true, but Catholics might react to their government forcing their church-affiliated institutions to comply against their will.
If Mitt Romney’s out of context, unwise comment about the poor last week is his biggest pothole right now, the president’s pothole is this mandate. It suggests that perhaps some politicians are so confident that Catholics have drifted from Church doctrine that anything goes. That could be costly in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where there are large Catholic populations.
The Obama Administration has not backed away from this stance.They have added that this could lead to fewer abortions. But Catholics may not want a lesson on abortion from Washington, even if they are supporters of the president on a host of other issues.
It just seems like bad politics for the president. There was no reason for this mandate. There are many more hospitals and insurance programs that will allow for free birth control, and from a realistic perspective it makes sense for them to offer it. As long as other institutions are offering the services that Catholic institutions are skittish about, this should not be an issue.
If people have a choice as to which health care policy they choose, they may well choose one that fits their values. The idea behind the president’s plan was to have all people insured; it was not to homogenize the care of each program. It is an unnecessary fight.
Christie and Drugs
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey announced last week that the usual incarceration policies due to drug laws were not working. It is perhaps a step in a new direction in getting young people out of the drug culture. He said there are other ways to address the issue, which drew criticism from former Drug Czar Robert DuPont (who served under presidents Carter and Ford).
For years people have tried to make the case that the current approach to getting drugs off the streets was targeted mainly toward low-income males, who are less likely to get a good defense in court. Whether that is true or not, it may take a nationally known figure like Christie to make the argument that the old way has not worked.
Fighting drugs is an ongoing battle, and this means results matter. If Christie wants to get drugs out of Newark and elsewhere, it is going to take a menu of alternative penalties and incentives to make a difference.
Christie was not talking about mega-drug kingpins when he cast doubt on the current system. He was focusing on low-level drug traffickers who have no history of violence. Freeing up prison cells that should be used for the most violent people in our society needs to be priority number one, and if a new approach to drugs does that, the idea should be on the table.