*sigh* Here we go again…
When the debate over contraception started, it was one that conservatives were poised to win. They got vocal about the idea that religious-affiliated organizations had a right to exclude contraception from their employee health care plans, which allowed them to reframe the issue from being about “women’s rights” to being about “religious freedom”. The accusations of overreach did resonate with many Americans, causing the Obama administration to adjust a policy that had not been thought out or executed particularly well. It was a public admission of a mistake made, and it was a moment where all conservatives needed to do was draw a line under it and use it as a springboard to make their points regarding religious freedom vs. government intervention.
But then, things took a turn. The right reframed the debate again, in the form of Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke. Now we weren’t really discussing religious freedom anymore. Now, we were discussing the character of the woman who testified about contraception from a female perspective. We were discussing what is acceptable and unacceptable in public discourse in this country, and we were discussing birth control usage not as an insurance issue or as a health care issue, but as a moral one. It was a detour that did not serve the right’s purpose or bolster public support for their perspective in any way, and once Limbaugh “apologized”, they should have been smart enough to abandon the losing strategy of attacking the messenger, and gone back to their original position concentrating on the message itself. Unfortunately for them, they don’t seem to be that smart.
Enter Bill O’Reilly, the poor man’s Limbaugh, who on his Fox News show this week decided that it was time to reframe this issue YET AGAIN, and that YET AGAIN, the strategy should be an attack on Sandra Fluke. And in Conservative Land, nothin’ gets folks goin’ like a good, old-fashioned conspiracy theory, amirite? So naturally, O’Reilly posited his theory that Sandra Fluke was part of a carefully orchestrated plot by the White House to distract Americans from Obama’s handling of the contraception mandate. In so doing, O’Reilly has essentially decided that the actual mandate is not worth talking about anymore, but that targeting this one particular woman is. And that is why it’s officially time for him, and the conservative media in general, to STFU about all this.
To begin with, there’s the fact that reality does not reflect O’Reilly’s assessment of the president being “on the ropes with the church deal”. Maybe O’Reilly missed it, but recent polls, including one conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that Americans – even Catholics – support the president’s position. The White House was already in a safe place with regard to public opinion on this subject. So there is no plausible motive for the administration to go to the trouble of arranging “public distractions” from a policy that Americans generally agree with.
Beyond that, in his attempts to prove some White House connection, O’Reilly mentioned that Sandra Fluke recently obtained the services of a PR firm to handle the media attention she has received. The fact that former interim White House communications director Anita Dunn is a partner at this firm apparently represents some sort of “smoking gun” to O’Reilly. But after he made his comments Thursday night, it was reported that Sandra Fluke had, in fact, been representing herself until this past Monday. She had not been “handled” by anyone, inside or outside of the White House, during the entire time this episode played out in public.
And why do you suppose it became necessary for Sandra Fluke to get assistance in handling the media all of a sudden? Well, maybe…just maybe…it has something to do with the fact that conservatives keep talking about her so much. Let’s review: Fluke was invited to speak before a Democratic panel about contraception, at which time her testimony was duly covered by the media, and then…well, then nothing much, really. A lot of people didn’t even know her name after that testimony. For a few days after she spoke, there seemed to be a bit of a lull in the public discussion on the matter.
Then, it started creeping into the media again. And when I say media, I mean ONLY the conservative media. A few right-wing outlets started picking at the carcass of this story, and then Limbaugh picked up the ball and ran way out of bounds with it. And with that, the right – not the White House, and not Anita Dunn’s PR firm – ensured that everybody in America knew Sandra Fluke’s name and her story. O’Reilly himself, in his commentary, noted that sequence of events:
“…Congressman Elijah Cummings, the former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, invited Sandra to testify in front of the House Oversight Committee. But she was turned down by the chair, Congressman Darrell Issa, because she had no expertise in the church/state subject matter. Nevertheless, Ms. Fluke went to the hearing and afterward complained to ABC News that she had been denied. A week later, Nancy Pelosi staged a mock hearing starring Sandra. After which Rush Limbaugh made derogatory comments elevating her to left-wing martyrdom.”
Martyrdom is too strong a word for the way the left regards Sandra Fluke. But, yes, Limbaugh’s comments absolutely did elevate Sandra Fluke into the top tier of public attention. If there ever was a plan cooked up to make her into a “distraction”, it would have to have been on the right, because any efforts the White House allegedly made failed miserably. Only Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts could make this molehill into such an unavoidable media mountain. O’Reilly needs to give credit where it’s due.
More importantly, he, and others in the conservative media, should quit it already with this “smoke and mirrors” tactic. They supposedly wanted Americans to be up in arms about the way the Obama administration was “trampling” the rights of the religious community. But if they are so willing to leave that discussion in the dust, in order to redirect the conversation toward Sandra Fluke, they have proven themselves to be full of shit. Sandra Fluke doesn’t matter, folks. She honestly doesn’t. Once she said her piece before the Democrats’ panel, her influence over the issue, on a national level, was over and done. The conservatives decided, and God alone knows why, that going after this girl who honestly doesn’t matter is a worthy cause. And so, now she matters an awful lot – to people who have taken their eye off the ball regarding the actual issue that started all this. She is being invited to step into a national role as a spokesperson for women’s health. She is being offered multiple opportunities to speak before a national audience and tell her side of things. She is being handed power as an agent of the left, but it’s not the left that brought all this on. It’s the right’s doing, and if they really wanted to undermine Sandra Fluke’s crusade for contraception coverage, all they need to do is STFU and stop talking about her.