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Have the Catholic Bishops and Barack Obama moved the Overton Window on contraception?

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There's an interesting debate on the left (I abjure the term "liberal" as having two contradictory meanings, neither of which is worth a grad-school food fight) over President Obama's most recent cavage — to the Catholic Bishops on the issue of contraception for "conscience" objectors.

Much of the lefty interpretation has it that in this case, if only in this one, Obama has achieved his elevendy-mentional potential — demonstrated his mastery of double-fake politics — by outfoxing the Rs at their own game (no link; I'm not going to call out my brothers and sisters).

In other words, his cave laid a trap for the Republican Bishops (yes, I've merged the groups) and they walked right into it.

But it's been hard for me to imagine that a man so adept at caving to the disadvantage of progressives — time after time after time after time — has somehow grown a pair of left-wing brains.

So I was glad to read this take at Digby's site from David Atkins (my emphasis):

Many people have critiqued my and Digby's assertions that the anti-contraception stance constitutes a victory for the GOP. Most of the comments and emails to me about this piece have indicated that I'm an avowed pessimist who cannot realize when the Republicans have overplayed their hand and lost an issue. In the critics' opinion, the Bishops overreacted and have now created an issue that will be easy for Democrats to exploit, thus creating a pre-packaged defeat for the Republicans. ...

What just a few weeks ago was considered so mainstream as to an afterthought (providing contraception) is now seen as some sort of controversial touchstone, even as "religious freedom" has become a buzzword in the press.

Democrats can high-five one another about Republican overreach and laugh hysterically at the increased number of votes Barack Obama will receive in 2012 over Mitt Santorum. But ultimately the joke's on us. ... The political ground on contraception has suddenly shifted to the right faster than I have seen on any social issue in my lifetime.
I've been holding my fire on this one, wanting to think it through. I don't want to deny Mr. Who Else You Gonna Vote For? his due, if indeed he has one coming. But something — perhaps the whole of my experience with him — said watch and wait. So I did.

On reflection, I think Atkins is right. What he's referring to, without naming it, is the Overton Window:
The Overton window, in political theory, describes a "window" in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on a particular issue. It is named after its originator, Joseph P. Overton, former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. ...

At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered to be politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too “extreme” or outside the mainstream to gain or keep public office. ... When the window moves or expands, ideas can accordingly become more or less politically acceptable.
One of the biggest cards in the Movement Conservative hand is the expansion of the Overton Window, so that previously settled battles can be refought.

This is Rush Limbaugh's function exactly. By calling Obama "uppity" and "the magic negro," for example, he makes Gingrich's "food stamp president" look mainstream, while containing the same idea.

That allows CNN to do its classic recirculation of the right-wing theme du jour:
"Is Obama the food stamp president? We look at the controversy, right after these messages."
Remember, Movement Conservatism is a long-term project. It will be with us when you're dead, or until permanent rule by ilk like the Federalist Society (the Billionaire's Legal Goon Squad) is achieved.

It's a rolling coup, started in the 1970s (see Ch 1, The Republican Noise Machine), and considers itself a multi-generational conflict (that is, they see themselves as completing the failed work of conservatives in the 1930s in opposing the New Deal).

They don't care about the polls; all they want is the Big Win, the one when the last whistle blows. If Gov. Scott Walker could anoint himself lifelong Prefect of Wisconsin, accountable only to his master, he wouldn't care a dime what his popularity was. (Besides, that's what cops are for.)

In their world, Obama's one-month "win" (a poll bump that will die when the next news-blonde goes missing) is nothing but a firefly — lit bright, then gone.

In the meantime, MoveCons have mainstreamed the long-dead debate over contraception, and they did it on their own turf — they made it into a debate over female sexuality ("Don't you have a daughter?") and faux-conscience ("conscience," the perfect trump card, like "jobs").

By this analysis, Mr. Smarter Than You wasn't even smarter than them — he confirmed both the debate and the legitimacy of the frame. Smooth.

The Right moved the Overton Window to include contraception as a conscience item (just like abortion), and Obama said, "I accept your givens; can I have my 2nd term now please?"

Thanks for that; come back at Legacy Time.

(My personal Overton Window included a primary for Mr. You-Know-Who, but no one would step up. Guess it takes a radio show.)


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