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By J.P. Sottile
Many Republicans dismiss the “War on Women” as little more than a political ploy by Democrats to expand their ongoing electoral edge with the fairer sex. As far as Republicans are concerned, they’re not waging a “War on Women.”
And they may be right. At least, in their own minds.
Politically-minded Evangelicals in the GOP are convinced they're not really waging a war on women. Rather, they are waging a war on sex. It’s a war on the kind of sex that only leads to pleasure and enjoyment, instead of the kind of sex that leads to being fruitful and multiplying. God prefers fruitful sex over fun, fallow sex. It’s the not-so-subtle undercurrent of Evangelical opposition to Gay marriage, and it’s the main thrust of Mike Huckabee’s controversial comments about women controlling their libidos.
Politically speaking, Huckabee’s monologue about vaginas and “libido control” is an obvious attempt to link small government with big religion. It’s a link Republicans feel they must make to get through ideologically-rigid presidential primaries. Long considered a “kinder, gentler” Evangelical option, the former Governor of Arkansas’ odd foray into family planning may indicate he’s positioning himself for another stab at the White House.
But his now infamous statement—accusing Democrats of underestimating the power of women to regulate their own sex drives by federally mandating access to contraception—also reflects the inherent difficulty Evangelicals face when they try to manipulate popular libertarian ideas about personal freedom to fit their anachronistic, Old Testament dogmas of imposed morality. Trying to merge Leviticus and Barry Goldwater into a coherent political ideology is a lot like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.
It’s been a problem for the Religious Right ever since Ronald Reagan used them to build up his base, but rarely, if ever, delivered on his promises. That marriage of laissez-faire elitists with religious crusaders ultimately disappointed the crusaders and fueled the grass-roots Evangelical take-over of the GOP. Yet, after three decades of ascendance by these highly motivated Value Voters, the Evangelical moment may finally be waning.
Mike’s version of the “Huckabirds and the Huckabees” is emblematic of just how out touch they’ve become. Years of hammering away at the problem of government have been made manifest by the failures of George W. Bush’s Compassionate Conservatism, the War on Iraq, the Patriot Act’s war on civil liberties, the banking bailout, the Obamacare rollout and, perhaps most significantly, by the never-ending NSA scandal.
The Constitution makes people generally predisposed toward keeping Uncle Sam out of their lives. But now that their personal lives are instantly downloadable by faceless national security contractors, the backlash against government intrusion is likely to grow. The rapid changes propelling Gay marriage and marijuana legalization show the extent to which Americans increasingly prefer to exercise their right to make personal decisions about their personal lives.
And unless you are a Kardashian, nothing is more personal than what you do with your genitals. But, unlike most libertarians, religious conservatives remain intimately concerned with how you use those genitals. Sex is part of God’s plan for your wobbly bits, dangly bits or any other bits you might have. That’s why Huckabee said women don’t really need to rely upon “Uncle Sugar” (by the way, did Mike give Uncle Sam a porn name?) for help managing their raging libidos. It’s a small government twist on a big religious idea.
God must retain control over the engine of life. If you can promise to control your libido without relying on birth control, God gets to keep his dominion over your birth canal. So, in lieu of Uncle Sugar’s birth control, women could establish a female version of Promise Keepers. Call it the “Libido Control Patrol” with women making public vows to take personal responsibility for keeping their legs crossed.
Ironically, freedom-loving “conservatives” often disdain personal freedom while extolling personal responsibility. Unfortunately, “personal responsibility” doesn’t include commending women who are responsible enough to avoid making another person while enjoying sexual intimacy. They believe abstinence is the only “right” way to stop having the wrong kind of sex. But this obsession with birth control versus libido control will end up screwing them in the long run.
Over the last thirty years, Evangelicals focused rather effectively on trickier questions surrounding abortion. The issue of exactly when life begins and, therefore, so does the moral peril of terminating a pregnancy, still divides America. According to recent polling by Pew Research, roughly half of Americans (49%) consider abortion “morally wrong” and a scant 15% say it is “morally acceptable.” On the other hand, a Gallup poll found that 89% of Americans consider contraception “morally acceptable,” including 82% of Catholics—the ostensible hardliners on contraception. Only 8% of Americans said it’s “morally wrong.”
Although recent protests marking the 41st anniversary of Roe v.Wade show that the “life issue” still has traction, the birth control debate changes the question from whether or not life begins at conception, to whether or not life actually begins with intention.
Fruitful Evangelicals and Catholic celibates truly seem to regard the intention to engage in sex as tantamount to reproduction. Why? Because sex without the risk of reproduction in a deity-sanctioned marriage is, frankly, just sex for the sake of sex. And that’s the wrong kind of sex. That’s what anti-contraception activists are essentially saying: Sex without reproductive consequences is bad. God wants us to be fruitful.
That is, unless sex leads to unwed mothers and unwanted pregnancies or, even worse, to abortions. Yet, if abortion is immoral, then contraception should be a great idea. Right?
Wrong. Contraception is practically a pre-emptive abortion and, therefore, against God’s intention that sex begets. If you beget outside of marriage, you were probably intent on just having a little fun. And pregnancy in those cases is God’s happy little punishment for indulging in the flesh. Evangelicals like it the same way the Puritans liked the stockade.
That is the religious subtext of Huckabee’s comments—women who don’t have husbands must self-regulate when they get horny. Just say no to your libido! And don’t rely on the government to provide you a “safety net”—either with mandated access to birth control before conception or through the welfare state after it. If you do transgress, you must pay.
Although women rightly feel targeted by this increasingly bizarre, archaic battle over birth control, the larger war is about God’s plan for sex. It doesn’t matter that declining birthrates around the globe are inexorably linked to rising standards of living. Or that giving a woman control over how often or when they conceive expands their opportunities, improves their lives and renders “libido control” a non-issue. Or that millions upon millions of men have benefited mightily from women’s willingness to take on that responsibility—one made so much easier by the advent of The Pill.
A small cadre of religious conservatives may want women to control their libidos instead of using contraception. But as the polling shows, the overwhelming majority of Americans refuse to look that gift horse in the mouth.