McCain's take on birth control
Katha Pollitt, Chicago Tribune
July 18, 2008
I realize it's not as world-shaking as the caricature of the Obamas on the cover of The New Yorker, which has the high-end media in a total tizzy. It's probably not even as important as the raunchy joke Bernie Mac told at an Obama fundraiser last week, which was bumped from the tizzy list by the New Yorker story.
But can't the commentariat take a break from itself and let the world know how much John McCain opposes birth control? Vastly more people rely on contraception than read The New Yorker or know who Bernie Mac is from mac 'n' cheese.
In fact, vastly more people use birth control than believe Obama is a secret Muslim. They might like to know that when it comes to contraception, McCain is no maverick.
Here's the story. Last week, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who has been helping McCain look bright-eyed and estrogen-friendly, told reporters that women wanted more choice in their health-care plans. For example, it bothered women when plans covered Viagra but not contraception.
Big mistake! McCain had voted against a bill that would have required plans to cover birth control if they covered prescription meds at all, like, um, Viagra. McCain's non-response when queried about this by a reporter was astonishing. As you can still see on YouTube, he squirms and grins and smirks (Viagra! embarrassing!) and fumfers about evasively.
"I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer," he manages to splutter, "because I don't recall the vote. I've cast thousands of votes. . . . It's something I've not thought much about."
So, John McCain is so opposed to contraception he voted against requiring insurance plans to cover it like other drugs, and either so indifferent to women's health and rights or just so out of it he doesn't even remember how he voted. That's the way to show American women you really care.
This is not a trivial issue. There's the basic unfairness of not covering these essential—even life-saving—drugs and devices, so fundamental to women's health and well-being. And then he adds the insult of denying coverage while men are lavished with cut-rate erections. There's the craven submission to religious extremists that moves the politics of that denial.
It's a pocketbook issue too: A year's worth of contraception can cost a woman $600. That's a lot of money. Is it too much to expect the next president of the United States to understand that? Especially now that every politician in America prides himself on knowing the price of a gallon of milk, and talks like he's just finished doing the week's shopping for a family of 10?
The story heated up on the blogosphere, but a Nexis search at the beginning of this week found only 61 mentions in print and on TV, and most of those were passing references in stories about McCain's bad week—Phil Gramm calling Americans "a nation of whiners" obsessed with a "mental recession" got most of the attention—or focused on the effect Fiorina's off-message remark will have on her vice-presidential prospects.
Where is the discussion of the real issue, which is that for over 20 years John McCain has voted against contraception every time it came up and—now he tells us!—he doesn't even care or know enough to explain why?
Women—and men—need to know where he stands on this issue so basic to health and human flourishing if they are going to make informed decisions in the polling booth. But so far the media has refused to present McCain's anti-contraception record as a big, coherent story that tells us a great deal about who he is and what policies he would pursue in the White House.
Maybe The New Yorker could do a cover about it. Then the media might find it interesting enough to discuss.
Katha Pollitt is a columnist for The Nation magazine. Her latest book is "Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories" (Random House).