Campaign Crawlers

Political Puppet Show

Santorum, Limbaugh, Breitbart, and a phony "controversy."

By 3.6.12

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Rick Santorum will hold a party tonight in Steubenville, Ohio, which he and his supporters hope will be a "Super Tuesday" victory celebration. Yet the latest polls indicate that Mitt Romney could win the Ohio Republican primary and, coming on the heels of Romney's narrow win last week in Michigan, a Buckeye State victory might be enough to effectively clinch the nomination as the GOP Establishment's "It's His Turn" candidate. Whoever wins the Ohio primary, however, the result of today's vote will be actual news, in contrast to the ridiculous ginned-up controversy that has swirled around Rush Limbaugh for the past week. And the story of how "SlutGate" became such an all-consuming affair is worth re-examining chiefly because it demonstrates the operational methodology of what the late Andrew Breitbart called the "Democrat-Media Complex."

Go back to Saturday, Jan. 7, when ABC broadcast from Saint Anselm's College in Manchester, N.H., a debate among six Republican presidential candidates, with George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer as moderators. After the first commercial break in the broadcast, seemingly out of the blue, Stephanopoulos posed this question to Romney: "Senator Santorum has been very clear in his belief that the Supreme Court was wrong when it decided that a right to privacy was embedded in the Constitution. And following from that, he believes that states have the right to ban contraception.… Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?"

For those unfamiliar with constitutional law, it is necessary to explain that Stephanopoulos was referring to the Supreme Court's 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision. An 1879 law forbidding the sale of contraceptives in Connecticut was invalidated because, as Justice William Douglas wrote on behalf of the court's 7-2 majority, it violated "penumbras, formed by emanations" which Douglas claimed to have discovered lurking in the Bill of Rights. Conservative legal scholars have long mocked this unusual doctrine of the Griswold ruling as a travesty of judicial activism in which the Supreme Court struck down a longstanding state law by creating from whole cloth a "right to privacy" -- a right utterly unknown to the Americans who actually wrote and ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Despite its legal implausibility, however, Griswold laid the foundation on which was subsequently built the constitutional "right" to abortion (Roe v. Wade, 1973) and eventually the "right" to homosexual sodomy (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003).

Rick Santorum is a 1986 graduate of Dickinson School of Law who spent years crafting legislation in Congress and is therefore fully qualified to discuss this legal history, but what was taking place in New Hampshire that Saturday night in January was not a seminar on constitutional law. It was a Republican presidential debate, and the ABC News moderator who raised this question about contraceptives and "the right to privacy" is a veteran Democratic Party operative. The television career of Stephanopoulos is merely an extension of his work as a communications director for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and subsequently in the Clinton White House. Like the late Tim Russert (a lifelong Democrat who worked for Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo) and Chris Matthews (a former aide to Democrats Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill), Stephanopoulos is merely one of many who have followed the well-trod path from Democratic operative to liberal media star.

Indeed, what Breitbart dubbed the Democrat-Media Complex represents a revolving door, so that no one was really surprised when Jay Carney, the former Washington bureau chief of Time magazine, became White House press secretary in the Obama administration. Nor, for that matter, does anyone make much of the fact that (a) Carney was a frequent roundtable guest on ABC's This Week during Stephanopoulos's tenure as host of that Sunday show, and (b) Carney's wife Claire Shipman is a senior correspondent for ABC's Good Morning America, the same program for which Stephanopoulos now serves as co-host. Such direct personal and professional connections between the Democratic Party and major national news organizations are so common as to pass unnoticed in the day-to-day business of politics. Any Republican who makes mention of these facts as potentially significant can expect to be derided as a paranoid conspiracy theorist if he voices the suspicion that perhaps Democrats in the media are using their influence to help their fellow Democrats in political office.

Such a suspicion, however, was hard to avoid on that January night when Stephanopoulos raised the topic of contraception during the New Hampshire GOP debate. Four days earlier, Santorum had edged the longtime Republican frontrunner Romney in the Iowa caucuses. Although Santorum is a staunch conservative who has defended the pro-life doctrines of his Catholic faith, contraception had played no role whatsoever as an issue in the Republican campaign until Stephanopoulos asked his question in Manchester. That question, however, seemed to be the signal-flare that launched a carefully orchestrated effort to make contraception a major topic of public controversy, an effort that has been pushed relentlessly for the past two months by Democrats and their media friends. The past week's "SlutGate" firestorm about Rush Limbaugh's comments -- which led to a number of advertisers canceling their ads on his nationally syndicated radio program -- is merely a sideshow to the main event, namely the apparent attempt by Democrats to derail Santorum's challenge to Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.

Ginning up a phony controversy about contraception permitted the Democrat-Media Complex to change the subject in the GOP campaign. Santorum had offered himself to Republican primary voters as a "full-spectrum conservative," contrasting his record with Romney's on a host of issues, including the 2008 Wall Street bailout and global-warming theory. Most especially, however, Santorum had criticized the former Massachusetts governor for his "Romneycare" scheme, saying that Romney had provided the template for Obama's own national health-care plan. This would make it impossible, Santorum repeatedly said, for Romney to provide the kind of "stark contrast" necessary to defeat Obama in the general election campaign. Santorum argued that if the central issue of the 2012 election was to be the repeal of Obamacare -- as many conservatives hoped it would be -- then it would be the height of folly for Republicans to nominate Mitt Romney as Obama's opponent. Even without the class-warfare arguments that would be made against Romney's background with Bain Capital and his support for the Wall Street bailout, the nomination of Romney would be tantamount to giving away to the Democrats the entire issue of compulsory government-run health-care insurance.

Such was the central argument of Santorum's campaign coming out of Iowa, where his late-December surge had catapulted him from sixth place to serious contender in barely three weeks. Santorum's speech on the night of the Jan. 3 caucuses won him widespread praise, a flood of contributions came pouring into his campaign coffers, and the former Pennsylvania senator arrived in New Hampshire as the hot new celebrity of American politics. After months of being ignored as a hopeless "second-tier" candidate, Santorum's belated emergence as a GOP contender presented serious problems for Obama's re-election campaign. Democrats did not publicly acknowledge this fact until more than a month later, however, when a Feb. 17 Washington Post article disclosed that the Obama campaign was troubled by Santorum's appeal to working-class voters in the industrial Midwest. The grandson of an Italian immigrant coal miner, Santorum had an "ability to connect with the population that is most disillusioned with Obama: white, blue-collar voters," the Post reported. For months, Team Obama had been preparing for the 2012 campaign with the presumption they would be running against Romney, who would be easy to caricature as an out-of-touch wealthy elitist. Santorum's surprising surge for the first time caused the Democrats to re-target their opposition research efforts to one of Romney's GOP rivals.

In light of these revelations and subsequent developments, the Jan. 7 debate question from Stephanopoulos about contraception and the "right of privacy" seems far more significant than it did at the time, when many commentators dismissed it as silly and irrelevant. It is now possible to discern how Stephanopoulos, Jay Carney, and other members of the Democrat-Media Complex have manipulated this phony contraceptive controversy, up to and including the Feb. 27 appearance of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke before a meeting of the House Democratic Steering Committee. Byron York of the Washington Examiner has explained that this followed an attempt by Democrats to add Fluke as a witness for a Feb. 16 hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The attempted last-minute addition to the witness list would have prevented members and their staff from adequately researching Fluke's background. Democrats may have been attempting to conceal Fluke's history as a left-wing activist, including her assertion in a law journal article that insurance policies that don't pay for sex-change surgery are guilty of "heterosexist" discrimination.

At a Democrats-only meeting last week, Fluke claimed to have surveyed her fellow students and found that 40 percent said they "struggled financially" because Georgetown denied insurance coverage for contraception, which Fluke asserted "can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school." This claim was quickly debunked by John McCormack of the Weekly Standard, who called a local D.C. pharmacy and confirmed that a month's supply of birth-control pills cost only $9. This fact reinforced the absurdity of an Obama administration proposal to compel insurance companies to pay for contraception, without any "conscience" exception for Catholic institutions. As Santorum has often said, requiring health insurance to cover contraception -- a relatively low-cost item -- is like requiring auto insurance to cover the cost of oil changes or wiper blades. Fluke's deceptive testimony should have been seen as an attempt by Democrats to manufacture phony evidence in support of the Obama administration's policy. Instead, when Rush Limbaugh used "slut" and "prostitute" to describe Fluke on his radio show, the Democrats and their media allies manufactured a phony controversy over Limbaugh's alleged "misogyny," which served to distract from the original phony controversy over the supposed struggles of students to pay for their own contraceptives.

For two months, then, liberals have manipulated public opinion to their benefit: First, to portray Santorum as an "extremist" in order to make him unacceptable to GOP primary voters, and then to generate absurd fears among women voters that Republicans are conspiring to deny them access to contraception. Finally, as an unexpected bonus, they were able to damage and demonize their longtime bête noire, Rush Limbaugh, by making a martyred victim of the deceptive witness Fluke. In each scene of this masterful marionette show, the liberal charade has been applauded by certain Republicans who were either too blind to see the puppeteer's strings or else too stupid to understand the script.

Amid all this phony political stagecraft, America lost Andrew Breitbart, one of the few conservatives who understood how the Democrat-Media Complex operates, and who figured out how to fight back. Maybe GOP primary voters in Ohio will decide to fight back today. That would most certainly be shocking news to Stephanopoulos, Matthews, Carney & Company, as well as to those Republicans who have been cheerfully playing their assigned roles in the show.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.