My colleague, Howie Kurtz, explains here why he disagrees, very collegially, with my cover-story:
But Howie's talking about the deft compromise under enormous right-wing pressure last week. I agree that the administration got tactically outmaneuvered temporarily by the Catholic hierarchy who'd been planning such a showdown for months. But my point was not about winning the "news cycle" of last week, which many have already forgotten. It was about winning the election. From my essay:
[T]he conflict-driven headlines and predictions of disaster for Obama are, in my view, deeply misleading. Right now, they are driven both by cable news’s love of a good fight and high ratings and by the Republican primary campaign, in which the candidates, especially Newt Gingrich and Santorum, are desperately battling to unify the evangelical base, which is convinced its faith is somehow under attack. In the longer run, however, I suspect this sudden confluence of kerfuffles will be seen as one of the last gasps of the culture war, not its reignition. That’s especially possible since Obama’s swift walk-back last Friday.
My italics. So I agree with Howie that it wasn't the best tactical week for the White House, but I believe even more strongly it was a great, if improvised, strategic week, looking forward. Liberal Catholics on contraception – roughly 98 percent of us – are fine with the compromise. The Vatican and Bishops and their theocon friends on the far Catholic right remain opposed, isolating themselves badly. Yes, they'll shore up the Christianist base – but they weren't going to vote for Obama anyway. The result is that the Obama administration will be seen defending the rights of Catholic women against the unpopular hierarchy, indirectly empowering the candidacy of Rick Santorum, the least electable of the Republicans, and more firmly identifying the religious right with their weakest issue, contraception.
Meep, meep. Sometimes it's worth thinking through more than one week's news cycle. Because the president does. Which is how he won in the first place – to much of establishment Washington's shock and surprise.