A 1944 pamphlet on propaganda, published by the US Armed Forces Institute, makes a couple of important points:
[I]f propaganda is not in harmony with the individual and his desire, it is likely to be met with cynical skepticism....Movement conservatism has, I submit, sidled away from these bracing truths in recent years, and this has led to a certain...tone-deafness in regard to life as she is lived in the cesspool of iniquity we call America.
In addition...a man's own knowledge and information may cause him to hold to an opinion no matter how heavy the barrage of propaganda attempting to force him to change it.
As plenty of other bloggers have noted, the Right's current attempt to demonize contraception is roughly on a par with its horrific intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo (a subject on which I had my rather melancholy say here). Which is to say that it's going to cost them more than they'll gain.
If you, as a politician, measure the success of such tactics by the amount of chatter they generate on cable news, it's easy to miss the more crucial point that in the real world, real people are seeing you and yours -- once again -- as a pack of opportunistic busybodies and hypocrites whose commitment to "liberty" is belied by your unseemly appetite for panty-sniffing, your peacock strutting and screeching outside hospices and clinics, and your tireless freelance meddling.
Granted, Americans are seldom happier than when they're fretting over and resenting other people's enjoyment of sex. And yes, very few conservative politicians have gone broke denouncing things of which they're secret devotees; if a conservative politician speaks out against masturbation, you can be pretty confident that his house has a room devoted to it, the contents of which cost more than every healthcare facility in Haiti, and rival an oil refinery in their complexity and danger.
But sneering at contraception -- and, by extension, at the cost of bearing and raising children -- doesn't really come across as a moral stance to most people, I don't think. It's more akin to sneering at people for working at a car wash, or cooking their own food, or not having a chauffeur, or being a woman. There are plenty of stupid stances on which people will give you the benefit of the doubt, or even agree with you: people may be quite willing to believe that climate change is a socialist plot, or that Europe is three years away from sharia. These are subjects about which many Americans know little or nothing, so it's easy and fun to have strong, self-flattering opinions about them.
But when you get into areas where Americans have plenty of their own "knowledge and information," the congressional and media loudmouths who seemed Jeffersonian in regard to foreign affairs begin to look more like a cage full of monkeys who are baring their nasty little teeth and hurling clumps of dung at you.
And that's before you consider the specific economic stresses we're under, thanks to years of the glibertarian economics they championed. I know people who actually want kids, but are holding off because of the economy. I'd assume that there are lots of people like that, in houses great and small across this land, and that they deeply resent the implication that sex is strictly for people who can afford a child. Especially if they understand that our tax dollars pay for contraception for members of Congress, and for their healthcare, and their childcare, and the line of designer fucking machines they've installed in their fur-lined dungeons.
But here's how James Pethokoukis of US News and World Report views the matter:
This is wrong on so many levels, one of which is looking at children born to the "wrong people" as economic burdens rather gifts, the music makers, the dreamers of dreams. She sees them as a cost instead of blessed benefits. Wow.Wow, indeed. So much for family planning, and the personal responsibility it entails. If it feels good, do it...and the Lord will provide! You can tell the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker that your baby is not a cost but a benefit, and instruct them to forward their bills to The Man Upstairs. And don't worry about what grinding poverty and stress do to your child's physical development or sense of self; as soon as your Blessed Benefit is old enough to understand Atlas Shrugged, he or she will forgive you everything.
There's a more basic fact to consider here, and it has something to do with the mixture of mawkish sentimentality and cold brutality that Pethokoukis has picked up from his political overlords: A lot of people really don't like Republicans, at this point, and many of them will approve of Obama's presidency to the precise extent that he grinds people like John Boehner into the dirt. When you're in this position, attacking programs that are infinitely more popular than you are is probably not a good idea.
So why do they do it? Amanda thinks it's sour grapes. I think it has more to do with a schoolyard conception of sex that most conservatives seem never to have outgrown: it's a snake pit of cooties and faggotry and excretory functions -- simultaneously nauseating and good for a laugh -- which makes it, above all, an excellent stick with which to beat other people over the head. My guess is that given the chance to make fun of Nancy Pelosi for talking about contraception, sober political calculation went out the window: they simply assumed that forming a ring around Pelosi and chanting "Nancy likes condoms!" in singsong would make her a laughingstock, and earn the respect -- or at least the fear -- of the other children.
(Photo from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis, 1890.)