Mike Huckabee just became a field general in the War on Women.
He inadvertently won his promotion with one sentence at the Republican National Committee winter meeting. To wit: “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”
Literally within minutes, the former Arkansas governor’s comment had become fodder for the vast political and media apparatus devoted to concocting a Republican war on women. His words had their own chyron on MSNBC, like a tornado or a bombing overseas. They instantly became a symbol of all that is allegedly wrong and can’t be fixed about the Republican party.
Needless to say, Huckabee’s statement wouldn’t pass muster as a summation of the Democrats’ position on the contraception mandate in the American Political Science Review. It was the sort of crude caricature of the other party that you tend to hear at ... meetings of the political parties. Yet the manufacturers of the War on Women managed to take a sentence that should have been offensive to Democrats and make it offensive to half the human race.
The women’s magazines began mocking Huckabee on Twitter with the hashtag #CantControlMyLibido. What sort of blue-nose rube thinks that women can’t control themselves? Never mind that Huckabee attacked the view that women can’t control their libidos, and never mind that Cosmo has not heretofore been known as a publication devoted to the wonders of sexual restraint. The most prominent cover line on its current issue is “Fantasy Sex! 26 Ridiculously Hot Moves.”
The comedienne Sarah Silverman professed herself freaked out that Republicans like Mike Huckabee want to control her private parts. If that’s what Huckabee was getting at, he had an odd way of conveying it — by saying the opposite.
Prior to his offending sentence, Huckabee said, “Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything anyone else can do.” This was ignored, or evidently taken as a dastardly false-flag operation to conceal his hostility to women.
The Huckabee flap establishes a new standard in War on Women gaffes. The old standard was: Don’t say something outlandish, most notoriously violated by Republican representative Todd Akin during his misbegotten Senate campaign in Missouri last cycle. The new standard is: Avoid saying something that can be distorted to sound outlandish if your intent and meaning are ignored by people who make a living out of ignoring intent and meaning.
If you condemn Democrats for insulting women, you are insulting women. If you profess your admiration for all that women have accomplished in recent decades, as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky did on Meet the Press over the weekend, you are guilty of minimizing and therefore aiding and abetting the War on Women. There is no way out because the War on Women is a contentless political gotcha game.
Opposing the contraception mandate makes you ipso facto a combatant in the War on Women. The mandate is used as a handy bludgeon. If you believe employers should be free of a federal mandate forcing them to cover contraception, the argument goes, you believe that women are second-class citizens or you want to ban contraception. It is never considered that women without this coverage might buy their own contraception. This was the mindset that Huckabee attempted to lampoon at the RNC, declaring at the same time, “Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women.”
What is astounding is that the War on Women rubric works. It is the dumbest successful electoral framing since the “log cabin and hard cider” campaign of William Henry Harrison in 1840. If Huckabee hadn’t been made into the villain, it would have been someone else soon enough.