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Why the White House Botched Contraception

Why the White House Botched Contraception; Romney Derangement Claims Another Victim; Budget Follies

Groupthink Led to Obama Missteps on Religion

“The good news is that the president seems to have noted the tremendous unanimity among people of all faiths, or none at all, that this was a dangerous intrusion into the integrity of the internal life of the church, and has indicated a willingness to offer some mitigation. The bad news is that the terribly restrictive mandate still stands.”

-- Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, talking to the New York Times while waiting for his luggage at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport.

The federal government will no longer require religious organizations to purchase health insurance that covers pills and procedures that violate their faiths. Instead, the federal government will require these organizations to purchase health insurance that comes with a free side order of such pills and procedures.

The president is trying to let himself off on a technicality. Yes he plans to force the Catholic Church, starting next year, to buy health insurance that includes contraception, sterilization and the “morning after” pill, but says that those items will be provided as a gift from insurance companies.

This, of course, is going over about as well as a BBQ joint in a Hasidic neighborhood.

Perhaps the point of the change is to simply cast the president’s opponents on the subject as unreasonable and unyielding. Listening to the administration’s talking points, it sounds like that’s the plan: shrug and suggest that opponents are motivated by cynical political aims.

If the president tries to hold the line here, his chances in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Mexico will be substantially worse off that when he started this process. Yes, he gets credit from liberal women, but that’s the base of his base. They’re not voting Republican this year, no matter whom the GOP nominates.

Instead of fixing the problem, Obama has worsened it by suggesting that the core complaint is so unworthy as to be remedied by an accounting gimmick. One doesn’t prescribe a placebo unless he or she believes that the problem is all in the patient’s head.

Much has been made of the effort by former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley to get the president to back down in his effort to force Catholic colleges, hospitals and charities to comply. Daley brought in the president’s designated emissary to blue-collar and Catholic voters, Vice President Joe Biden, in his bid to get Obama to back down.

But they were pretty clearly in the minority view since the meeting had to be arranged by back channels and go on in secret. Daley and Biden are Catholics and understand how their church functions and how such issues affect Catholic voters, including the ones who may disagree with church dogma.

Obama long ago tried to excuse the conservative proclivities of these voters, telling liberal California donors that these folks “cling” to their faith because they are downtrodden and disadvantaged. One would think that someone who was so badly embarrassed by his own incomprehension might have more than a token presence from those precincts.

If the concerns of the largest denomination in the nation and a meeting with its American leader must be conducted on the down low, something is out of kilter.

If he had more diversity in his administration, Obama might have thought better of his original rule and certainly would have avoided offering a condescending correction.


Another Not Romney Gives in to the Dark Side

RICK SANTORUM: "I don't try to rig straw polls.”

CANDY CROWLEY: “Do you think Governor Romney rigged it?”

SANTORUM: “Well, you have to talk to the Romney campaign and how many tickets they bought. We've heard all sorts of things.”

-- Exchange on “State of the Union” concerning the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual presidential straw poll.

The Obama campaign announced today that it was expanding its Attack Watch program in which alleged misinformation about the president is identified and the purveyor identified as either a knowing prevaricator in need of denunciation or an unwitting soul in need of correction and education.

The effort is so far most notable for having been turned into a Twitter joke by the president’s conservative critics, but Team Obama is doubling down with the creation of Truth Teams nationally and in battleground states to personally confront the president’s detractors.

The message to news outlets is that they had better tread carefully when discussing the president and his term in office, or they will find themselves getting a talking to from these Truth Team members (Truthers?).

This is the latest effort to replicate the success of 2008’s “Stop the Smears” effort by Obama, in which he used a Web site to address various claims – that he was born in Kenya, that he was not a Christian, etc. It was counterintuitive since political professionals always say to avoid repeating negative claims, but was the right choice about a little-known candidate with an exotic background and thin resume.

The reason it has been hard for the president to recreate the 2008 magic is two-fold.

First, Obama is probably the most famous person in the world so the “misinformation” has become more mundane and policy related. “States will be bankrupted by Medicaid under the president’s health law” is a lot harder to shout down than something about a forged birth certificate.

Second, it’s creepy and kooky when coming from the most powerful man in the world. Like when the White House asked supporters to snitch on friends and neighbors spreading “misinformation” about the Obama health law and was collecting offenders’ email addresses, it seems abusive. Worst of all, though, it goes from being something that fights conspiracy theories to evidence that Team Obama has conspiracy theories of its own.

Paranoia is not a pretty thing in politics, but awfully hard to resist because it is such a rotten business.

Witness the challengers to Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney. When Rick Santorum pulled down Newt Gingrich as the leading Not Romney with wins last week, the former Pennsylvania senator delivered one of his best lines of the campaign. He said he wasn’t interested in being the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, but rather the conservative alternative to Barack Obama. Boom.

But just a few days later, Santorum was back to bickering with Romney and even accusing Romney of rigging the vote at CPAC. On Tuesday, Santorum had been grand and gracious. By Sunday he was being small. Even if it was true, it hardly seems a theory for a presidential candidate to traffic. If the polls doesn’t matter, as Santorum claimed, why bother accusing Romney of rigging it?

Herman Cain fell into this trap when he and his campaign obsessed over the provenance of the first Politico story outlining the sexual harassment charges against him. Not only did it draw more attention to the subject, but it had a bit of Capt. Queeg about it – obsessed with small details while the larger matter was slipping away from him.

Romney has a way of getting under his opponents skin and driving them, literally, to distraction.

Gingrich wasted untold time going around accusing Romney of lying about him. Rather than talking about his own campaign or attacking Obama, Gingrich Queeged himself over what ended up being a tiny fight over whether Romney had the right to tell his Super PAC what to do.

Rick Perry entered the race pre-Queeged. The Texas governor came into the race talking about only two things: Texas job statistics and Mitt Romney. Voters quickly tired of both subjects.

The problem for the Not Romneys is that their foe is running as an intentionally bland alternative to both them and, he hopes, President Obama. Romney is the human escape valve. If Republican primary voters believe that they lack a viable conservative alternative (too fringy, too slow, too much baggage), then Romney can win the nomination as the GOP’s default setting. He plans to do the same thing in the fall for the general electorate.

When his foes swat and swing at him, Romney just flashes the old Pepsodent smile and emits the signature chuckle. His message: “Good for you, tiger. Now I’m going to beat you anyway.” That makes the attacker even more enraged and the attacks, therefore, even less effective.

Santorum has to survive as the top Not Romney for 15 days until the next vote. He needs very much to be the definitive winner in the intra-party primary between him and Gingrich when voting resumes at the end of the current 28-day post-Florida hiatus. If Santorum is serious about going the distance with Romney, he need to first vanquish Gingrich in the three-week primary onslaught that starts with Michigan and Arizona.

That will depend on Santorum doing what no leading Not Romney has been able to do so far: ignore Romney.


Washington Gets Frothy Oven an Irrelevant Budget

“Unfortunately, the president and his party leaders, they're not a part of this conversation. And that to me is very disappointing."

-- House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., on “This Week.”

President Obama today heads to swing state Virginia to lay out his budget proposal. There are no surprises here, but Washington is in a white-hot frenzy over the subject.

We’ve known for a long time that Obama would fail in his promise to cut deficits in half by the end of his term. We’ve also known for a long time what Obama’s excuse would be. (Hint: It starts with a “B” and ends with “ush.”)

We’ve known also that Obama would not address entitlement reform. Neither is it any secret that Obama’s push for “fairness” would include another call for increasing taxes on top earners and spending the proceeds on government initiatives.

But why should Obama bother offering something bold or even something that reflects an effort for compromise?

The Senate has not passed a budget since the spring of 2009, and has no plans to pass this one. Despite the claims of White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew that this is because of Republican intransigence and the tyranny of the 60-vote rule, budget legislation can be advanced with an old-fashioned simple majority. The reason no previous budget has been adopted, nor will this one, is that doing so would be a pointless political risk.

Washington has arranged its spending around the deal struck between House Republicans and Obama to increase the federal debt limit. Spelling that out again is of no election-year advantage to anyone. So, instead, Obama will produce his show budget and House Republicans will produce theirs and then nothing will happen.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has opted to skip budgeting again this year, and it seems unlikely that any number of Web videos or red buttons will get him to change his mind. He doesn’t mind being the target and it helps shield his members (and majority) by not forcing them into the unhappy world of budget votes.

For the wonk set, it’s interesting to see the priorities and spending projections, but priorities and projections matter very little in documents that everyone knows are strictly theoretical.

The story might be better were it about the collapse of the budget process in the federal government, but it will instead likely be on the putative projections of documents that will disappear immediately following the current news cycle.


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.