Pundits who said social issues didn’t matter in the 2012 presidential campaign were about as foolish as the Costa Concordia cruise ship captain who ordered dinner after his ship had already crashed against rocks.

In recent weeks, President Obama has done everything he can to emulate that ship captain and aid the left’s growing war against religion.

In late January, the Obama administration announced it would force “most church-affiliated organizations” to provide free birth control. The only exception they received was a little extra time to embrace the new mandate. Lucky them.

Obama’s already backed off his initial mandate and, if he cares about reelection, will have to do so again.

The Catholic bishops didn’t blink. The administration called the initial cave an “accommodation.” Catholic bishops said the decision is unacceptable and must be corrected.”

Some Catholic liberals have taken Obama’s side this time around, “including Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals across the country and individual Catholic Democrats and liberals who had helped persuade the administration to make the change,” wrote The New York Times.

But highlighting the administration’s adversarial nature with faith, “the bishops also were dismayed that the administration did not consult them in crafting the compromise, presenting it to them as a fait accompli.” Defenders of faith called it a “fig leaf of a political compromise.”

It was a true sign that the administration, which always worries about “optics,” is tone deaf is to things that matter to voters – in this case many Democratic voters.

Catholics, Obama has since been reminded, have a tendency to vote for Democrats. Except, of course, when those Democrats directly attack the Catholic Church.

And that’s what this ruling did, forcing Catholic institutions to either violate the tenets of their faith or pay a $2,000 fine per person. For an institution like a hospital with hundreds or thousands of employees, that would have meant millions of dollars in fines each year. The decision made the extreme left happy, as anything that bashes religion tends to do. But this battle has nothing to do with birth control. This is religion control.

It was such an awful move that some of Obama’s own media supporters criticized it.

Politico’s Evan Thomas called the move “crazy” and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said “even liberal Catholics are going to be proud” of the Catholic bishops for fighting this.

Only the old reliables, like The New York Times, backed Obama resolutely. Times Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal was particularly anti-faith. “I understand that the Catholic Church in particular feels strongly about birth control, but this isn’t a theocracy.”

It wasn’t enough. Obama is creating a case study on how to mishandle public relations during an election campaign. This comes in the midst of the Komen foundation disaster involving Planned Parenthood, itself also a case study on mishandling public relations.

But rather than provide Obama with essential background, Komen likely taught Obama all the wrong lessons. Instead of learning that you don’t offend your base during an election year, Obama seems convinced that liberals command the higher ground in both old and new media.

But there’s more to the Komen story than most media outlets report.

The left had targeted Komen at the end of 2011 over the issue of environmental extremism. Komen paid the Institute of Medicine to study environmental risks of breast cancer but didn’t call the chemical BPA a risk factor for breast cancer. Lefties went nuts and said Komen was “in the pocket” of the chemical industry. When Komen offended the left on Planned Parenthood, it was a second offense and the penalty was that much harsher.

The old media certainly did their part in both the Komen and contraception stories to prove Obama correct about the power of the left. With Komen, reporters showed their absolute support for abortion. Story after story cast the defunding as the act of a “bully” or a battle between “women’s groups,” as if killing nearly 1,000 babies a day makes Planned Parenthood pro-woman.

The media and lefty hate for Komen and Vice President Karen Handel was so extreme that so-called “progressive” radio host Mike Malloy compared Handel to the Nazis. “She is the type that would take every Jew in America and crucify ’em. She is the type that would take, uh, every Muslim in America and execute ’em,” he ranted.

The anti-Komen hate spread like wildfire, with journalists feeding the flames.

But that contrasts sharply with the battle over religious freedom against the Obama administration. 

The battle against the contraception mandate was largely ignored by major media outlets. Journalists hyped the story they agreed with and did their best to squelch the one they opposed. 

It took the CBS Evening News 19 days just to cover Obama’s disastrous assault on religion on contraception.

In the old world of news, that would have been enough for Obama to score a huge win. Catholic opposition would have been kept among the most faithful and news reports would have continually promoted the “benefit” to women.

Those days aren’t gone, but they are fading into the sunset.

Obama’s media buddies couldn’t silence the opposition this time. Supporters of the 1st Amendment are well aware that the Constitutional-Scholar-in-Chief apparently has never even given the document more than a cursory read. Had he, he would know that religious freedom is the first right listed above all others on the Bill of Rights.

And that’s where this battle ultimately rests – with the Constitution. If Obama goes ahead with his anti-Catholic agenda, someone will sue him and the battle will head to the courts, making the case drag on through the election. (There are reportedly three suits already filed.)

If he caves again, he will lose all the wacko lefty backing he just gained by attacking Catholics in the first place. And, just like Komen, he will learn that neither group trusts him on the issue any more.

For liberals, they will feel Obama will sell them out as soon as he faces stiff opposition. Catholics will know that, even if he caves, he can change his mind again after the election. And in his second term there will be no ballot box to rein him in.

For conservatives, it’s a sharp reminder that this isn’t an election about squishy issues. This is about the Constitution and the future of our nation.

This fiasco is a teachable moment for Obama. It’s a given he will lose on this issue. Either he gives in, the likeliest of options, or he loses in the next election. And the only birth he will really end up preventing is that of his own second term.

Dan Gainoris the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.