That’s a very good question, and I’ve been following the remarks that Glenn Reynolds and James Taranto have been making in defense of Rick Santorum (in Reynolds’ case) and in support of him (in Taranto’s case).
Two things should be remembered here: 1) my own conservatism is in the Goldwater mold, rather than the Santorum mold. That is, while I do recognize the family as a building block of society, I am a passionate defender of the minority against the force of mob rule—in particular, the rights of that “smallest minority,” the individual. Those rights must not be subordinated to the needs of the state. I am also 2) a Roman Catholic, and I feel that the Church has a lot to teach us about submission to God’s will, and about what is possible in heterosexual union when folks eschew artificial birth control after marriage.
As a policy matter, this means nothing, though, since I don’t think the state should pay for it, or mandate it, or force others to pay for it, either directly or indirectly. Nor should the state discourage it.
The degree to which Rick Santorum is seen as extreme may indeed be exaggerated a bit by the media, and I recognize that anyone who stands up for conservative principles can get run over in that way: after all, it happened to Rick Perry, despite the common perception on the “hard Right” that the good Governor can be a bit of a squish. However, Rick Santorum has also suggested that the individual states are Constitutionally empowered to outlaw birth control and oral/anal sex (though not to mandate the buying of insurance, oddly enough), and he has stated that reading JFK’s speech on the separation of church and state—which drew heavily on the first amendment—made him want to “throw up.” He has linked mainstream Protestantism to Satan’s influence. So one needn’t rely on media exaggerations at all to find Santorum’s brand of “social conservatism” (read: religious-flavored statism) to be a bit extreme.
Santorum has also said that birth control has been “harmful” for women, and it is this last statement that had Mr. Taranto off to the races today, finding insight within it that is old news to many—and yet defending it with a new convert’s zeal.
We feel bad about what we are up to today, because we are particularly fond of Mr. Taranto. But we, you know—we have to call ‘em like we see ‘em, and Senator Santorum wants to take public discourse into the weeds. So we’re going to try to fish it out again, over the protests of Mr. Taranto, who writes:
Santorum’s argument is not really all that counterintuitive. It posits that the availability of birth control changed the culture in ways that encouraged illegitimacy.
Yes, of course. Taranto points out the illogic of his own stance, and then pokes holes in the case some make for disagreeing with him. Then he finds one academic paper that pushes for the notion that a single artificial method of birth control in particular—birth control pills—caused the “sexual revolution.” Because the two coincided.
Which is, of course, as reasonable as insisting that microwave ovens caused the decline in families eating supper together around the same table, at the same time. After all, the technology ascended at the same time as that regrettable cultural change.. So it must have caused it. (Even though in real life, at the same time it probably contributed to “grazing” in some families, it helped others to pull a family supper together more quickly, and therefore facilitated this delightful ritual all the more.)
We know that the popularity of “the pill” coincided with the sexual revolution and radical feminism, and that many people read causality into that, despite the sea changes that were going on concurrently in popular culture: black liberation, the opposition to the Vietnam War, the free speech movement, the beginnings of gay liberation, the push “back to the land,” communes, organic food, TM. Were the majority of women who participated in these phenomena ingesting artificial contraceptives? Maybe, but there were probably just as many who eschewed birth control, practiced natural birth control, or stuck to barrier methods. Birth control pills were never considered particularly organic, after all.
When an entire generation decides to deconstruct social mores and then rebuild them closer to the hearts’ desires, it seems a bit disingenous to extract one single piece of technology that advanced during the same era, and pin the entire transition on it.
The earliest medium-scale “birth control” movement was actually the nineteenth-century push among feminist and abolitionist women toward “female virtue,” and it promoted the notion that women were morally superior to men, and should take the lead in marital sex relations—not because women back then weren’t as hot for their husbands as we are for ours, but because repeated childbirth was risky to a woman’s health, and to the health of any children she conceived before fully recovering from her last pregnancy. Add to that the economic burden of more “surprise” kids, potentially during hard times for a family (say, right after the breadwinner has just been laid off), and the increased risk of infant mortality with the depleted nutritional stores of a post-partum woman . . . and we begin to see why the ladies of the time were willing to abuse truth (claiming that women were more moral than men) in order to avoid heartache for their families.
Many within the temperence movement also had in mind giving women more control over their sex lives and fertility levels: after all, in most states men could rape their wives with impunity, and it appeared prudent at the time to limit their access to alcohol for both humane reasons and family-planning purposes.
Had birth control pills shown up in another decade, they would have been associated merely with married ladies ensuring the proper spacing of their kids in consultation with their husbands, rather than submitting to the increased risks women take on when they have too many children—risks that are particularly acute overseas, but are certainly present here in the U.S. The use to which birth control pills were put has made them a symbol for something that took place within the same 20-year period, but though they were used as a tool in the sexual revolution, they did not cause it.
Would the U.S. benefit from enhanced fertility? Yes.
Should the government be encouraging this, in ways other than a bit of tax relief for working families, elimination of the marriage penalty, and lowering taxes such that more families can get by on one income? No.
Should women and girls take back some of the power they’ve forfeited to men and boys, by insisting that they be treated well, that emotional commitments and the possibility of marriage be “on the table,” and that every romance not be taken into the bedroom at top speed, with lights flashing and sirens wailing? Yes.
Is it the place of politicians to tell women how many hours they should work outside of their family commitments? No.
There is a parallel debate going on regarding whether feminists such as Sarah Palin should (or legitimately can) call themselves “feminists,” but I am [um, we are] ultimately rather bored by that: it almost universally comes down to the supposed “anti-feminists” defining the term as an expression of radical feminism (and so, either an undermining of middle-class morality or an outright reverse-sexism/male-bashing ethos). They set themselves up in opposition to those who merely accept the normal dictionary meaning of the word (that is, affirming that men and women are, as the Bible makes plain—and even Stacy McCain once admitted—equal in the sight of God). Merriam-Webster’s first definition of feminism: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
So, you know: the right to vote, to own property, and to have our arguments considered on their merits.
What is clear, of course, is that the sensibility that was given its fullest expression in the “swinging seventies” was degrading to both men and women, and that for women to act like sexual “tough girls” is generally a waste of time and talent. We’re much better off when we compete with men in the worlds of arts, letters, science, and athletics, rather than emulating the worst of them in our mores. And, after all, only Lord Byron really pulled off being Lord Byron.
As for those who advocate our staying home and having a baby every year or two? Well . . . I wonder, sometimes, whether those males who say they want a complete reversal of feminism would consent to run a marathon every year or two (at less risk to their lives and health than it incurs to keep pumping babies out over the course of two decades). And quite frankly, whether some of them would even be willing to do without the income their wives bring into their homes.
I’m not one of those who fetishize Reagan, but let’s recall that he did preside over a time of great prosperity in this country, and that he did it not by micromanaging our lives or trying to bring back 1950s gender roles, but rather by increasing opportunity for everyone, including women, and keeping taxes as low as possible—so someone could stay home with the kids when they were young. It’s the couple that ought to decide how many hours each member works; not the state. And it’s the couple that should decide how many kids to have, and whether artificial birth control should be used in spacing out those kids; not the state.
I have a pastor, after all, and so do most Roman Catholics. Mine is ten blocks away, at my local parish. It would help me not at all to have a spare in the White House.
In the meantime, the focus on non-abortion “social issues” is greatly complicating what should be a pretty straightforward narrative for this summer and fall: President Obama had a chance to fix the economy, and he made it even worse. The unemployment rate is unacceptably high; job-creation is at its lowest since the Great Depression. Obama is overregulating many industries, and crippling energy production—which affects almost everything else.
The Marcellus Shale and other gas plays partially overlay the “Rust Belt,” and could help to mitigate the partial collapse of the auto industry better than any bailout band-aid. We are only exploring two percent of our available offshore (deep- and shallow-water) oil and natural gas potential, and are developing less than that, thanks to Obama’s “permitorium” and other Federal restrictions. The Administration, despite its denials, put the kibosh on the Keystone XL Pipeline, incurring the grave risk that Canada’s tar-sands crude will be sold to China instead.
The cost of gasoline is shooting up again, which hurts working families (and hurts non-working ones even more).
It’s the economy: the economy, the economy, the economy.
Fix that, and you fix a lot.
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers.