How pitiful is it that anyone is still out there trying to pretend like this whole argument over women's reproductive health and access to affordable birth control is a matter of "religious liberty?" That's exactly what former Cheney adviser Mary Matalin was doing during one of Anderson Cooper's little "fair and balanced" debates this Thursday night on CNN.
Hilary Rosen was exactly right when she said this in response to Matalin's hand wringing for the Catholic bishops:
ROSEN: The only thing that they seem to, you know, want to take to the streets on is something that discriminates against women who don't agree with the men in the church.
If Mary Matalin wants to convince anyone that it's not Republicans that have been on a jihad against women's reproductive health over the last few decades, and really aggressively over the last few years, she's going to have to do a better job than she did here.
Transcript via CNN below the fold.
COOPER: Well, joining me now is CNN political contributor, Republican strategist, Mary Matalin, also CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen.
So, Mary, you saw the poll number. Six in 10 Americans are saying that this isn't about religious freedom. Is this a losing issue for Republicans?
MATALIN: Absolutely unequivocally not. That was one poll and it depends how you ask it. In "The New York Times" poll, in the CBS poll, in myriad other polls when majorities of Americans, including women oppose the government, the full force of the government to intrude on First Amendment rights -- First amendments guarantee of religious rights.
I'm saying, women, when it's posed that way and that's how the regulation is written and that's what not just Catholics but it's multidenominational, have made an argument not as forcefully as the Obama people have, to switch it, to frame it up, when they -- when they say what it actually is, people oppose it. But equally important, probably more important is what you led with. Three- quarters of Americans, including women, do not even think this is a political issue. Equal numbers, three-quarters of Americans, including women, think the top political issue is the economy.
It's not an issue. And they don't want the government to be dealing with birth control. So I've strategically, the president has made a grievous political error here, I believe.
COOPER: Hilary, do you see that as an error? I mean, as far as Democrats go, critics are saying they're playing politics on this. We're seeing ads, mailers, fundraising, appeals from them, and a lot of talk about women on the campaign tail from the Obama administration.
ROSEN: Well, I mean, first of all, the president did not make this a political issue. The president issues a regulation to try and accommodate, implementing a law that Congress passed, and the Republicans and -- went out and started opposing it and jumping on it.
It is the Republicans who are opposing reauthorizing the -- the Violence Against Women Act today in the United States Senate. It's Mitt Romney who's on the campaign trail saying, let's get rid of Planned Parenthood. These are not Democrats going out there. To the extent that Democrats are actually telling voters what it is that the Republicans are saying, you bet we are.
And here's a key issue, which is, you know, when men have medical issues, they are medical. When women have medical issues, they seem to be political. And I think what women are sick and tired of is having their health issues politicized and framing this as a religious liberty issue is equally infuriating. I think, you know, why isn't the -- why isn't Catholic Church out there ranting and raving about not serving pork on Fridays in their cafeterias.
The only thing that they seem to, you know, want to take to the streets on is something that discriminates against women who don't agree with the men in the church.
MATALIN: Oh, Hilary, please, the Catholic bishops and Cardinal Dolan have tried to work with the White House. They sat there for a week, waiting for an accommodation which turned out to be --
ROSEN: An accommodation --
COOPER: Let her finish -- let her finish what -- no, let her finish what she's saying.
MATALIN: Hilary. Hilary. Please.
COOPER: Go ahead, Mary.
MATALIN: They are -- this is a 2,000-year-old Catholic belief that the natural order of things is love, marriage, sex, procreation. So the overwhelming majority of American people including women do not want their religious liberties invaded. They -- all we're asking is this. In this very narrow issue exempt religious institutions and those that are affiliated with religious institutions and this would go away. But it won't go away because the president hasn't vented this war on women.
And I -- I'm going to agree with you on this point. If we're against subsidizing -- using taxpayer dollars for birth control or sexual sorts of drugs, then we're waging a bigger war on men because we don't want taxpayer subsidized erectile drugs and arguably I think that's a much bigger issue for men -- I'm not a scientist but anecdotally after decades I think that's a bigger health issue for the men.
ROSEN: But the Catholic --
MATALIN: Than birth control is for women.
COOPER: But guys --
ROSEN: The Catholic Church is not going after any men's health issues. They are not making those value judgment. It's only about women. And you know here's the issue I think that we have to focus on, which is, you know, women are going -- are watching now. You know, and this is -- this is going to be an issue that is waking up women.
The gender gap in 2008 for the election was, you know, over 10 points, the difference between senator -- then Senator Obama and John McCain. In 2010, it evened out. This is going to widen that gender gap. Women are sick of having our reproductive health and our health issues be politicized and used on the campaign trail.
COOPER: And Mary, Mary --
COOPER: I mean, couldn't you argue that both sides are using this as a political issue? I mean the Republicans certainly raised the stakes on this issue between Rush Limbaugh's comments, Rick Santorum's comments on the trail, they saw it as a religious liberty issue and that as something that would mobilize people to come out and vote, and on the Democratic side they see it as a women's health issue and that's something that's going to mobilize women voters who they believe are going to side with the Democratic Party.
MATALIN: Right. The president specifically turned it into a women's health issue, and a war on women because -- let me translate for you, Anderson, because women are dropping him like a bad first date. He had a nine-point gender advantage the last time, he's down to less than half that.
Mitt Romney is not even on the field yet and he's only down by four points. Mitt Romney has no gender gap. But I think this is insulting to women. They do not think there is a birth control problem. They do believe, as all Americans do, that it's a government out of control problem. So what is happening here is every -- all of his enthusiasm, the intensity and the support among all this demographics, starting with women who -- the president is right, are going to make a difference in this election are leaving the president because they are insulted by making them focus on this. Any woman who's going to be jazzed up by this are not people who would ever, ever vote for Romney as he gave them birth control and a man to go with it.
ROSEN: You know, my friend Mary is, you know, engaging in wishful thinking here. She may be right that this is not an issue that's -- important. But it is -- her candidates, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney who are running around the country trying to get elected on this. By saying they're going to get rid of Planned Parenthood, by saying that there's a war on, you know, religious liberty using what was a regulatory issue to be a political issue.
You know, it is the Republicans ginning up this issue, it's the Republicans refusing to reauthorize a statute that has been on the books for years.
COOPER: Hilary, both sides are using the issue.
COOPER: I mean aren't both sides use this as an issue?
ROSEN: Well, you know --
COOPER: I mean they both see this as an opportunity in different ways.
ROSEN: I think that Democrats started out here playing defense. And you bet we're going on offense because it became clear that this is not just a political game. It became clear that literally our rights are threatened. And that is going to be the case if you have a Mitt Romney president and a Republican Senate, because they've laid out their agenda.
COOPER: We got to leave it there.
ROSEN: That's it. They've been very clear.
COOPER: Hilary, appreciate your perspective. Mary Matalin, as well. Thank you.