The Republican presidential race took a great leap on Tuesday when my home state of Georgia, along with nine others, all held primaries or caucuses on the same day. Against my better judgment, I stayed up to around 3:30 to watch the returns come in. Georgia was declared a win for Newt Gingrich within minutes of the polls closing at 2:00 a.m. Helsinki time. No surprise there. Not even Newt could manage to lose in his home state.
Gingrich got 47% of the vote in Georgia, to Romney’s 26%. What surprises me is that Santorum, favorite of hard-core evangelical Christians was only able to reach 20%. Ron Paul got a pitiful 6%, which I guess shows there really isn’t much of a libertarian streak in the Peach State after all. Republicans in my home county in North Georgia went for the native son in an even bigger way. They cast 51% of their votes for Gingrich, giving him a whopping 28 points lead over Romney. And this despite support for Romney from some of the county’s more prominent citizens that was enthusiastic enough to draw attention from national TV, though not exactly in a good way.
While Gingrich took Georgia by storm, you have to wonder whether the hurricane force of his personality (read, “blow-hard”) is strong enough to carry him much beyond his home state. It begins to look like he doesn’t have much of a natural base outside his native south, if even there. In northern and western Super Tuesday states, like Massachusetts and Idaho, Gingrich didn’t make it higher than 8%. In Ohio, he did better (15%), but still came in third.
Even in the South, Gingrich wasn’t a shoo-in. Neighboring Tennessee, just up I-75 from Atlanta, went overwhelmingly for Santorum, leaving Gingrich in distant third place. With a less-than-stellar showing like that, it’s no wonder there’s lots of talk that Gingrich should do everyone a favor and quit. Of course, he won’t. Not yet. He’s betting that Georgia and South Carolina weren’t just flukes and is putting all his chips on Alabama and Mississippi, two other Deep South states that vote next Tuesday.
I have a feeling that the baffling allure of Newt Gingrich does not extend much beyond the Georgia state line, and he’ll lose next week, especially when God-fearing voters in Alabama and Mississippi have the option of Rick Santorum.
If you ask me, Santorum’s allure is just as baffling as Gingrich’s. He is not only conservative, but also a true believer. He’s a deeply religious Catholic with an antiquated worldview that has apparently prompted him reopen a debate that many of us thought was settled over 50 years ago.
Everyone recognizes that abortion is an incredibly emotional and tangled issue, and one that is still controversial for many Americans. I don’t doubt for a moment that Santorum, like many conservatives, would like to see abortion disappear. But what is surprising is that he also seems to feel the same way about birth control, decades after the Pill made planned pregnancies easier and a way of life for most Americans.
Maybe that’s what bothers Santorum. He is currently riding the wave of controversy over birth control that would have been hard to predict a year ago. He has talked about “the dangers of contraception” in America, which he sees as not only unleashing sexual freedom outside of marriage, but also igniting too much sexual pleasure within it. In Santorum’s mind, sex between a husband and wife is sullied by contraception. Without the possibility of creating a baby each and every time, matrimonial sex is diminished, reduced to just an act of pleasure stripped of its true purpose, procreation.
I’ll hazard a guess that most married couples in America kind of like it like that. In ordinary times, I would say that Santorum is way out of step with his fellow citizens. But these may not be ordinary times. Just witness the uproar surrounding Sandra Fluke.
Fluke, a 30-year-old law student, tried to testify before Congress in favor of forcing church-supported universities, such as Fluke’s Georgetown, to pay for birth control as part of their health-care insurance coverage. (It was a White House proposal along these lines that first awoke the apparently long-simmering animosity of conservative Republicans to birth control.)
Fluke told an informal panel of Democratic lawmakers that the lack of insurance coverage for birth control pills could cause hardship for low-income students at Georgetown. She explained how a fellow student with an ovary condition treatable with birth control pills eventually lost an ovary after she was unable to get the medication through Georgetown University’s insurance.
Now, some conservatives might simply argue against the policy Fluke was advocating. (By the way, the public health system in Finland pays when women visit a clinic for birth control prescriptions, but not for the medication itself. Women here have to cover the cost of the pills, unless they need them for a medical condition.) Or conservative critics might question Fluke’s objectivity or accuse her of exaggerating the severity of the issue. Fair points. But that wouldn’t have been vicious enough for conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, a gasbag of historic proportions.
On his nationally broadcast show, Rush launched into a personal attack against Fluke where he called her a “slut” and “prostitute” for expecting taxpayers to pay her to have sex. Rush’s twisted (in every sense) logic was that Fluke was having so much sex that she could no longer afford to pay for birth control herself. He continued his on-air attacks for four days in a row, at one point suggesting that if taxpayers had to pay for Fluke to have consequence-free sex, then she should provide video tapes of the encounters so everyone could enjoy.
Even by Rush Limbaugh standards, this is simply unbelievable. Not to mention totally inaccurate. Besides being incredibly insulting and juvenile, his rant bore no relation to what Fluke’s actually said, to the issue at large, or the reality of birth control itself. For example, it would be private insurance paying for the pills, not taxpayers. Limbaugh also seems to think a woman needs to take a birth control pill each time she has sex. Chances are he’s confusing birth control medication with Viagra, something he apparently does know quite a bit about.
Limbaugh finally issued a lukewarm apology when sponsors started leaving his show, but hasn’t faced much real criticism from the right over his comments, least of all from the GOP presidential candidates, who all seem afraid of him. I would love to think that something like this would force him off the air for good, but the way things are these days, I wouldn’t get too hopeful.
Happy International Women’s Day?