I have no interest in Ms. Sandra Fluke, her manner of life, or for that matter her opinions. I am interested in her as the end game of a successful strategy of “controlling the narrative.” This is an important art, one which conservatives of all sorts have not mastered, and which certainly bears some study.
The DHHS regulations that were the original focus of controversy were an over-reaching misstep. The regulation required access to abortion in all but a few narrowly defined circumstances, and furthermore purported to define religious practice. Abortion is at least controversial, with many people finding it wrong in most cases, and even more finding it distasteful. I imagine that the administration recognized very quickly that it had overreached, but the problem was how to preserve the regulation (because widespread access to abortion is a first order principle for the core believers here) while distracting attention from the generally unacceptable aspects of the regulation. And this, the Obama Administration did with terrifying efficiency.
The President took the lead by promising to fix the regulation eventually. Promulgating a regulation takes a fair amount of time, and in the interim the (unacceptable) regulation remains in place. The President’s action was merely to gain a little time.
Within days, the administration had turned the subject to birth control, not nearly as controversial an matter as abortion. Whether the use of birth control methods to prevent pregnancy is a good idea or not is irrelevant for this discussion. That use is widely supported by Americans, even among Roman Catholic laity (percentages and numbers are not relevant. It’s important only that a good sized chunk of American Roman Catholic laity use birth control). Another, good sized chunk of American Roman Catholic laity are disenchanted with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops anyway, so this issue becomes the classic “wedge issue” that fragments the opposition united on one large issue (abortion ) into segments that are not united on another (birth control).
The last act was rolling out Ms. Fluke to argue that, so far as I can see, Georgetown had some difficulty in seeing to it that its own policies were followed, the only solution was, of course, A Big Government Program. The opposition took the bait, and the public discussion turned to Ms. Fluke, her statements about birth control, the sad stories of a couple of her friends, and the boorish behavior of some of her critics, and not about the mandatory abortion coverage or the overreaching claim to define religious action. Or, for that matter, about the extremely significant tendency among the Administration’s supporters to treat pregnancy as a pathology.
By changing the narrative from one about the erosion of liberty and the violation of conscience to one about a person, and about foolish attacks on her, the Administration and its allies have very successfully diverted attention from the offending regulation to the opposition’s response to a relatively innocuous individual, and have created a climate in which the opposition can be made to appear simply cranky.