Why are Republicans waging war on contraception? It's not the first time the question has been asked, and it won't be the last. Truth be told, Republicans aren't engaging in battle on that front -- but the phrase gets close to a legitimate fight.
Congress, for its part, held an unprecedented vote in the House in February to end funding of Planned Parenthood. It's not a permanent or final vote; it was attached to a short-term move to keep the government funded. The debate in Congress was given momentum by the Live Action investigatory videos, which raised significant questions about what exactly Planned Parenthood is doing; but the rest of us need to discuss why we've let Planned Parenthood step in as a mainstream Band-Aid, throwing contraception and even abortion at problems that have much more fundamental solutions.
Unfortunately, being called "Mr. Hannah Montana" in a glossy-magazine headline is far from Billy Ray Cyrus' biggest problem.
As many a headline has proclaimed, the former country music and television star may be suffering from a brutally true-life "Achy Breaky Heart." Cyrus is divorced and somewhat estranged from his famous daughter, Miley, born Destiny Hope.
Talking about his time co-starring as Hannah Montana's dad in his daughter's series by that name, he tells GQ: "You think, 'This is a chance to make family entertainment, bring families together ...' and look what it's turned into."
She was "small, bubbly and joyful. She had a radiant smile," with a "sweet" face. And yet, she wept.
She was a nun, in full habit, standing outside a Planned Parenthood clinic that Abby Johnson was running in Texas.
The first day Johnson and her staff saw her, they "gawked," and gathered at the clinic window. It was near 100 degrees, and there she was "in a heavy, dark brown habit that swept to the ground," Johnson, in her new book, "Unplanned," remembers: "Her head and hair were completely covered so that only her face showed, a face lifted toward heaven, eyes closed, clearly praying."
And then a "client" left the clinic, a woman who had just had an abortion.
When Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana decided to announce recently that he isn't going to run for the Republican nomination for president -- and instead is likely to run for governor of his state -- you would have thought, from the reaction in some quarters, that he had committed the ultimate act of betrayal. At least one senior longtime Republican political aide thought that Pence had somehow let down his principles and his country by not taking a chance on the presidential race. Folks on the Pence for president bandwagon were in a deep funk. "Seriously, who else do we have?" one asked me. "Unless something miraculous happens and we get an unexpected gift candidate."
Another GOP stalwart agreed: "Sad to say, but at a time when we need someone with guts, like Reagan in '76, challenging an incumbent president of his own party, or Rubio staying in the Florida Senate race when he was 40 points down to Crist, we get political calculation and personal ambition." Poor Mike Pence! Let's remember, the congressman has young kids and other options, and the presidency was a gamble.
Is the party of Lincoln the party of civil rights? Are Republican conservatives the new civil-rights leaders?
These are far from the most frequently asked questions in American politics, but they're worth raising.
The most underreported story regarding the recent State of the Union address was who was sitting in the Speaker of the House's box -- students, parents, teachers and the Catholic cardinal of the archdiocese of Washington. Some of the students are attending Catholic schools on a special scholarship, which freed them from the capital's failing public schools.
Has our financial mess brought us to the brink of getting beyond the culture wars?
It's a question that we might just see play out on Capitol Hill in the coming months, as the new political majority seeks to make the late pro-life congressman Henry Hyde proud, by prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion and de-funding Planned Parenthood.
"Hell no," now-Speaker John Boehner said, when he was in the minority, to the comprehensive, conscience-offending health-care legislation that Congress and the White House insisted upon last year. So now that he's Speaker, the first big vote under his watch was to repeal the president's signature piece of legislation.
"It is with a heavy heart that I write to you about the senseless violence in Tucson today," EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock wrote as so many of us turned to Arizona and prayed for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' survival. We prayed for Giffords, her family, and those who were tragically affected by the civic gathering that ended in bloodshed. We gave thanks to God for brave men and women who kept the attack from being even bloodier.
When Giffords was shot in Tucson, it was a jarring confrontation with evil. A child, Christina Green, who was born on 9/11 and was interested in government at a young age, was murdered, as was a federal judge, John Roll, coming from Saturday-morning Mass.
You know their stories by now.
There were prayers. But there was also a lot of noise. Fingers pointed. Accusations made.
"You didn't fly here to celebrate me," Marco Rubio announced from the stage of the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
The comment could have been received as a bit jarring coming from Rubio. Hours after being sworn in as a U.S. senator, this former insurgent candidate who bucked his party's national establishment to challenge their hand-crafted candidate -- Charlie Crist, the sitting governor at the time -- was presenting himself as nothing but a working man starting out in a new office. Here, the latest hot ticket in town, being talked about as any Republican presidential candidate's favored running mate, was turning the humble on high. This was the party to be at. Everyone seemed to drop by -- an impression one got as liberal Minnesota Sen. Al Franken posed for pictures with some of this tea party king's most loyal supporters.
Momma, don't let your babies grow up to be stay-at-home mommas. That seemed to be the underlying bias from a popular daytime TV show. It's not a new message, but it's one that may be changing.
"She almost made it," is how Barbara Walters introduced Rachel Campos-Duffy and her husband, Sean Duffy, a congressman-elect, to the set of ABC's "The View." Campos-Duffy, a former reality-TV cast member and now author and mother of six, had auditioned for, and come close to joining, the women of "The View," years before.
"Missed birthdays, games, and plays end in tears," one congressional wife and mother of young children tells me, delighted by the "certainty of the calendar" for the next Congress. Hers is a reality that all too many parents -- in and out of Congress -- know is often unavoidable. But sometimes it can be managed. Seventy-six of the 87 new Republican members of Congress have children, 233 in total, a majority of whom are under 18. And they've got a leadership trying to make these scheduling problems a little less pervasive.
Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, has announced a schedule for the next Congress that looks something like what House Republicans have been promising for going on a year now. It's not about making life easier, but rather a little more efficient -- just a little saner -- on a fairly reliable calendar.
It took a man to break the porcelain ceiling in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a hard time in Kyrgyzstan recently. She explained that "it requires, for a woman, usually in today's world still, an extra amount of effort." She explained that people tend to be extra critical of a female politician and how she looks. A member of the press went on to ask her what designer she wears. "Would you ever ask a man that question?" she shot back.
If only John Boehner had been there.
Hillary's professorial moment happened as the incoming male Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, announced plans to build a women's restroom by the House floor back in Washington.
That's right. We endured a national adulation campaign back in November 2006 after it became clear that Democrats would give a woman the Speaker's gavel for the first time in American history. San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi told Katie Couric at the time: "As a woman, I'm very, very thrilled because I carry a special responsibility. I've broken the 'marble ceiling.' This Congress is steeped in tradition and history, and it's very hard for a woman to succeed to the level that I have, and I think it sends a message to all women that if this can happen, anything can happen." She broke the "marble ceiling"-- but evidently porcelain was beyond her power.
Sex sells, and the pope knows it. He saw the condom media frenzy coming.
In his book-length interview, "Light of the World," (with Peter Seewald) Benedict XVI warns of a "sheer fixation on the condom" that "implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love." He explains that "the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man's being."
He saw this homeland for the first time in 51 years.
I've spent the last week on a fundraising cruise for National Review magazine. We dropped by the Cayman Islands, Grand Turk and Cozumel. (I gather there are harder jobs.) It was more than just people listening to seminars, meeting one another, sharing gratitude for people and principles they appreciate and hold dear.
And we passed by Cuba. A usual late-riser, our Cuban exile cruiser says he was given "a gift from God," when he found himself awake, to look out and see the country he fled as a youth. A flood of memories came back, and a dream that a future cruise might bring him home.
He was so grateful. Not bitter. Not sad. Just grateful.
The election is over. If you're one of those odd people whose lives are totally consumed in politics, you can try re-engaging in real life again. Which means that I've caught up on the important things I missed during the election season. I'm watching Reba.
Country queen Reba McEntire released a video with rural crooner Kenny Chesney this summer, which I got to see only in the wake of the election results. It's called "Every Other Weekend," and it's sweet enough.
In the summer of 2008, Nancy Pelosi wrote a book, "Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters." In it, the San Francisco congresswoman implored the country's young women to thank her for breaking the so-called "marble ceiling" in Congress and becoming the first woman speaker of the House.
"The President, always gracious, welcomed me as a new member of the leadership," she wrote about her inaugural meeting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as speaker. "As he began the discussion, I suddenly felt crowded in my chair. It was truly an astonishing experience, as if Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and all the other suffragettes and activists who had worked hard to advance women in government and in life were right there with me. I was enthralled by their presence, and then I could clearly hear them say: 'At last we have a seat at the table.'
Christine O'Donnell may have had to deny being a witch, but she wasn't the only election-year Halloween bogeyman for Democrats to trick voters with this year. Did you hear the one about how Republican candidate fill-in-the-blank, fill-in-the-district, wants to privatize Social Security? Even former president George W. Bush got thrown into that mix, for regretting his inability to get his Social Security plan passed -- which would not have privatized Social Security. But being serious is not what Halloween (or, sometimes, an election) tends to be about.
And then there is religion. The fear of God takes on a whole new meaning this time of year. Folks on the right of the political spectrum want to create a religious state, you know. We want to tear down the wall between church and state. Her blunder happened weeks before the election, but we'll be talking about Delaware senatorial candidate O'Donnell's supposed mistakes on the First Amendment for a while to come. I expect to see it in year-end wrap-ups. I expect Republican primary candidates will be asked about it in Iowa.
You know Lee Greenwood: He's the country-music star who hit patriotic pay dirt with his 1980s hit song "God Bless the U.S.A."
Joe Miller, the Republican nominee for Senate in Alaska, looks much like Greenwood, to the point that he could easily be mistaken for the singer if he ever strolled through Nashville. And, listening to Miller speak, you hear echoes of Greenwood's famous tune. The tea party may not be looking for a single spokesman or leader, but in Joe Miller it has its personification: an outsider, a constitutionalist and someone who's thoroughly fed up with the political system's disrespect for the common man.
If I brought Greenwood up to Miller, he wouldn't wax nostalgic about the '80s, or assess the fine pleasures of a Hannity Freedom Concert. Miller would probably want to know why I spent three sentences talking about anything other than policy solutions. There's no shooting the breeze with Joe Miller. When he recently dropped by National Review's Capitol Hill office, the Alaskan was, in the words of my colleague Bob Costa, "cool as ice."
Miller's coolness is refreshing in such hot political times. A former U.S. Army officer who earned a Bronze Star in the first Gulf War, Miller gives the impression of great seriousness. He's a man on a mission.
Do you have your John Boehner Halloween costume yet? I know it's not flying off the shelves of your nearest costume headquarters, but you'd never know that listening to President Barack Obama and those who exist to keep the Democratic Party in power.
After Obama's recent attempts to demonize the pro-life Republican Ohio congressman -- and presumptive House Speaker, after the midterms -- the pro-abortion feminist group EMILY's List has hit the trail, and perhaps your favorite liberal gal's Facebook page, looking to make even the sound of Boehner's name chill-inducing enough to make you vote Democratic. "Don't let John Boehner and Republicans turn back the clock," their "John Boehner's America" website implores -- indicating that this chronically dissatisfied interest group can't even come up with new pickup lines. In a speech to the Women's National Democratic Club, EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock announced: "John Boehner can only take the speaker's gavel from Nancy Pelosi by defeating the Democratic women you and I have worked so hard to elect. And by discouraging women voters so much that they stay home on Nov. 2."
And with that, the president of EMILY's List, a political action committee that exists to elect supporters of legal abortion to political office, made clear she's not listening to what Americans are telling politicians. She's taking her November strategy from the president, and focusing like a laser on making a pro-life Ohio congressman from humble roots this year's bogeyman.