Contraception Mandate Crystallize Voters' Big Government Worries

By Mary Kate Cary

This week might well turn out to have been the turning point in the 2012 election. It started out with both the Washington Post/ABC News and the New York Times/CBS polls showing significant drops in the president's approval ratings. Both were statistically similar samples of Americans polled at about the same time-taken together, it's hard to say either one was a fluke-and both were taken after the Health and Human Services contraception ruling controversy. Why would the president's disapproval numbers be up? Some blame the rising price of gasoline; others say it's because unemployment continues to remain above 8 percent.

I've got a different theory, one that's a little more of a gut feeling. The people I've spoken with lately-both Republicans and Democrats-about the 2012 election have stopped talking about the president's re-election chances, the horserace on the right, or even the latest primaries. They talk about being worried. They're worried about the massive expansion and sprawling reach of the federal government over the last four years, which in many ways the contraception ruling brought to a head. When they think about it for a minute, I don't believe that most Americans believe that mandating free contraception and morning-after pills for all women is a proper duty of the federal government. For that matter, neither is regulating the selection of snacks in school vending machines, or spending stimulus money on the "Weatherization Assistance Fund." You get the idea.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

And they're worried about the gridlock in Washington. Obama's constant refrain of insults to Republicans is wearing thin, with this week's "flat earth society" remark being only the latest example of his not reaching across the aisle. They're worried about Americans being divided one against the other, as we've seen in the class warfare "Occupy" rhetoric, the assault on faith-based organizations, and the verbal attacks on women by both sides. Gone are the days when the president would say that we're not red states, not blue states, but the United States. In fact, most people would agree he's one of the most polarizing leaders we've had in a long time. And the divisiveness seems to be getting worse lately.

There's so much uncertainty about what the future holds right now-in terms of taxes, regulations on small businesses, the price of gas, what new rules and bureaucracies are in store under the new healthcare law. We all know people who have had someone laid off, or are struggling to keep their house, and worry if we're next. We don't know what's going to happen with Social Security, Medicare, college tuitions-or even interest rates, if politicians in Washington don't deal with the national debt soon. Whether one is Republican or Democrat, there's a feeling that goes beyond ideology: a feeling that our country needs fixing, and no one in Washington is willing to fix it. I think most Americans thought Barack Obama would change things for the better, and he has failed to do that. That explains why his disapproval ratings are so high, and why his campaign is struggling to raise money. It also explains why the president is trying so hard to keep the conversation away from the economy and on contraception.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

That New York Times/CBS poll found that a whopping 80 percent of Americans said they are not better off financially than they were four years ago. That sounds about right to me. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called that number "so meaningless," which says volumes. No one likes to say that they aren't better off-everyone wants to be moving up the ladder in life-and for 80 percent to admit something like that is not "meaningless." But I bet most people answered that question while thinking: But I want to be better off, and hopefully I will be soon. There's a great can-do spirit among Americans these days-take a look at Clint Eastwood's Super Bowl ad and Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own" anthem at the Grammy Awards and you'll see what I mean-that the White House doesn't seem to understand.

More government, more uncertainty, and more divisiveness are not a winning formula. I think this week marked the beginning of people wising up to it all.