Caterpillar Wars

You never know how these things are going to turn out, but I get the feeling that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ comparison of Democratic claims of a GOP “war on women” to a hypothetical “war on caterpillars” could be an iconic moment in the 2012 election cycle. No, it won’t necessarily change any votes right away, but it is likely to become a convenient symbol of the cavalier attitude the GOP has towards “women’s issues.”

More immediately, Priebus’ remarks are an illustration of how completely Republicans have tied themselves into knots on cultural issues. To hear him today, GOPers never, ever talk about anything but the economy and the fiscal situation. Not two months ago, of course, they were tripping over each other to scream about the administration’s contraception coverage mandate as a central campaign issue–nay, a veritable “war on religion.” Did we all just imagine that, or were all the militant words somehow an invention of Democrats or the MSM? And are all the continuing Republican efforts at the state level to restrict abortion rights and harass women–er, excuse me, caterpillars–with hoops they must jump through to exercise those rights somehow a fiction?

What’s really going on, of course, is that Republicans want to divide up the electorate and offer different messages to different segments of voters. If you are, say, a Catholic Democrat or independent who leans left on economic issues but is ambivalent about abortion and/or defensive towards the prerogatives of your church, then by God this election is about the “war on religion.” But if the close association of the GOP with theocrats gives you the willies, then all this culture-talk is an invention of the Democrat Party and the MSM, because Republicans never, ever think about anything but jobs, jobs, jobs, budget, budget, budget, and freedom, freedom, freedom.

There’s nothing particularly novel about utilizing targeted and sometimes conflicting messages to different audiences, but it would be nice if GOPers stopped squealing like little piggies every time they get called on it, and projecting their dishonesty onto everyone else. Maybe the reaction of “caterpillars” to Priebus’ fable will teach them a valuable lesson.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.