Now more than ever, someone with scads of money can buy his way into the public square. And the money is green regardless of whether the person is politically adept.
Foster Friess is not. Yesterday afternoon, the 71-year-old multimillionaire Rick Santorum donor surfaced on MSNBC to pine about the good old days when “gals” didn’t have those new-fangled gizmos called birth control. We need not make a huge deal over what he said – last night, he mouthed the ritual post-damage clarification – but his remark is nonetheless symptomatic of the reactionary mentality that animates the Republican right in 2012. The kind of mentality that could propel women en masse to back Barack Obama in November.Friess doesn’t officially speak for his friend Santorum, of course; he merely bankrolls the Super PAC that amplifies Santorum’s message, and Santorum himself stressed on CBS this morning that he isn’t “responsible” for what Friess says. The problem, however, is that what Friess said yesterday jibes with Santorum’s patriarchal advice about how women in America should be conducting their private lives.Speaking to host Andrea Mitchell, Friess said (in full context): “People seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture. We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are. And this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s such inexpensive. Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”Translation (I think): If the gals of America would simply wedge an aspirin between their legs, they won’t be opening them for the boys.Then came the inevitable what-I-meant-to-say phase. Last night, again on MSNBC, Friess said: “I love the expression, ‘It’s not so much what people say, it’s what people hear.’ Obviously, a lot of people who are younger than 71 didn’t get the context of that joke. Back in my days, we didn’t have the birth control pill, so to suggest that Bayer aspirin – I’m sorry, aspirin – could be a birth control was considered pretty ridiculous and quite funny. So I think that was the gist of that story. But what’s been nice, it gives us an opportunity to really look at what this contraception issue is all about. I think it’s about religious liberty…”Translation: I was just joking.Santorum, appearing last night on Fox News, also sought to clean up for Friess: “He told a bad, off-color joke and he shouldn’t have done it, but that’s his business.”The problem is that truths often reveal themselves when spoken in jest. When somebody tells a joke that seems lifted from an ad agency party on Mad Men, it tells us something about the jokester’s belief system. At minimum, it shows that the guy has a tin ear for politics, that he has no clue how women under the age of 71 would process such a remark. The last thing Santorum needs, given his putdown of “radical feminists” and his view that sex is for making babies, is to have some rich benefactor recycle the kind of quip that would’ve have sparked chortles among the country club guys on martini night in 1960.Memo to Friess: Just because you have a lot of money, that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to opine on the air. In politics, it’s not what someone says that matters most, it’s what people hear. What women heard yesterday was evidence of a conservative white guy mindset rooted deep in the previous century. And what they saw yesterday, on Capitol Hill, was a House Republican hearing on birth control and “religious liberty,” in which no women representing the pro-contraception majority was allowed to testify. All told, if the GOP truly wants to kiss off women voters – and those voters are already at risk; the latest nonpartisan Pew poll reports that Obama is reaping big gains among white women, college-educated women, and working-class women – the party need only keep doing what it’s doing.——-Happy anniversary to me. This blog (in its various iterations) is now six years old.——-Sunday, the sweetest sentence in the English language: Pitchers and catchers report.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1