President Barack Obama on Friday directed his media allies against Rush Limbaugh after the radio host described a Georgetown student as a prostitute and a slut.
Obama called the student, Sandra Fluke, this afternoon, “because he wanted to offer his support to her, he wanted to express his disappointment,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said during the daily press conference.
The president, said Carney, “thinks, like a lot of people, that the kinds of personal attacks that have been directed at her are inappropriate.”
Fluke became a media celebrity when Democrats used her to undermine a Feb. 16 House hearing on the president’s Feb. 10 edict that requires religious employers to provide health insurance plans that cover contraceptives. Many religious communities have objected to the required coverage.
Some polls show that Obama’s initiative has alienated swing-voting religious believers, especially Catholics in midwest states.
In response, Democrats are spinning the controversy as an effort by the Catholic Church and Republicans to deny contraceptives to women.
Women, and especially single women, are a critical voting bloc for Democrats, but they’ve been hit hard by the ongoing economic recession. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama presidency)
Limbaugh’s criticism of Fluke has given the Democrats another opportunity to spin the dispute toward contraceptives and toward apparent bullying of young women by older men.
On March 1 Limbaugh ridiculed Fluke, saying her request for government-funded contraceptives marks her as a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and that the public should get something in exchange for the subsidies. One exchange, he suggested, would be videos of Fluke having sex.
“The fact that our political discourse has become debased is bad enough. It is worse when it is directed at a private citizens,” Carney said.
However, Fluke is being elevated because Democrats “are trying to find a poster girl here for something the issue is not about,” said Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate, a D.C. based advocacy group.
The Democrats’ use of the established media to spin the church-state fight as a contraceptive fight is being offset by the public’s use of alternative media, he said.
“People are smart about this,” he said. “We think there is a growing groundswell of people understanding this is about religious liberties, and … [that] this is one of the biggest power-grabs in the county’s history.”
Obama’s mandate was initially announced Jan. 20.
Churches that pass a four-part government test can win a conditional exclusion from the mandate, according to the regulation. Schools, hospitals, universities and charities run by religious communities would have to comply with the mandate, or pay expensive fines.
On Feb. 10 Obama said he would “accommodate” public objections in 2013 by directing health insurance companies to provide free contraceptives to workers whose religious employers object to abetting contraception, instead of having the churches directly pay the insurance companies for the services.
However, Obama did not change the text of the Jan. 20 regulation, which was enacted Feb. 10, and did not acknowledge any error.