Parker: Mitt Romney v. Barack Obama: It always comes back to the culture wars

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left and President Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left and President Barack Obama face each other during the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. ( Oct. 22, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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We shouldn't be talking about this silliness -- Big Bird or a girl's "first time."

We should be talking about The Issues, we keep telling ourselves. But in the waning days of the presidential campaign, these are the issues -- binders full of cultural issues that continue to divide us and by which President Barack Obama hopes to win re-election.

It is no accident that the war of competing economic theories has devolved into the same old culture war, beginning with the debate about the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Ever since, the Obama campaign has strategically tried to push the Republican Party and Gov. Mitt Romney into a corner by advancing the war on women narrative.

That Obama has had ample help from certain outspoken players (Missouri and Indiana Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, to name the most notorious) has only made Romney's challenges greater. But the war against women has always been a red herring.

Random comments by a couple of outliers provided wind for Obama's sails. Akin's remark that women don't get pregnant when "legitimately" raped was idiotic and immediately dismissed by Republican Party leadership, including Romney.

Yet Mourdock's view, that a child conceived by rape is God's will, deserves some perspective.

Obviously, he wasn't endorsing rape. He apparently belongs to that sliver of pro-lifers who insist that even babies conceived of rape are worthy of protection. They, too, are God's children.

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Although most Americans, including those who are enthusiastically pro-life, support exemptions for rape and incest, Mourdock's argument is not nonsensical. If life begins at conception, then one life is not worth less than another owing to the circumstances of creation. The embryo bears no blame. Given this context, Mourdock's argument is logical.

But we bend logic as needed. We weigh pros and cons and make difficult choices. Thus, most would resolve Mourdock's Muddle as follows: Given the horror of rape and the consequences for the woman, we find for the woman. It is not a good solution, certainly not for the gestating human, but it is acceptable to most. It is also certainly not a decision one should make for another.

Mourdock may have been indelicate in stating his position, but he is hardly a monster for believing that the definition of life, like the definition of rape, should not be parsed. As to Romney's choice to not comment, why would he? This is the ultimate no-win -- and the answer is meaningless except as a political point -- which perhaps explains the media's insistence on a response.

Romney's position on the subject is clear. He supports exceptions for rape and incest. He also said early in the primary season: "Contraception, it's working just fine. Just leave it alone."

So why are we still talking about it? This pseudo-debate is, as Joe Biden would put it, "malarkey." The contraception issue never would have come up but for Obama's decision to force the hand of the Catholic Church. By placing religious institutions in the position of having to provide health insurance to pay for contraception as well as sterilization -- which, agree or not, are against church teaching -- Obama created the conversation.

Obama reasoned that he had the majority with him, especially among women and youth, for many of whom these debates seem antiquated to not-applicable. Hence, a new Obama ad by HBO "Girls" creator and star Lena Dunham in which she compares voting for the first time (for a man who understands women) to, you know, "doing it" for the first time. It's . . . what it is: A message to young women that losing one's virginity is top of the bucket list, but first you gotta vote for the president who will give you free contraception.

The same ol' culture wars. But, of course, women have had access to birth control for decades, and no one is trying to take it away. Anyone who suggests otherwise may have been spending too much time with Big Bird.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.

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