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Teagan Goddard's Political wire today features two stories that indicate the Republicans have made a huge strategic error, or at least that the combination of anti-contraception pandering and non-condemnation of Rush Limbaugh's for essentially hitting a girl (which is rightly anathema to most Americans across the political spectrum) may be creating a  big problem for them across the board.

Apparently, both Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) now have leads over their challengers that are composed largely of women voters. This mirrors President Obama's national lead and his FL numbers.  And if Obama takes FL, he wins; Democrats have won presidential races without the Sunshine State, but no realistic scenario allows the Republicans to do so.

The Republicans could have stuck with opposition to abortion, which usually works for them.  There are enough voters across the ideological spectrum who would sincerely like to see the number of abortions reduced that this position tends to give them a net electoral gain.

However, coming out against birth control. cost them on two levels.  First, on the emotional: being pro-life is actually less threatening than being anti-sex;  the enjoyment of sex is on the top of most people's minds far more than the process of reproduction. Take umbrage if you must, but that's the hard-wiring of the human brain.

Second, opposing both abortion and a means to prevent it (contraception) puts them in a logical bind that is laughable to many voters.  Calls for abstinence fly in the face of a culture that is as focused on sex as ours.

I think they may have a point when it comes to calls for more responsibility and less hedonism.  I'm far from the celibacy bandwagon, but I am concerned that sex is becoming disturbingly detached from respect, which, even if eternal love is not present, should be a constant.

But you can't encourage  responsibility or respect without practising either. Further, you may be able to coerce obedience, but coercion is an ineffective way to change values.  

Any good student of the human mind can tell you that behaviour changes caused by threats tend to disappear when the threats are gone. The most lasting changes are come as a result of an individual's internal reasoning.

Persuasion can work where coercion can't, though each takes time and resources to be effective. However, persuasion is more attractive.  It requires less of a punishment apparatus. It can create long term changes. Most important, it gives those who practice it  something that coercion can never provide: a chance to lead by example.

Those who would set standards have an obligation to keep them.  When public figures call for wars in which they would not fight, sacrifices they won't make, and moral codes to which they won't adhere, they break a rule every child knows: practice what you preach.  

Sat Mar 31, 2012 at  4:45 AM PT: ItsaMathJoke pointed out I gave the wrong first name to Senator Nelson of FL.  Bill Nelson is from FL, Ben Nelson is from NE. Correcting now.

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