About half-way through last night's debate, moderator John King presented a question for the four candidates sent in from a viewer: "Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?"
The question was not well received by the audience, which booed for quite a while. Opinions vary as to why, exactly, attendees responded so negatively, though I suspect it was because the audience saw this as an unnecessary area of discussion.
King, noticing the prevailing winds, immediately told the Republican presidential field, "Look, we're not going to spend a ton of time on this." The candidates had other ideas.
The ensuing discussion was one of the longest of the entire two-hour debate. Rick Santorum wanted to talk about "the increasing number of children being born out of wedlock in America" and "children being raised by children." Ron Paul spent some time explaining his belief that "immorality creates the problem" of Americans wanting access to birth control. The discussion just wouldn't end, moving from Title X to Arlen Specter to morning-after pills.
You could almost hear the smiles coming from Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago. In the 21st century, four far-right white wealthy guys, all of whom think they should be president, spent 15 minutes in a nationally-televised debate talking about access to birth control.
The GOP candidates might as well have put a banner over their heads reading, "Independents, please don't consider voting for us."
But it was Mitt Romney's response to the question that amazed me. "I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama," the former governor said.
Think about that one for a moment. The Obama administration is including contraception coverage as part of preventive health care for Americans -- a decision a clear majority of the country heartily supports. The administration is exempting churches and other houses of worship, and has crafted a compromise so that religiously-affiliated employers will not have to pay for contraception coverage directly.
This is the biggest "attack" on religious freedom in the history of the United States? How is it, exactly, that a sane person could believe this?
Or more to the point, how is it that a Mormon, whose church faced actual attacks and discrimination, could see contraception access as a more serious assault on "religious tolerance"?
Romney added that Obama is "requiring the Catholic Church to provide for its employees and its various enterprises health care insurance that would include birth control, sterilization and the morning-after pill. Unbelievable."
It is, in fact, literally "unbelievable," since that's not at all what the administration is doing.
It was painful enough to have so much of the debate focus on opposition to birth control, but Romney's dishonesty managed to make a mind-numbing discussion even worse.