Foster Friess is the seventy one year old mutual fund millionaire from Wyoming who is the key financial backer of conservative presidential contender former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s super PAC. On Thursday, during an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Friess was asked about Santorum’s stance on social issues like contraception. Mr. Friess replied that back in his days they used Bayer Aspirin as a contraceptive and then explained that the “gal” would take the aspirin and put it between their knees. Surprised with the gross and blatant insensitivity of the moment, Ms. Mitchell took a second to recover and catch her breath. It was one of the most breathless moments I’ve ever witnessed live on a television.
Within seconds the remark was propelled by the internet around the globe and infiltrated the conscience of everyone who took even a passing interest in what’s happening in our political sphere. Mr. Friess tried to quell the trouble that was massing on the horizon. But the damage was done. Mr. Santorum Made a tepid effort to distance himself from his biggest donor by saying he wasn’t responsible for every comment that a supporter of his makes. Mr. Santorum said it was a bad joke, nothing more, and it was not a reflection of Mr. Santorum or his record.
According to TIME Magazine, Mr. Friess sent the magazine an email where he claimed to have gained an appreciation for Mr. Santorum’s empathy and bearing. He went on to say that Mr. Santorum had a deeply felt kindness and love for other people, like the blue-collar, non-elitist people that Mr. Santorum identifies with. Mr. Friess says that people gravitate to Mr. Santorum because of his authenticity and the way he answers questions directly giving the people the impression that he’s honest and shares his core values about what makes America great.
We’re supposed to believe that such thoughtful, down home political spin came from somebody who would use his moment in front of the nation to tell a tasteless joke about aspirin as a contraceptive. It should come as no surprise that a man who will practically single handedly fund a super PAC would spend a fraction of that kind of money to respond with the best rhetoric money can buy.
Mr. Friess made a pathetically lame attempt to make light of a serious issue that should speak to the core of our collective values. Conservatives claim to be up in arms about dire threats to the Constitution of the United States and religious rights because some of us feel that institutions that operate businesses should offer their employees a healthcare insurance package that includes contraception coverage. Suddenly we are witnessing congressional hearings about the impact to religious institutions because their right to deny certain health coverage as an employer is being denied. And Mr. Friess thinks so much of this issue from a perspective of presidential proportions that he says, whether jokingly or not, something akin to let’s just bind women’s knees together.
Mr. Santorum knows the issue is a lot more serious. He was one of the first to strike a blow for religion by condemning the Obama administration and by stating his belief that individual states should be able to ban contraception. According to Mr. Santorum, contraceptives are not okay because they are a license to do things in the sexual realm that runs contrary to how things are supposed to be. According to Mr. Santorum’s religious philosophy, the act of sex is supposed to be performed only within the confines of marriage and is supposed to be for the purpose of procreation.
The problem comes with the fact that this is Mr. Santorum’s religious beliefs. While he is more entitled to believe whatever he wants to believe, people who do not share Mr. Santorum’s beliefs should have the freedom to practice their own beliefs free from the interference of other people’s beliefs. If Mr. Santorum and Mr. Friess believe that the only contraceptive people need is aspirin, then they should have the freedom to believe that and practice a birth control regime built on that idea is for their families. People who believe that there are other contraceptive options should be able to pursue their own beliefs.
But the real problem isn’t the fact that we have people who want to insert their religious beliefs into our political conversations that are supposed to be two separate and distinct issues. That’s always been something we’ve had to contend with in our politics. Whatever issue that can be used to drive a wedge between a political candidate and his potential supporters is fair game. The much bigger problem is the fact that you can have one rich guy with all the sensitivity and warmth of avalanche using his largess to buy himself a President.
If Mr. Santorum is able to reach the White House with the financial banking of a single donor or even with a small group of donors, what kind of access and influence would this person or these people have on their bought and fully paid for nominee? Back in the day, if a rich person wanted someone who shared their views to be President they had to vote like everyone else without the ability to exert an influence that is so out of proportion to the majority. Now they get to donate as much money as they want. There’s probably a punch line in their somewhere. But with the stakes so high for us all, this is definitely not a time for lame humor.
Things change. We have to accept that fact. Contraceptives have progressed to what we have today, our healthcare needs and insurance coverages have changed to what we have today, and our political donations and our system of funding political campaigns have morphed into this new system where we can have the rich and the wealthy using their personal income to buy as much free speech for their nominee as they want. People might be upset over the fact that they don’t have the right to push their religious philosophies on their neighbors. But that pales in comparison to the fact that the rich are now able to buy a presidential candidate that is willing to push their personal and religious philosophies onto their neighbors.
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