IT IS not every day that Republicans can seize on an issue that encapsulates everything they hate about Barack Obama. The recent scandal over contraception comes close. Mr Obama had ordered that all employer-sponsored health insurance cover contraception. The president has ample reason to make contraception available, as my colleague describes here. Churches were exempt; institutions such as Catholic hospitals, which employ workers of all faiths, were not.
The bishops, naturally, went berserk, but so did conservatives. Making Americans buy health insurance was bad enough, an encroachment on personal liberty, they thundered. Making Americans pay for something they believe to be morally wrong was utterly unacceptable. This was government overreach of the most extreme kind.
The furore continued to build. In recent days Mitt Romney attacked the president for the rule. This inspired the usual meta jujitsu, as Mr Romney’s competitors attacked Mr Romney for the attack, which they judged to be insincere.
Given all this, it was almost inevitable that Mr Obama would capitulate, or in the words of his senior advisors, offer an “accommodation”. Today the White House announcedthat religious groups would not have to cover or subsidise contraception. Instead, insurers would be obliged to offer contraception free of charge, with the guarantee that the religious employers’ premium would not rise accordingly.
The Catholic Hospital Association and Planned Parenthood are each apparently placated by the change. On first blush it seems like a sensible solution to a tricky problem. But the fight won’t go away. The religious institutions are exempt because they believe contraception to be morally wrong. What about any individual business owner who feels the same way? Why not apply the exemption to him? Mr Obama may have stamped out today's fire but it is sure to flare up elsewhere.