David Horsey/Los Angeles Times
As a new season of "Mad Men" begins, it is interesting and a bit unsettling to realize that the era of Don Draper is equidistant in time between the era of "Downton Abbey" and the present day. Looked at another way, Franklin Roosevelt’s second election in 1936 was exactly as close to the current year of the series storyline, 1966, as Bill Clinton’s second election in 1996.
It may be a shock to baby boomers for whom the 1960s do not feel that far away, but it really was a long time ago. In Republican politics, however, it seems no time has passed. The party is in the grip of unreformed Mad Men who long to return to the days of stay-at-home moms and obedient secretaries.
Birth control first became widely available to women in the '60s. It was the pharmacological genesis of a liberating trend that has enabled women to participate at every level of the economy. It also gave women the ability to separate choices about having children from choices about having sex.
Though nearly all American women have now used methods of birth control at some point in their lives with few regrets, quite a few conservative men would like to return to the days of "Mad Men" -– or, better yet, "Downton Abbey" -– when it was a male’s prerogative to harshly judge women who asserted their right to sexual expression apart from marriage and babies.
Rick Santorum has been very clear about his view of birth control: He’s against it. He has called it "a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
Santorum's wife insists that her husband has no intention to ban the pill, but women who enjoy their "license" may still feel uneasy if he becomes their president.
The most outrageous display of this attitude, of course, was Rush Limbaugh’s gutter-scraping three-day tirade against Sandra Fluke, the young Georgetown University law student who spoke up for including contraceptives as part of employer-provided healthcare plans. The best GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney could say about Limbaugh’s misogynistic attack was that he would not have chosen the same language.
Avoiding Limbaugh’s words is not the same as rejecting his philosophy. Republican elected officials at the national and state levels have been very busy this year showing how closely they are attuned to Rush-think by introducing bills to limit the reproductive choices of women. A few weeks ago, this manifested itself in the proposed Blunt Amendment whereby Congress would have allowed any employer, not just a church-affiliated enterprise, to deny female employees contraceptive coverage if the person who owned the company found birth control morally offensive.
How Republicans imagine this retrograde moralizing will draw new voters to their side is hard to fathom. They must truly be Mad Men -– mad, as in angry, and mad, as in nuts.