President Obama wouldn't say Republicans are waging war against women over access to free contraception, but he did accuse Republicans of speaking carelessly about the potential costs of war with Iran and thereby stitched together a theme of calibrated caution the White House hopes will keep in good graces with women voters.
After all, the dangers of Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich "popping off" (to use Obama's words) about war with Iran are minimal to nonexistent. Obama is the commander-in-chief and will decide how to balance diplomacy against force. No Republican seeking the White House can influence those decisions unless Obama allows him to do so.
But by leveling the indictment, albeit indirectly, that Republicans are reckless with their war talk and underestimate the geopolitical consequences and human toll, Obama is broadly painting his Republican rivals as unreasonable and risky.
That just so happens to be how Democrats are describing general GOP opposition to a new federal mandate that employers cover all costs for contraception in any health insurance they offer – even with a tweak that has insurers paying the freight for religiously affiliated employers. The debate has, so far, disadvantaged Republican and voter surveys reflect a move of women and independent voters against the party generally and antipathy to their contraception policy specifically.
When Obama -- who never named a single Republican -- said there was too much "casualness" about war with Iran, he raised the specter of Republicans itching for battle. The president well knows the war-era fatigue wrought by Iraq and Afghanistan and spoke also of a rapid transition from combat operations there to Afghan supervision.
On another front, Obama ruled out U.S. airstrikes in Syria to halt the massacre of civilians at the hands of Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship. He called the situation "complicated" and ill-suited to the type of NATO military intervention undertaken in Libya.
Obama didn't renounce war as a strategy or blatantly appeal for the votes of pacifist women voters. His point was more nuanced. War can come, but not without thought and every available diplomatic option being pursued to its fullest. Reason, not hot-headedness, Obama preached.
As long as the GOP nomination battle continues, Democrats and Obama appear determined to highlight or poke at perceptions that top GOP candidates are too quick to judge or too quick to strike. There is no policy symmetry between contraception and Iran's nuclear program, Afghanistan, or Syria. But the subtext of Obama's press conference was that there is something vaguely unsettling about current GOP rhetoric and policies in both spheres.
"Women will make up their own minds," Obama said when asked about the Democratic National Committee-backed charge that Republicans are at "war" with women. "They are not single-issue voters."
Obama didn't communicate on a single-issue basis. He tried to hit many in overt and subtle ways -- all with the common desire to hit close to home with women voters concerned about their rights, their health care, and the future use of U.S. military power.
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