Democrats and Republicans may never come to an agreement on issues like gun control and health insurance coverage of birth control, but Democrats did show they are ahead in one department: how to hold a hearing.
When the Obama administration announced it would require insurers to cover birth control—a basic health cost for many women, and much cheaper than dealing with an unwanted pregnancy—conservatives went batty. They said it was religious persecution to require religion-based schools and hospitals to adhere to the rule, since the host institutions oppose birth control. Mind you, the institutions don’t oppose the federal student aid, Medicare, and Medicaid that ends up supporting their universities and hospitals. But they didn’t think they should have to play by the government’s rules on health.
House Republicans held a hearing on the issue, and invited no women to testify. The glaring omission not only detracted from the credibility of the hearings, but ended up buttressing the other side’s case. Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke complained, and ended up becoming a media star. Rush Limbaugh’s description of her as a “slut” and prostitute merely brought fence-sitters over to Fluke’s side.
Democrats made no such mistake when they held hearings on gun violence Wednesday. They invited the very vocal, unapologetically anti-any-kind-of-gun-restriction executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, to testify. They invited a woman who opposes gun control and who described it as something of a feminist issue. They also invited powerful witnesses in favor of gun restrictions and background checks, and their testimony (especially that of former representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, who talked emotionally about the day Giffords was shot in the head by a deranged gunman). Had the committee followed the path of the House panel on contraception, it would have limited its witness list to pro-gun-control voices alone. Their statements might have been moving, but alone—without the controverting comments of LaPierre and others—they would have seemed more manipulative.
Further, LaPierre’s absolutist stance on any kind of restrictions or background checks ended up helping the progun control side. He may well have ginned up his base and fundraising (which may well have been the point), but he did not appear to the general public as someone interested in pursuing a reasonable accord. He had his say, and had his day in the court of public opinion. And that ended up creating a more powerful case for the committee Democrats than if they had held a show trial.