Back at the end of the 16th century, Thomas Hobson ran a livery stable (which, in pre-auto times, was the equivalent of a car rental place). Unlike other livery stables, he refused to allow his customers free pick of horses. Instead, they were told that they could take the horse in the stall nearest the stable door . . . or they could take no horse at all. And so a phrase was born: A Hobson’s Choice is a situation in which the appearance of a choice is illusory, since the only alternative to the offered “choice” is nothing at all.
Centuries later, when Henry Ford started his assembly line, he is reputed to have given his customers the same choice Hobson did: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
It’s clear that the Obama administration has been studying the Hobson and Ford playbook. The headline in the New York Times copy of an Reuters report reads “White House Open to Compromise Over Contraception: Adviser.“ That sounds heartening, doesn’t it? Except, as always, the devil is in the details:
Signaling possible room for compromise on the issue, David Axelrod said such religious institutions have a grace period to find a way to include health insurance coverage for contraception as part of the U.S. healthcare overhaul without going against Catholic Church doctrine.
“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedom so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both guarantees women that basic preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election team, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Think about that for a minute: Under this so-called compromise, churches will still be required to pay for women’s contraceptives and abortifacients, but the Obama administration is kindly offering them the chance to figure out a way to subsidize these pills and treatments without offending their core doctrinal opposition to contraceptives and abortifacients. Sounds like a choice to me — a Hobson’s choice.
The Obama administration is not naive. It knows as well as we do that some things cannot be the subject of compromise. Just as one cannot be “a little bit pregnant,” there is no way to fund a repugnant practice without being a participant in that practice. These are binary issues. And this alleged offer to compromise is no compromise at all. One may as well ask the condemned man if he wants to be hanged from a gallows or a gibbet — he’s still dead at the end, and the Church is still being forced to bow down to government mandate on doctrinal issues.