Maybe the GOP (or more specifically, certain members of the party) returned to the '50s in just one day, but the rest of us haven't. Beyond the obvious social and cultural shifts of the last 60 years, there is one major factor: the Internet.
Talking Points Memo's Evan McNorris-Santoro looked at the confluence of events on Thursday and pronounced it "the day Washington fell into a time-warp," turning back the discussion of women's rights 60 years. Others, such as the editors of The New Republic, think we are on the brink of a "culture war" over women's rights. They're reacting to the last few weeks of controversy: most recently women were kept out of a hearing on Obama's new contraception ruling so that men could discuss the "religious freedoms" at stake without having to be bothered by that silly context of female health concerns, and one 71-year-old Rick Santorum backer made a horrible grandpa joke about birth control, for which he has apologized. It goes back further -- we're also talking about the recent public battle between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood, in which Susan G. Komen initially withdrew funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings (for "legal reasons" that seemed very clear to many were actually anti-abortion ones) but changed their tune when the backlash appeared detrimental to their organization.
All three episodes have elements that would be familiar in the 1950s, but the way we engage in media -- and the widespread, rapid exchange of information via social media and other tools -- has changed things drastically between then and now. In the 1950s, an Internet campaign would not have existed to essentially force Susan G. Komen to backtrack on its stance about Planned Parenthood. Outrage over what looked like former Komen SVP Karen Handel's heavy-handed orchestration of the decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood due to her staunch anti-abortion ideology would likely not have resulted in Handel's resignation, a resignation quickly proliferated online. In the 1950s, should Fleiss's Bayer Aspirin joke have circulated widely enough to have offended enough people to inspire action against it, women and men would not have been able to call him out on it so rapidly, nor to make him accountable for it. He never would have apologized on his own blog. (Nor, apparently, taken down that blog.)