The White House made an unforced error this week, picking a fight with the Catholic Church that it could not win. Now it is in full damage control mode, looking for some kind of face saving compromise as it backs away from demands that would have forced Catholic schools and hospitals, among others, to offer insurance plans that cover birth control at no cost to employees.It was the worst kind of political error: it makes the administration look like a bully and a coward. It united its enemies and divided its friends; the current rapid retreat will embitter its feminist allies much more than if the issue had never been raised.Our health system and our education system benefit enormously from the Catholic Church’s longtime commitment to these fields. Having many participants with many different points of view and operating philosophies makes both our health and educational systems stronger and more flexible. And Catholic support for these institutions represents a net subsidy from the Church to the rest of the society, rather than the other way round.Figuring out how to accommodate the special needs of Catholic and other faith based institutions so that they can make their fullest contribution to the common good is not a matter of political expediency. It’s a question of sound policy. A country with vibrant schools, hospitals, eldercare facilities and other social service institutions maintained and operated by religious groups is a stronger and better place than one in which all these responsibilities fall to the state.The alarming thing about this week’s stumble isn’t the amateurism with which the whole miserable mess was handled; it’s the realization that a lot of people in the administration don’t understand the broader policy point.Respecting the views of the bishops isn’t just about politics in November; it’s about good health care and good schools all year round. Let’s hope the White House keeps this in mind.