Everyone is outraged by Todd Akin’s statements about rape and female fertility. Indeed, everyone is so outraged that the most outraged people seem to be the ones who agree with Akin on pretty much everything about abortion, rape exceptions and the rest, which is really saying something. So, to back up for a moment, what did Todd Akin really say that was that outrageous?
This is not a rhetorical question. There are two things he said. One was using the phrase ‘legitimate rape’ by which he meant to distinguish between ‘violently attacked by a stranger rape’ and other forms of rape that, from Akin’s point of view, don’t really quite count or where the woman is somehow at fault. Second, you had this wacky idea that women’s reproductive systems can somehow distinguish between rape sperm and consensual sperm.
Let’s start with point one. To a lot of us that’s pretty offensive since it’s a distinction between ‘real’ rape and … well, not real rape. But that’s really just another way of phrasing what Congressional Republicans tried to put into law last year when they attempted to revise federal law on abortion to refer not to “rape” but only to “forcible rape” or, to translate, what the authors of the proposed law think of as real rape.
As others have noted, Akin’s and Paul Ryan’s policy positions on abortion and women’s health are close to identical. And if the issue is whether there should be any exceptions for rape if abortion were banned, the GOP platform now being written up explicitly says there should be none.
For this reason, Akin’s reference to “legitimate rape”, didn’t surprise me all that much since I hear that kind of language in debates about contraception and abortion all the time.
What really seemed crazy and bizarre was the theory about some biological defense against rape pregnancy. That’s not so much outrageous as just so wildly ignorant that you wonder whether someone like that has any business on the local school board let alone in Congress. But even this turns out to be a commonly held belief within the pro-life movement.
So why is his espousal so crazily beyond the pale that every member of the Republican party has to demand Akin relinquish his nomination that he won fair and square just a couple weeks ago? Think about it — nothing remotely like this has happened since Larry Craig or Mark Foley, in terms of universal party demands that a person depart public life.
Yesterday TPM Reader RW sent along this note …
If Barack Obama hadn’t been calling out the GOP on their terrible record on women’s reproductive rights for months, Akin’s comments to a local TV station on a Sunday would have never meant anything.
And let’s be clear—what made this story was the Republicans’ reactions to Akin’s stupidity. They panicked like a herd of cattle and fell all over themselves in a fevered attempt to get distance from him. That’s the tell. We all know Romney’s gonna lose women, but the important question for the GOP is by how much.
This is the key.
The intensity of the desire to banish Akin from the 2012 cycle is exactly in proportion to Republicans’ perceived vulnerability on what the Democrats term the “War on Women”. And that means they feel pretty damned vulnerable. Akin is particularly ignorant and offensive. But his basic points are actually pretty similar to what a large swath of the Congressional GOP believes. Holding that up to bright light scrutiny just as the bulk of the public is tuning into the national political debate is perilous in the extreme.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.