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American Idiocracy: Todd Akin Edition

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Missouri Congressman (and Senate candidate) Todd Akin (R-MO) made a rather large and embarrassing mistake over the weekend. Except, the error was not in the substance of his reprehensible remarks about rape and pregnancy. Yes, his idiotic, uninformed, ignorant statement that somehow women who are legitimately raped cannot get pregnant is ridiculously wrongheaded and offensive. His real mistake was in actually opening a window into the unsettling mindset of conservative extremists who’ve become the face, heart, and soul of the 21st Century GOP.

Congressman Akin is far from a lunatic fringe outlier in the Republican party these days. In fact, his beliefs have become rather mainstream within the party, and will likely form several planks of the Republican platform when it is revealed next week during the convention. 

Even when a Republican politician doesn’t actually believe that a zygote is a person with all the rights accorded any U.S. citizen, or that women have magical anti-pregnancy hormones that activate when they are “forcibly” raped, they better not admit it…or else! Or else…risk losing the seats to a truer believer.

It is the willingness to turn a blind eye to the extremists that might actually lead us some day (perhaps sooner than we think) into a society where not only abortions, but IUDs and most birth control pills are outlawed as murder weapons (and even miscarriages caused by “recklessness” could be considered murder).

If you don’t think that’s possible, have a gander at the Federal Personhood Amendment co-sponsored by Akin and presumptive Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Personhood, according to the failed piece of legislation, begins at fertilization. It’s a very short bill, but its implications are far-reaching; its potential for harm, great. When a zygote becomes a “person,” its intentional destruction is deemed murder. IUDs, many forms of birth control, even in-vitro fertilization (not to mention embryonic stem cell research) would all be potentially homicidal.

Most people believe this amendment or one like it has little to no chance of making it into law, either on the federal level or in the states (so far, all attempts have failed). But the more power gathered by the far right, the harder it will be for the shrinking saner wing of the Republican Party to “say no.” They’ll either give up (like Olympia Snowe, R-ME), be defeated (like Richard Lugar, R-IN), or live in perpetual fear of groups like Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council and other Values Voters Summit groups (Scott Brown, R-MA).

But to avoid frightening the masses (read: independents), lunatic thinking like Akin’s (and Ryan’s) has been kept largely in the closet, to be brought out only for rallies and fundraising. But Akin’s ridiculous remarks, which bring into high relief a staggering breadth of ignorance (does he also believe that the stork delivers babies?), seem so “out there” that the Republican party leadership is shocked! Simply shocked! They are practically stumbling over each other to throw the Senate candidate under the bus, giving him until 5:00 p.m. tonight to “reconsider” his candidacy.

But what Akin said is not at all shocking to anyone familiar with the “right to life movement.” He certainly didn’t pull this magic rape birth control idea out of his…I mean, thin air. No, indeed.

This argument goes back more than 30 years, and has been used by politicians before (and has meant instant political death to them), but in 1999, John C. Willke, M.D., former head of the National Right to Life Committee, and current president of both the International Right to Life Federation and the Life Issues Institute, published a paper that tried to give statistical underpinnings to the oft-told anti-abortion argument that rape pregnancies are “as rare as snow in Miami.”

“First, let’s define the term ‘rape,'” begins Willke’s paper. Urging activists to always use the terms “forcible rape” or “assault rape” when speaking of this horrendous act of violence against women, Willke distinguishes between those types of rape (perhaps what Akin meant when he used the word “legitimate”), and what only can be assumed as Akin’s “illegitimate” forms of rape like statutory rape or drugged rape.

Willke then makes the assertion Akin used: “Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare,” acknowledging that although most anti-abortionists know this argument, they’d never had actual facts to back it up. He cited a political race in Arkansas in which a candidate used the “rare” argument (as had so many others before him), suffering ridicule and criticism in the media. “Unfortunately,” says the paper, “there was no evidence that he offered substantive proof to back up his claim that rape pregnancies were rare.”

Willke goes on to cite a bunch of nonsensical statistics that seek to explain that the physical trauma of “forcible” rape (isn’t that tautological?) alters a woman’s hormonal and emotional balance, thus preventing pregnancy almost always. (With no acknowledgement that the opposite, also driven by hormones, can happen, of course!)

In the past, as these tidbits of extreme ignorance (whether from Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, or Donald Trump) seeped out into the mainstream media, it’s been easy to call them out as gaffes or fringe statements to be ignored by intelligent, sane people of both parties. But it’s become so very clear, especially since 2010, that these guys have power, mean business, and mean to take us back in time on every possible socially progressive move this country has taken over the last 60 years. That’s what they mean when they cry out “take back America.” Women’s issues, separation of Church and State, civil rights, worker rights, voting rights, education, environmental issues: that’s what this election is about. The choice could not be clearer come November.

Personally, I hope Akin stays in the race. I hope the media doesn’t let go of this issue (not for the slip of the lip, but for the deeper and more serious issues it raises about women and the GOP’s regressive anti-intellectualism). For too long the crazies (or as Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) calls them, “knuckle draggers”) have been given a pass as fringe personalities to be ignored in the hope that they’ll simply go away. They won’t.

If nothing else, Akin’s remarks may have had the positive effect of letting voters see and perhaps understand what’s in store if the Akins of the world accumulate more power. It is only by understanding that voters can begin to have a clue of exactly what’s at stake in November at all levels of the ballot: from President of the U.S. to president of the local school board.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Charlie Doherty

    The problem no one is talking about Barbara, is that on a national level, there are just not nearly enough Republican women involved in politics and in leadership positions (in the Senate or House). And like you said, the decent ones like Snowe are quitting (as is pro-choice Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison).

    So, you have a bunch of ignorant, self-righteous dudes with radical social issue positions putting forth pro-life bills pretty much non-stop (especially if you include all the pointless 30+ Planned Parenthood-defunding bills in the House that were voted on in the House in the current Congress).

    What I want to know is where are the wives of these extreme Republicans, and their daughters on such extreme views? Are they as insane as their men? Are they as equally hypocritical as they are about being all for small and less government intrusion, except for when it comes to a woman’s body?

    So far this election cycle, I’ve only heard Rick Santorum’s wife basically calm down voters by saying no one is going to take away contraceptives from you (after her husband Rick had spouted extreme anti-contraceptive views on the campaign trail). The rest, I just don’t know.

    Extreme pro-life Republicans aren’t going to change (no matter what Romney says now about going against the GOP platform and being in favor of exceptions for rape, incest and life of the woman) but hopefully in future election cycles, they will start to be slowly weeded out by losing to more moderate men or women. But that’s a slim chance, I know.

  • Good points, Mark. I hate it when pollsters ask me if I’m “pro-life” or “pro-abortion” (or even “pro-choice”). I’m absolutely pro-choice, but I’m also pro-life. I’m not anti-life, and I’m certainly not “pro” abortion. I think abortion would normally be the very last choice of nearly any woman. It’s a horrible choice to have to make.

    I know so many friends who’ve had to make that choice after an amniocentesis showed that the child would be delivered to term only to die soon afterwards because of a genetic disease. These are people who (have even) desperately wanted children, yet, must make the awful, burdened choice of aborting.

    In rape, the thought of carrying to term (and the emotional nightmare of living and reliving the consequences of rape) a rape baby, again it is not an easy choice, as some on the right would have people believe.

    The thought of science-ignorant men (or women) sitting and passing judgment on medical and psychological matters is something completely abhorrent to me.

    In Jewish practice (to bring religion into it), a fetus is considered a “rodef” (a pursuer) until its head is crowned. It is not considered a baby, or even living. It is permissible to abort the fetus for the physical or emotional harm it will cause to the mother in many, many readings of the relevant texts.

  • Mark

    As a would-be father who just recently experienced a miscarriage with our would-be first, having seen what I’ve seen and felt what I’ve felt, I still contend that until the developing tissue can support and sustain itself outside the womb, it’s just that — tissue. I respect what it was and could have been, but if the safety and well being of the mother is at stake, absolutely the *choice* should remain in place. Pro-choice is not pro-abortion.

    Having said that, the fact that there are women in this day and age can still vote for people who want to return them to an ancient level of subservience and control demonstrates a severe level of incompetence and irresponsibility on their part.

  • I’d better stay off this thread. I am in too much of a mood to be blunt. Probably won’t help anything.

  • Les Slater

    It’s always been interesting that some can equate a small grouping of cells to a child. It can only be some sort of political psychosis.

  • John Lake

    I dare say our esteemed Ms. Barnett agrees with me. It was the term “zygotes” and that paragraph that made me momentarily unsure.

  • John Lake

    Just a few relative points. An unborn baby in his mother’s womb has, I have been known to say, “in the palm of his hand”, a life. He can expect as many as 100 years of viewing the universe, living and loving. He will drive in the fast lane, build a home for his children, and secure the blessings of liberty on himself, and his posterity. He’ll know mommy, and Santa Clause, and strive for success. To abort this individual, who has yet to see a minute of life, is a crime beyond comprehension.
    We consider the rights of the mother. Is the pregnancy inconvenient? Was it “planned”? Can she give nine months of her life to allow a helpless child everything there is? Remember, adoption is an option. In cases of forcible rape a women might be obligated to carry a stranger’s child. This is an issue. Women have rights. But while I promote the liberal stands, I see as foremost the child’s rights.
    Suppose you were that child. You had it all. Then your mother, for reasons of her own chose to abort you. What was the cost? How loudly would you cry if you knew what might have been?
    I wish I could more strongly encourage the rights of the mother. But I can’t
    In this day, when brilliant men write and produce motion pictures, and towering sky-scrapers, and send telescopes to the stars, how can clods and dolts achieve public office? It makes me wonder. I smell a rat.

  • Igor

    Aikin accidentally let us see what the republicans have in mind for us if they get elected. As hard as the republicans back-peddle on this issue they can’t disguise the contempt they have for the American people.

    After all, Paul Ryan is a co-author with Aikin on the horrendous anti-female anti-abortion ‘personhood’ amendment the republicans hope to pass if they get into power.

    They might succeed if they get away with rigging the election with these new voter registration laws.

  • It’s funny. I actually finished the article just before Rachel came on! I couldn’t believe she was making the exact same arguments. (Great minds!)

  • Laura Lisabeth

    You nailed it. This is what Rachel Maddow was saying last night as well. Hello–this is not the fringe–this is today’s Republican.