As If It Were Somehow Unclear

Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, whose inane comments on a woman’s body’s entirely fictional ability to determine whether sperm is “good sperm” or “rape sperm” and thus prevent pregnancy from a sexual attack, continues in his race for the Senate — despite the pleas of GOP statesmen who know that his comments are bad news for the Party in a presidential-election year.

Certainly Akin’s comments are an unwelcome distraction for the GOP, which hopes to prevail in November even with the most bumbling candidate since . . .  well, its last several candidates, come to think of it, and which hopes to do so with an economy-only campaign that steers clear of social issues.  Unfortunately, the Akin debacle comes on the same week as the GOP Platform Committee’s drafting of a draconian anti-abortion platform that calls for the criminalization of all abortion, even in the case of rape, incest, or for the life of the mother.  This is more restrictive than Mitt Romney’s views, reflects Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s longtime view, only recently corrected to reflect Romney’s, and is at odds with the majority of voters, who consistently express distaste for abortion but want to keep it available to victims of sexual violence or to save the life of the mother.  This was intended to be a quieter plank in the platform, but Akin has now painted it in bright, neon colors, sprinkled it with glitter, erected the flags and banners, and put a continual-loop feed on a boombox mounted gaudily from it. 

Not a good week for the avoidance of radical social policy, if you’re a Republican, but an important week for voters who have this nagging sense that perhaps a woman and her doctor are capable of making choices regarding her reproductive care.

 Akin’s remark that women rarely get pregnant from rape because our bodies can recognize sperm from what he called “legitimate” rape and thus disable its fertilizing effects on the eggs we release brought an immediate firestorm from women’s groups, Democrats, and Republicans who’d prefer to focus on President Obama’s handling of the economy, not on social issues.  And while Akin apologized for the comment, he also insists that he should stay in the race because he didn’t do anything “morally or ethically wrong.”

Gross and willful ignorance isn’t, it appears, an ethical issue to a GOP whose last several decades have been marked by intemperance, recklessness, bigotry, rumor-mongering, and incivility, but I think most Americans find it unbecoming in those past toddlerhood, and particularly in someone running for Congress.  Nonetheless, Akin’s remarks blew open the GOP’s “economy-only” strategy — bad news for a GOP struggling to articulate a message beyond that of intense dislike of Obama.

Conservatives were busy trying to convince Americans that Akin meant “legitimate” rape as opposed to “statutory” rape, which is to engage in sexual intercourse with a woman under the age of consent, and didn’t intend either to minimize the horror of rape or to suggest that some rapes weren’t “legitimate.”  Women’s groups and the Democrats responded that all rape is rape, and that to  raise questions of “legitimacy” is grossly insensitive to victims while betraying a lack of understanding of the unmitigated evil of all unwanted sexual intercourse.  It might be that statutory rape of young women over the age of 15, perhaps, should be called “unlawful statutory sexual contact” to reflect the near-adult’s volitional consent — but it seems that Akin’s allies are simply unable to assert, confidently and articulately, that rape is rape and always evil, always violent, and always “legitimate.”

The GOP’s cause was hardly helped when former Idaho Values Alliance spokesman Bryan Fischer — named recently one of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “30 To Watch” in its reporting of hate speakers and groups — rushed to Akin’s defense by insisting that the congressman meant forcible, violent, brutal, non-consensual, presumably kicking-and-screaming, rape.  Fischer’s breathless and defiant support of his friend unraveled a week’s worth of GOP spin control by specifying what kind of rape Akin was referring to, even as Akin tried desperately to convince voters that he meant “rape,” period.  Fischer appears hell-bent on differentiating between what he apparently sees as “brutal, forcible rape” and — what?  The “pleasant, amicable” kind?

Akin and Fischer deserve each other, although Fischer is unlikely to get a thank-you note from Party Central, and Fischer’s “defense” ought to give voters a clear idea of how the Religious Right social conservatives who’ve taken over the Republican Party really view sexual assault. 

It’s tragic that the GOP has ceded control to a largely ignorant, largely misinformed, largely bigoted demographic that knows little of societal issues and less of nuanced understanding and reasonable analysis.  On the other hand, the Party seems to have no particular mission beyond hatred of the “other,” in this case President Obama, and the coddling of the rich.  There’s a lot of room in that bed, then, for those with single-issue axes to grind and far-away windmills to tilt toward, and until the GOP finds its soul by jettisoning its religious extremists, it’ll be found clearly on the fringe side of American society.  There’s been a violent seizing of the Republican Party’s very nature — but this was utterly consensual, made possible, even welcome, by the power-hungry whoremongers within it. 

And this, I think, may very well explain where their confusion over rape comes from.

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