Representative Akin’s cryptic remarks about the invulnerability of rape victims to pregnancy are only offensive in a narcissistic society where the aggrieved misconstrue words to magnify their grievances… but the man’s response, alas, has not inspired confidence.
This past week seems to have demonstrated that one can engineer a nuclear explosion from common table salt and a lot of hot air. Todd Akin, to all appearances, has now claimed a lasting place in the annals of infamy. With the reader’s sufferance, I will track the detonation’s impact by reviewing several columns from Townhall.com.
Debra “Grant No Quarter” Saunders actually provided the fullest résumé of the calamitous comments in her Tuesday post—for which I was grateful, since up until then I could only infer from stray fragments of news that the Mayan prediction of the world’s end had come true a few months early. Wrote Ms. Saunders:
There are two sides within the anti-abortion movement. On one side, stand men and women who care deeply about human life and fear that abortion devalues society by creating a caste of disposable people. On the other side, lurk crabbed adults who think women should be punished for having extramarital sex and that pregnancy is fit punishment that (luck of the draw) spares men and falls instead on women and girls.
I think we all know which corner hosts Rep. Todd Akin. When TV reporter Charles Jaco asked Akin whether abortion should be illegal if it is the result of rape, the Republican Party Missouri Senate candidate gave this inglorious answer: “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist and not attacking the child.” (1)
I had heard that Messrs. Romney and Ryan had both labeled Akin’s remarks “offensive”, so my initial reaction to a verbatim report of those remarks was shock and disbelief. I recollected that the word “niggardly” had cost a D.C. civil servant his job a few years ago because untold hundreds or thousands of lexically challenged dopes had heard an echo of one of the eighty-five words they actually knew (sixty-eight of which highly offend them—and nineteen of which sixty-eight are prominently featured in all their favorite music). By “legitimate rape”, Akin obviously meant to distinguish between real crimes and falsely reported crimes used to justify abortions. Of course, no reliable stats exist on the relative frequency of the latter, but it’s a pretty sure bet that some pregnancies are represented as the product of rape by terrified girls to outraged parents. The Latin word lex means “law”, so I don’t understand, really, why we need accuse Akin of not having mastered basic English. What he meant was “rape that satisfies the legal definition”, I presume. At any rate, that’s just what he said, if you take him at his word.
My second reaction was wonder and dismay that Ms. Saunders had so deeply imbibed a repulsive habit I have long learned to associate with progressivist thinking: i.e., creating out of thin air a whole category of people whose motives are so disgusting that you personally can’t imagine ever belonging to their clan, and then bundling that group into the front-and-center of your political adversaries. The notion that a vast, if covert, body of “crabbed adults” salivates over the prospect of watching lately fallen virgins writhe on a cord is something out of Villiers de l’Isle Adam. If I may be blunt, it deeply disgusts me when certain people so easily, glibly consign “certain people” to the ranks of the disgusting (especially when their writing sadistically tortures the humble comma).
I had to wait until Friday to see a column that expressed my third reaction. In fact, I was going to claim this point as my original thinking—but Mona Charen enunciated it much better than I could have done:
… I must offer a mild dissent to the widespread view expressed by both Republicans and Democrats that what Akin said was outrageously “stupid.” The “legitimate rape” wording was atrocious, agreed [oh, well… have his carcase, Mona]. But much of the commentary has focused on Akin’s mistaken belief that women’s bodies have the capacity to “shut down” the reproductive process in cases of rape. (Akin has since acknowledged that he was wrong.) Interviewing Akin on “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopolous spoke for many when he said, “A lot of people are wondering how an idea like that can even get in your head.”
Really? Is it such an outlandish idea? I looked it up, and it appears that there is no evidence that pregnancies are less likely in cases of rape, but it didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility to me. Many things about the human body are peculiar and amazing. And frankly, more people than are today admitting it must believe that a woman’s mental state has something to do with her capacity to conceive. Consider that every woman (including me) who has ever experienced infertility is told, even by some doctors, that she should try to “relax.”
Though dismissed as a myth for some time, the role of stress in infertility is being reconsidered now by specialists. Dr. Margareta D. Pisarska, co-director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles told WebMD that “it’s becoming more and more important, in terms of what studies we do, to focus our efforts on the physiological effects of stress and how they may play a role in conception.” (2)
Infertility literature is replete with anecdotes of women who suffer agonizing failures to achieve pregnancy for months or years, and then strike gold after a New Year’s Eve party where they mislaid one of their shoes. The idiocy of Akin’s remark (if we may associate profound ignorance of human physiology with idiocy in twenty-first century America) consists merely in his thinking that the correlation of high stress to averted pregnancy must be somewhere close to one hundred percent. That it might hover around five or even ten percent, however, is fully plausible, for the reasons that Ms. Charon offers. (And I don’t really know how “looking it up” would jeopardize this conclusion, because accurate statistics on rape, once again, are notoriously elusive.) At worst, though, Mr. Akin must have been about as attentive in his high school science classes as Barack Obama was at the Rev. Wright’s church services. Why is this “offensive” to anyone? His “hundred percent formula” is risible and a bit humiliating—for him… but to whom does it give offense?
I detect more than a little of the “global warming” phenomenon here. Time was when anybody who would not ascribe disastrous climate change to human industrial activity was a greedy, ruthless capitalist dog who was content to see the whole world and all future generations rot for a few more bucks (a perfect instance, by the way, of Ms. Saunders’ invidious caricaturing). Likewise, anyone who even comes close to suggesting—who sets foot on the outer curb of the parking lot of the ballpark where notions play—that women are not to this day the battered sex slaves of man-beasts is a slavering hound, a jackbooted slavemaster, a genocidal Nazi. Akin had actually crossed the parking lot to the ticket-window when he hinted that not all reported rapes are legit and that some women may lie to clean up the consequences of consensual sex. Feminist doctrine tells us that men are already raping women when they merely look at them. How that reconciles with the Saunders theory that women generally enjoy extramarital sex but must then run a gauntlet of male sadists in round hats and buckled shoes is… open to interpretation. From this perspective, you know, logic is the chain that holds females shackled.
The ever pithy Jonah Goldberg and the ever sagacious Pat Buchanan also voiced their opinions on Friday. The two appear to have reached just about the same conclusion. Wrote Goldberg:
My own take is that there’s a dual-core of asininity here. First, Akin’s formulation makes it sound like if an “alleged” rape victim is pregnant, it must mean that she wasn’t really raped, like she was either asking for it or lying. After all, real rape victims don’t get pregnant. I cannot imagine how infuriating it would be for a rape victim to have her rape claim dismissed by her pregnancy.
But even here, Akin couldn’t stick the landing of his own buffoonery. Because he doesn’t claim this is a universal scientific truth, just a rule of thumb. It’s “really rare”—he says—for “legitimate” rape victims to get pregnant.
I’ll let the doctors and statisticians debate that one. But let’s say it’s true. What’s Akin’s point then? We already knew that abortions stemming from rape are statistically rare. People have been talking about pro-life exceptions for the “rare instances of rape and incest” since Roe v. Wade was decided. But the rareness of such instances doesn’t change the moral questions one iota.
The simple fact is that the theatrical outrage—on both sides of the political aisle—is only partly attributable to the actual outrageousness of Akin’s comments. Much of it has to do with the fact that Republicans are desperate not to lose a senate Seat they thought they had in the bag (and which could hold the deciding vote on ObamaCare’s repeal). And Democrats are just as giddy about saving the seat—and hanging Akin around Mitt Romney’s neck. (3)
Buchanan is more charitable to Akin, yet essentially reiterates the same point that Tailgunner Todd didn’t really say anything terribly new or controversial in and of itself:
… anyone reading his statement knows what Akin meant. He was saying that in an actual rape—from what doctors have told him—the likelihood of pregnancy is rare. But if a pregnancy did occur, the punishment should be imposed on the rapist not the unborn child.
This was the moral position of those extremists John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. Of more interest, then, was the Republican reaction.
Howls for Akin to get out of the race came from pundits, talk show hosts, members of the Senate and the GOP’s monied elite that is raising hundreds of millions in hope of a sweep of both houses of Congress and the White House in November. Akin is henceforth not to get a dime.
Even Paul Ryan, whose position on abortion appears identical to that of Akin, called and urged him to drop out. (4)
I vaguely recall a film titled The Cardinal (1963), in which Tom Tryon played the eponymous role of a Catholic priest who scales the Church hierarchy at no small cost to his personal and family relationships. I cannot remember if his sister had been raped, was carrying a baby out of wedlock, or was simply enduring a very complicated pregnancy; but somehow or other, he himself eventually made a decision on behalf of the fetus that cost the mother her life in the delivery room. What the movie proceeded to illustrate powerfully thereafter was the child’s blossoming into a gifted and loving human being. This, I contend, is a valid (dare I say “legitimate”?) moral position. It may not be mine or yours, but surely we can understand how someone might lay claim to it in good conscience.
The Republican Party, as these two canny observers note, demonstrated no interest whatever in providing a context to Akin’s remarks similar to what The Cardinal does. On the contrary, its leaders were “offended”. Columnist Diana West not only noticed the disconnect between this instant outrage and the GOP’s actual platform: she vented a counter-outrage—far more outspokenly than Goldberg or Buchanan—at Akin’s having been thrown under the now-proverbial bus (which presumably rolls over pedestrians whether they fall in its path legitimately or not):
I can’t recall anything in public life more widely craven and uncalled for than the open panic and bullying set off across the Republican Party by the first replay of Akin’s perplexingly ignorant interview comments on rape and pregnancy. The veteran conservative lawmaker, former engineer, former businessman and grandfather of eight recanted these remarks. He apologized for them.
But as the left began to bay for blood over a Republican and, by preposterous extension, Republican Party it hopes to smear as “anti-woman,” Republicans across the board, incredibly, joined in. Rather than jouncing Democrats back into some semblance of decent behavior with a firm, partywide reality check—comparing a dumb comment about rape from one among their ranks with, say, accusations of actual rape against Democrats’ two-term hero Bill Clinton—Republicans obligingly cut off their own noses and handed them to their political opponents. (5)
Notwithstanding the nobility of Ms. West’s indignation, however, I should say that much the more common response has been woven of the very sentiments she denounces. On Wednesday, for instance, Marybeth Hicks wrote:
By using the words “legitimate” and “rape” in a dependent clause, and by opining that pregnancy is less likely to occur under traumatic circumstances because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Mr. Akin turned himself into a lightning rod of controversy.
Now, rather than help the Republican cause and the pro-life movement by claiming a Senate seat currently held by Democrat Claire McCaskill—deemed so vulnerable as to be a “gimme”—Mr. Akin’s thoughtless comment has conservatives and the Republican establishment in lock step as we chant, “Get out of the race!” (6)
I might add that, the day before, I heard Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter express this view: i.e., that the stakes are too high for a serial bungler of Akin’s magnitude to stay in his local race and pose a threat to the party’s national success. Coulter appeared to have concocted an alternative similar to what Sarah Palin had described to Greta van Susteren during a Monday night broadcast: generate enthusiasm all across Missouri for a write-in candidate.
I confess that, as the dust continues to swirl around this issue and this man rather than settling, I find myself more rather than less bewildered—and I doubt that I’m alone. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Representative Akin seems to be a few bricks shy of a load. When interviewed by Hannity early last week, he appeared incapable of seeing his own political predicament as distinct from his cause’s uphill struggle. He gave every sign, that is, of believing himself to be the one and only possible standard-bearer for conservative concerns about unborn life. It is difficult not to wish that someone else were sitting in his place, even though the specific “offense” for which he is being howled down really amounts to… to not scratching the word “niggardly” out of your dictionary. The outrage here is surely that Akin finds himself in such a pickle, to begin with; yet being in deep doodoo through no real fault of his own, he should probably hold his nose and hit the shower rather than march onward with head held high in a clinging vapor of noxious fumes.
(1) Debra, J. Saunders, “Todd Akin: When Dumb Talk Is Inevitable”,http://townhall.com/columnists/debrajsaunders/2012/08/21/todd_akin_when_dumb_talk_is_inevitable.
(2) Mona Charen, “Akin and His Critics”, http://townhall.com/columnists/monacharen/2012/08/24/akin_and_his_critics.
(3) Jonah Goldberg, “Akin’s Idiocy is Infectious”, http://townhall.com/columnists/jonahgoldberg/2012/08/24/akins_idiocy_is_infectious.
(4) Patrick J. Buchanan, “A Grand Old Party in Panic”, http://townhall.com/columnists/patbuchanan/2012/08/24/a_grand_old_party_in_panic.
(5) Diana West, “Wake Up, GOP, and Quit Ostracizing Todd Akin”, http://townhall.com/columnists/dianawest/2012/08/24/wake_up_gop_and_quit_ostracizing_todd_akin.
(6) Marybeth Hicks, “Selfish Akin Bringing GOP Down With Him”, http://townhall.com/columnists/marybethhicks/2012/08/22/selfish_akin_bringing_gop_down_with_him.