Todd Akin is a nobody in American politics, or at least he was until he opened his mouth and revealed his stupidity a few weeks ago. Akin is the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri. He earned that position by winning his party’s primary election, thereby earning the right to run against incumbent Claire McCaskill, the first-term Democrat who had been thought to be highly vulnerable until Akin won his primary.
Akin is one of those extremists on the right-to-life issue. They exist on both sides of the question of abortion. On the left, they take positions like opposing laws that would require a doctor to advise a child’s parents before performing an abortion on a 13-year old girl. They claim that such a law would threaten the absolute right of any pregnant female to terminate an abortion at will, even if those decisions are far too serious and potentially life-changing for most barely pubescent girls to make on their own.
On the right, the extremists like Akin claim that any cessation of a pregnancy, even of a newly formed eight-cell zygote (such as are formed in the first days of a potential pregnancy), is the destruction of a human being. Adherents of this perspective believe that a human being is created as soon as a sperm successfully unites with an egg, even if that impregnation occurs in a Petri dish through artificial insemination.
Akin got caught in the kind of argumentative trap extremists sometimes find themselves in when they are asked a perfectly reasonable hypothetical that tests their ideological resolve.
Being as opposed to all abortion as he claims to be, he was asked, would he deny an abortion to a woman who had been raped and had become pregnant as a result?
Instead of just saying yes, and then explaining that even in such instances, the woman’s circumstances must be subordinated to those of the “human being” she would otherwise “kill,” he came up with what is apparently a new understanding of how conception occurs.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said.
It was an amazingly stupid comment for two reasons. First of all, it suggested that he really thinks such a biological mechanism actually exists—one that somehow prevents impregnation when the woman has not consented to the intercourse. And secondly, it seemed to differentiate some rapes from others (like, perhaps, there are rapes where the victim somehow is complicit in the act?).
In short order Mr. Akin was the subject of scorn and ridicule, all of it coming from his own party, with cries for him to drop out of the Senate race, thereby giving the Republicans a renewed chance to beat McCaskill and gain a precious seat (one that may well swing the balance in that hitherto Democrat-controlled body).
The Democrats, of course, are all too happy to have Mr. Akin defy his party’s leaders. They love having him as the poster candidate for views on abortion that many Republican politicians, consistent with much of the party’s base, endorse. Not that any of them would openly claim what Akin claimed. (Days after Akin uttered his inane statement, he did acknowledge that he misspoke, although he really never specified what part of his claim was inaccurate.)
If, as now appears likely, he does remain in the race for Missouri’s Senate seat, he will probably lose, although McCaskill is still said to be highly unpopular (as is Obama) in the state. But his real value to the Democrats has already been realized, since his outlandish comment took whatever steam had built up behind the Romney-Ryan ticket in the days leading up to the Republican convention this week.
Poor Mitt Romney, who has shown all the ineptitude as a presidential candidate of some of history’s most infamous losers (Thomas Dewey comes to mind; Michael Dukakis would be another), can’t seem to gain traction, even when the calendar, if not the issues, says he should.
In the days leading up to a party’s presidential nominating convention, the opposition usually lays low, allowing the party’s candidates to make their case to the American people. That case, for Romney and Ryan, should be that Barack Obama has been a failure, his policies having done nothing to pull the economy back from the abyss it was in when he took office. (Never mind, for the moment, that this attack line is factually inaccurate; it sounds good.)
But instead of hitting hard on that single theme, Romney and Ryan have had to try to convince voters that they don’t agree with Akin about rape and abortion. It’s a tricky one for them, since Ryan (apart from the crazy idea about the biological protection from pregnancy in cases of “legitimate” rape) actually has views on abortion remarkably similar to Akin’s, to wit: no right to abortion should be allowed in instances of rape, incest or even when the health of the woman is threatened.
And so, Ryan had to “explain” to reporters, when he got caught in a Q and A on the subject, that Romney’s views would be the ones that would control the issue in a Romney-Ryan administration. Romney’s views, of course, have “evolved” from complete support for a woman’s right to choose when he was governor of Massachusetts to support only for a right to terminate a pregnancy in cases of rape, incest and the woman’s physical health.
And then, as if things weren’t bad enough, the convention itself had to be shortened by a day when tropical storm Isaac bore down on the Gulf Coast, where the last Republican president saw his popularity take a nose dive after he congratulated his FEMA director (“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”) while thousands in New Orleans were awaiting aid and hundreds had already died.
Even when things finally got rolling Romney’s way, there were hiccups that detracted from the impact the proceedings were intended to have. Paul Ryan gave a rousing speech that delighted those inside the hall. But it was so heavily laden with absolute falsehoods that even a Fox News reporter (Sally Kohn) derisively commented that it was “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”
And then, on the night Mr. Romney would present himself to the American people during the prime-time coverage of the convention, the hour began with the bizarre and embarrasing remarks by Clint Eastwood, which immediately became a far bigger story than anything the candidate later had to say. Not exactly how the pros had it scripted, I’m sure.
Three months from now, Mitt Romney will be looking back at this period in the campaign as the reason he lost the election, unless, of course, he is laughing at how he managed to win in spite of it.