I’d like to thank Todd Akin.
While we knew reproductive rights was going to be a major component of the election, Todd made sure that rape came onto the campaign trail too, and he deserves sacks full of fan mail for his hard work. Thanks to Todd Akin, journalists are asking Republican candidates sharp questions about rape in the context of abortion and the rights of rape victims to choose whether they want to carry pregnancies resulting from rape to term. These are questions that would not have been asked if reporters hadn’t scented blood in the water after Akin.
Thanks to Todd Akin, rape victims across the United States are speaking out about their experiences. Awesome and brave women like Shauna Prewitt are talking about their rapes, and about what they do to protect rape victims, and they’re getting a ton of press for their work because of Todd Akin. Bravo, Todd; you’ve dragged rape out of the shadows and into the harsh light of the political sphere.
Really, I’m serious, thank you, Todd. I raise my teacup to you. I can see why the GOP is pissed at you; your remarks on “legitimate rape” have created a worst-case scenario situation for conservative candidates, many of whom are being called on the carpet right now to answer for their extreme positions on reproductive rights. They would have preferred to have been able to skate by without commenting, allowing them to work the best of both worlds with their base.
You’ve done a lot for the party, Todd.
The latest is Tom Smith (no relation, I’m relieved to say), a Republican candidate for Senate going up against Democrat Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. Tom had a little interview at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon that went south real fast when a reporter asked him about his position on abortion in the case of rape.
Mark Scolforo, Associated Press: How would you tell a daughter or a granddaughter who, God forbid, would be the victim of a rape, to keep the child against her own will? Do you have a way to explain that?
Smith: I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to -- she chose the way I thought. No, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape.
Scolforo: Similar how?
Smith: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.
Scolforo: That’s similar to rape?
Smith: No, no, no, but -- put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar. But, back to the original, I’m pro-life, period.
There you have it, folks. Getting pregnant after rape is “similar” to having a baby out of wedlock. As a proud bastard myself, I’ve certainly been left with some food for thought by this insightful view into the circumstances of my conception.
Of course Smith tried to straighten things out: “...do I condone rape? Absolutely not.”
Well, I’m glad he made sure that got across.
Smith has joined a long line of Republican candidates who really would have been better off politically by leaving their mouths closed on the subject of rape, because what they have to say is, well, wrong and offensive and hideous. Fortunately for us, though, they’re being prodded into talking, and the results are highly illuminating and politically valuable. Informed voters make better choices, and voters are getting a heck of a lot of information from these quotes about rape; and because they’re so extreme, the media is happily playing them up for as much as they can get, which pretty much ensures they’re going to reach a lot of prospective voters.
Who wants to punch a ballot for the guy who thinks rape is comparable to having a child out of wedlock?
I have been known to say some pretty ridiculous things in front of reporters myself, in situations with considerably less pressure than a Senate race. It happens. But when you're trying to tightly control your message to win votes, it can be a disaster.
It’s stressful to campaign, it’s hard work to be constantly on form, it’s grueling to know that every word out of your mouth can become a soundbite. But I’m not convinced Smith misspoke here. He said exactly what he believed, he just happened to say it somewhere that people could hear him, which is, I suspect, not what his campaign advisors desired.
Like the anti-choice lobby he belongs to, Smith genuinely believes that abortion is murder, and thus supports severe restrictions on women’s rights to choose. I can sympathize; I take a pretty hard line on murder myself. I just happen to disagree that a collection of cells with the potential to develop into a viable fetus is a human life, and thus don’t believe that abortion is murder.
I’m rewatching "The West Wing" right now and there’s a great line where Matt Santos shocks Josh Lyman when he says that he thinks abortion is murder and a travesty, but, he follows up, he doesn’t believe in imposing his religious beliefs on the country. He understands what many conservatives opposed to abortion for religious reasons do not: They are advancing beliefs that are not rooted in science, but grounded instead in religion. And imposing religion on people would be government interference to an extreme degree, exactly the same kind of thing they claim to oppose.
We all know that a lot of conservative candidates seem to hate, fear, and mistrust science; Akin’s original ignorant comment about how women are capable of “shutting down” pregnancies (were you thinking of rabbits, Todd?) illustrates that. And that worries me, because I don’t want to live in a country where laws and decisions about health care, education, and other policy issues are made without the benefit of rigorous scientific backing. As if it wasn’t already terrifying to begin with, this picture is a whole lot bigger and scarier than reproductive rights.
People like Emily are right to be pissed.