Todd Akin’s idiocy appears to be infectious.
The evil genius of the Missouri congressman’s comments is that they lend themselves to such broad interpretations — and misinterpretations.
Akin told a local TV interviewer: “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare.” He continued: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
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.
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.
To bring up frequency makes it sound like it’s all a numbers game, which is wholly contrary to the principled pro-life argument. If the argument is that a fetus is an independent being deserving of life, rareness is a red herring. Conversely, if it’s cruel to force a woman to carry a rapist’s child to term, rareness is a red herring.
And besides, whatever the absolute numbers might be, if you’re a woman who’s been raped and impregnated, 100 percent of you has been affected.
But these are just my biggest objections to Akin’s comments. Such is the Rorschach nature of Akin’s jackassery that they apparently lend credence to countless other interpretations.
I was one of the millions of Americans on the receiving end of an e-mail from Sandra Fluke, the feminist activist who parlayed a non-invitation to a congressional hearing into full-blown feminist-martyr status. Freed from the requirement of using logic, Ms. Fluke insists that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are in “lockstep” with Akin, despite the fact that both of them publicly repudiated the man and pleaded with him to drop out of his race for the Senate.
She, like her fellow party henchmen and henchwomen, does this by making it sound as if Akin’s offense is being against abortion in cases of rape and incest — just like Romney and Ryan! There’s nothing outrageous about opposing this view, but that simply isn’t Akin’s outrage. Oh, and it’s not Romney’s position (or Ryan’s now that he’s joined the ticket).
Another common explanation for Akin’s gaffe is that he meant “forcible rape” as opposed to other kinds of rape. This has sparked a bonfire of feigned ignorance. How could anyone think there are different kinds of rape? One is tempted to quote Whoopi Goldberg (no relation), who dismissed Roman Polanski’s crime of drugging a teenage girl and then sodomizing her. It wasn’t “rape-rape,” according to Goldberg.
But I found her views repugnant then, so I won’t rely on them now. Nor will I fire up the Wayback Machine to recount all of the things Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy were accused of doing — as opposed to merely saying — and how many of the same people now shocked over the phrase “legitimate rape” were quick to delegitimize such accusations.
Suffice it to say, the law has distinguished between various forms and degrees of rape for a very long time. Statutory rape, for instance, may be entirely non-forcible and consensual.
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.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of The Tyranny of Clichés. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter@JonahNRO. ©2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.