Some days Mitt Romney must wonder how he got involved with this crew. Here he's trying to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs — and his political colleagues keep changing the subject to a topic about which an alarming few seem to know anything at all: women.
Specifically, women's plumbing.
Introductions are no longer necessary for the formerly obscure Missouri congressman, Todd Akin, who had hoped to snatch Democrat Claire McCaskill's Senate seat. For those who didn't pay their cable bill, Akin recently assured Americans that in cases of “legitimate rape,” women don't get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
To think we've overlooked this fail-safe method of birth control. More legitimate rape; fewer unwanted children. It has a certain Talibanesque ring to it.
All Hades broke loose, one is grateful to note, despite Akin's lame attempts at penitence. From Romney to Karl Rove, condemnation of Akin's remarks was stern, with many calling for him to step out of the race. Yet even Akin's apology and self-correction were mealy-mouthed and lacking in, shall we say, remorse born of clarity.
In a hastily constructed ad released Tuesday, Akin tried to organize his thoughts: “Rape is an evil act,” he said, apparently appealing to those who still weren't sure. “I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. … I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them.”
Of course words were never the problem. The “thinking” was the problem. Akin's belief that legitimate rape so scrambles the female's signals that even biology is thwarted was born of conversations he says he had with doctors. Akin at least should surrender the names of those doctors so that they can be removed from the practice of medicine. For those still confused, raped women do get pregnant, which is why many who are strongly pro-life nevertheless allow abortion exceptions for rape victims. Even so, the Republican Party platform calls for a “human life” amendment to the Constitution that, strictly applied, likely would prohibit any abortion under any circumstances.
Akin's gift to Democrats wasn't just a probable campaign killer for him personally. It also reminded critics that Akin once co-sponsored legislation with Paul Ryan re-defining rape as “forcible” versus, what, voluntary? To be fair, there is a difference between morning-after remorse that some call “rape” and rape as most understand it. But for these purposes, as President Obama said, “Rape is rape.” Does a raped woman need bruises to qualify for an abortion?
More broadly, Akin's comments furthered the perception that Republicans are waging a war on women.
The gender gap exists for a reason.
Whether mandating transvaginal probes prior to abortion under “informed consent” logic or misunderstanding basic biology, Republicans have managed to alienate a fair portion of the female population. Even pro-life women will have a hard time standing by men who are so willfully ignorant.
These episodes not only are embarrassing, but they shift debate from the profound to the ridiculous.
One Catholic strategist close to GOP anti-abortion discussions put it this way to me: “Any politician is an idiot if he cannot speak eloquently on the tragedy of abortion, with compassion for women and a sense of recognition also for the life of the child. … Akin does a disservice to the cause of educating Americans about the humanity of the unborn child. Honestly, though, he is the exception.”
Perhaps so, but the cumulative effect of Republican actions aimed at limiting women's access to abortion rather than seeking remedy through education poses an existential threat to the GOP. You don't change people's hearts by insulting their minds.
As GOP convention planners consider platforms and pledges, they might also contemplate a seminar for Republican men about how the fairer sex works. Recognizing that attendance could be humiliating, they could put a brown wrapper around it (note to Akin supporters: this is a metaphor), and call it something deceptively innocuous, such as: “Golf and Skinny-Dipping, from the Sea of Galilee to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Once attendees are seated, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, recently named the first women members of Augusta National Golf Club, could conduct a PowerPoint presentation of the female reproductive system.
Given the likelihood of a large audience, the GOP might need a bigger tent than usual.
Contact Parker, a columnist for The Washington Post, at firstname.lastname@example.org.