The Legitimate Rape of Todd Akin
The theater of the absurd that politics occasionally devolves into reared its wanton head again over the weekend. The frequency with which various political leaders (we use that term as loosely as the language will allow) offer up moments of absolute foolishness should frighten the most faithful among us. Perhaps we are too well-conditioned to expect politics to be an arena of incompetence masked by boisterousness to summon any serious outrage when those we support so blatantly violate the public trust. Whatever the cause, supporters of Mr. Todd Akin (R), the congressman from Missouri with Senate aspirations, have a serious problem this morning.
From the you-can’t-make-this-up-files, here are the actual words of Mr. Akin, as reported by John Eligon and Michael Schwirtz in the New York Times: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “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: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
The statement was a clarification of Mr. Akin’s position on abortion. Mr. Akin has led efforts to redefine the law to limit abortions due to rape to only where pregnancy resulted from ‘forcible’ rape (as opposed to the kinder, gentler forms of unforced rape. In legislation previously sponsored by Mr. Akin, pregnancy would be the modern day witch test – throw her in the lake, if she drowns she wasn’t a witch, if she floats, burn the sorceress at the stake – in which a rape resulting in pregnancy must not have been rape, because, you know, that’s like, scientifically impossible, or something. If the victim gets pregnant, in Mr. Akin’s learned theory, she must have secretly wanted the sexual encounter and it wasn’t, technically speaking, rape.
The fraudulence of the science alone should alarm anyone with earshot of Mr. Akin. But we argue there is a greater malfeasance at issue; Mr. Akin’s complete disregard for the sanctity of the public trust. Our democracy is a representative government; we elect people to stand in our place, representing our interests and concerns. As such, those chosen officials assume a great responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of their position. Mr. Akin’s greater sin is a willful disregard for his responsibility in the form of a calculated lie.
Many Americans believe abortion is wrong. There are those who believe this as part of a larger religious ideology, aligning their faith and political views. They are exercising their constitutionally- protected right to do so, a right many Americans have fought and died to protect. We have no qualms with Mr. Akin’s personally held belief in the absolute wrongness of abortion. We disagree, but such is the foundation of our government and society.
Where Mr. Akin fails us is his misuse of science to persuade others to his viewpoint. We believe Mr. Akin knows the foundation of his ridiculous statement is false; his immediate recantation confirms it. Why then would he so callously abuse the truth? The idea he simply misspoke insults an intelligent observer.
The likely reason is he was using false rhetoric to stir up support among like-minded citizens, inciting potential voters to show up at the polls. His goal is to create a conservative base of support to pass a law prohibiting abortion and push a more complete conservative platform.
The problem is we have substantial evidence the majority of voters do not share his extreme anti-abortion view. Citing blatantly false science is an attack on uneducated voters, misleading them with propaganda to adopt his worldview.
This is dirty politics. This is a subversion of a democratic system. Deception in a democracy breeds distrust and corruption
Mr. Akin is polluting political conversation, the healthy disagreement and debate that make our republic great, with calculated mistruths to sway public opinion. He is practicing the ancient art of sophistry, minus the cleverness. We cannot accept this behavior from our leaders.