Monday, August 20, 2012

Todd Akin and the Republican cycle of fanaticism

My Twitter feed has had a lot of people making Twitter-length snarky comments about the absurd statement by Todd Akin, Missouri Republican Congressman and Republican candidate for US Senate, that pregnancies due to rape are "really rare" because, "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." (Legitimate rape' comment by GOP's Todd Akin shakes up Missouri Senate race by Linda Feldmann Christian Science Monitor 08/20/2012)

But I'm inclined to agree with Ilyse Hogue (The Danger of Laughing at Todd Akin The Nation 08/20/2012) who suggests that snarky humor isn't the best way to respond to his statement:

The short-term consequences of such an incendiary remark are predictable: Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill will trumpet the remark to her own political advantage, donations will spike to her campaign and the party committees will offer the remark as one more proof point of the GOP’s war on women. But the impact of Akin’s effort to redefine the terms of this debate reaches beyond this one race. In the multidimensional chess that shapes public opinion, the game is less about individual elections and more about a sustained effort to mainstream radical ideas. In the case of denying women control over their lives, there’s evidence that the bad guys may be winning the long-game.
She uses this as an example of how crackpot extremist ideas get mainstreamed.

And it's part of a larger Republican push, stemming from the fanaticism of the anti-abortion movement, to at least partially de-criminalize rape. (See Nick Baumann's The House GOP's Plan to Redefine Rape Mother Jones 01/28/2011) Is de-criminalizing rape too harsh a description for what they are tying to do? I don't think so, even though it's emerging as part of efforts to ban abortion, including pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Because it's also what could be called a desublimation or making explicit the hostility to women's rights and, often enough, outright hatred of women that are at the core of the real existing anti-abortion movement.

It's theoretically possible to be anti-abortion and not embrace the notion that "abortion is murdering a human being" that is so common among anti-abortion activists. But in practice, the only ones expressing opposition to abortion without framing it that way are pro-choice elected officials! The lazy Democratic standard position on abortion is for a candidate to say that they are personally opposed to it but favor pro-choice laws. For elected officials, the pro-choice position has really been a moderate anti-abortion position. Hillary Clinton in campaigning for President in 2008 stated her pro-choice position as being that abortions should be safe, legal and rare. This official Democratic response to Akin's pro-rape comment, reported in the Linda Feldmann piece cited above, is telling:

"Now, Akin's choice of words isn't the real issue here," Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote in an e-mail to supporters overnight. "The real issue is a Republican Party – led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan – whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong."
Yes, Akin's choice of words and the anti-abortion politics behind them should be real issues. Framing this as a gaffe and trying to basically change the subject to a vague question of "policies on women and their health" is all-too-typical of today's Democratic Party.

As on so many other issues, the Democrats have been willing to cede the framing of the abortion issue to the anti-abortion Republicans. The problem is that it didn't cement a pro-choice consensus and make the issue go away. Because the anti-abortion movement since the 1970s has been in a cycle of fanaticism that is getting progressively more radical. Individuals may burn out and drop out, but the anti-abortion movement is more potent and more radical than ever.

The anti-abortion movement was a major source of the "Patriot Militia" movement of the 1990s. Randall Terry, once head of Operation Rescue, was a big player in starting up the Militia movement. So was Ron "Papa Doc" Paul, who is also hardline anti-abortion, two of numerous reasons why I've never found much to admire in Papa Doc, even when I happened to agree with him on some particular foreign policy issue. (And even then my reason for taking the position tends to be very different from his.)

And unless the anti-abortion movement can find a different way to frame their cause than the current "abortion is murdering a human being" version, they will continue to promote the worst kind of fanaticism and violence.

Akin's comment is a warning that the anti-abortion movement's hostility to women's rights is a large package, not one restricted to abortion.

The Ultraviolet group has an online petition calling on Akin to resign from Congress.

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