Does the across-the-board denunciation of Representative Todd Akin’s comments mean that other Tea Party platforms are ready for dismantling?
The pragmatic Republican establishment (despite the Tea Party, there still is one) is frantic to jettison Representative Todd Akin’s toxic comments on conception and rape, and to quarantine the scientifically-challenged congressman.
Much of the commentary has been about how Akin’s clumsiness connects to Republican vulnerability on other issues important to women. But this raises a larger question: Why is the Republican lunatic position politically toxic only on this particular issue?
The Tea Party position, after all, has become (or already was) the “mainstream” Republican position on at least a dozen other issues—denying climate change, rejecting evolution, embracing bogus science on homosexuality, destroying regulation of palpable harm to consumers, defending the right of assassins to bring AK-47s to schools, and on and on.
So why is this lunatic fringe position different from all other lunatic positions? Here are some conjectures:
Almost everyone is a feminist on the subject of rape. A politician can’t appear to be condoning it, even indirectly. It’s this, and not the ignorance of how women’s bodies work, that makes the congressman radioactive.
And why is almost everyone a feminist on the subject of rape? Because the basic gains of the women’s movement on core issues, despite its supposed recent eclipse, were durable. The political scientist Jane Mansbridge of Harvard, in her research on “everyday feminism,” found that most women, even they did not use the label, have attitudes on a wide range of issues from work to sexuality, that by any measure are feminist.
So why do the several other lunatic positions of the Republican Party not turn out to be politically radioactive?
Because the media cuts the far right too much slack—just look at the respectful coverage of climate change deniers and anti-evolution nuts rebranded as “Intelligent Design.”
Because Democrats have no guts on such issues as gun control.
Because the women’s movement was a movement, while many of the other issues where Republicans embrace insane views do not have movements on the other side.
This leaves two intriguing other questions:
Are enough crazies on the rape issue, (like those who see the rape exemption in anti-abortion legislation as a “loophole”), that this whole affair smokes out latent animosities between the Tea Party base and the pragmatic (though equally lunatic) party elite?
One thing the Tea Party base hates is being dictated to by party professionals. That’s why they delight in taking out incumbents. That’s why they’d rather be right than win. Akin shows every sign of becoming a martyr for this faction. The dust-up just confirms that Romney is nothing but a pragmatist.
And will the connections between Akin’s comments on legitimate rape and Republican vulnerability on other women’s issues lead Democrats and the press to make some of these other connections to the broader range of extremist views that now pass as the Republican mainstream?
Akin was no accident. When true crazies take over your party, they eventually display their true colors—and yours.
By: Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, August 21, 2012
For nearly 30 years, Republicans have supported an amendment that would outlaw abortion in all instances.
Yesterday morning, before the GOP completely turned its back on Todd Akin, I noted that—despite their harumphing—few Republicans disagreed with the substance of Akin’s remarks. In Congress and across the country, GOP lawmakers have supported a raft of bills designed to restrict or end abortion, as well as most forms of contraception. Look no further than the Republican platform, which—as CNN reports—will include radical and restrictive language on abortion:
”Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,“ the draft platform declares. ”We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
Republicans have been quick to distance themselves from Akin. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown—who is running a tough reelection campaign against Elizabeth Warren, a liberal icon—has called on him to resign from the race. Nevada Senator Dean Heller followed suit—“He should not be the standard bearer for the Republican party in Missouri”—and was joined by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn. The Texas Senator advised Akin to “carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party, and the values that he cares about and has fought for throughout his career in public service.”
Even Mitt Romney issued a harsher condemnation after a tepid initial response: “Rep. Akin’s comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong,” Romney told The National Review. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”
Of course, none of this changes the substance of the Republican Party’s stance on abortion. “Personhood” amendments have become popular with Republicans on the state level, and the human life amendment—which is functionally indistinguishable from “personhood”—has been a part of the GOP platform since 1984, with nearly identical language in each instance. Platforms don’t dictate the policy of elected officials, but they are a statement of the party’s values and aspirations.
What does the GOP aspire to? An America where abortion is outlawed in all instances: no exceptions for rape, no exceptions for incest, and no exceptions for medical emergency. The variety and availability of contraception would be sharply limited, and the rate of pregnancy significantly higher. The rate of abortion might go down, but the number of women killed as a result of illicit abortions would be guaranteed to increase. Todd Akin would be happy with this world; the human life amendment would keep women from “punishing” children and result in a world where even more were born as a result of rape.
I don’t actually believe that rank-and-file Republicans want a world where abortions are deadly and more women are forced to carry the children of their rapists. But that’s the world a human life amendment would create. Moreover, it’s not empty language—236 House Republicans voted for the Protect Life Act last October, which would have the same effect.
Todd Akin is in the mainstream of the Republican Party on this issue, and has been for a long time. His only mistake was honesty.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, August 21, 2012
Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS is allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on attack ads in battlegrounds states—without ever disclosing a single donor—because it has protected status as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. Unlike Super PACs, which must disclose donors, Crossroads GPS and other groups don’t have to disclose because they supposedly don’t have political activity as a primary purpose, and therefore are allowed to protect their funding sources.
This, of course, is one of the Big Lies in American politics. Of course the primary purpose of Crossroads GPS—which is run by former high-level Republican Party officials—is to influence elections. In recent months, there’s been increasing pressure on the IRS to call the bluff: Congressional Democrats wrote a letter to the agency asking it to reconsider the tax status of Crossroads GPS and other groups, and nine Republican senators quickly responded with an ominous letter to the IRS warning it not to act.
But Crossroads GPS’s decision to pull television advertising in Missouri in the wake of Republican Senate candidate Representative Todd Akin’s abhorrent comments about rape and pregnancy are (another) bold admission of why the group really exists.
Crossroads GPS is a major player in the Missouri Senate race—it has spent $5.4 million already, which more than doubles the $2.2 million spent by Akin’s actual campaign. The ads “seek to paint [Democratic candidate Claire] McCaskill as a big government-loving, tax-increasing liberal” and hit her for voting to increase the debt limit, among other things.
Under the law, Crossroads GPS and other 501(c)(4) can’t expressly advocate for or against the election of a specific candidate—it can intervene in political races “as long as its primary purpose is the promotion of social welfare” (and then no more than 50 percent of its total activities should be such interventions). Ostensibly these ads are educational—telling voters about issues at stake in a race, but not backing a particular candidate.
But after Akin made his horrific comments about “legitimate rape,” Crossroads GPS announced it was pulling all advertising. “The act speaks for itself,” Crossroads spokesman Nate Hodson said.
This obviously vitiates any argument that the ads are simply to promote social welfare—that, say, the most recent spot is simply meant to educate voters about the national debt. What has changed about McCaskill’s vote on the debt limit? Nothing. What has changed is that suddenly the Republican candidate in that race is viewed as unelectable by basically the entire political establishment—and now Crossroads doesn’t want to spend any more money there. That act speaks for itself, indeed.
By: George Zornick, The Nation, August 21, 2012
The Twittersphere went nuts yesterday after a video was posted of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin expressing some jaw-dropping views on rape and abortion in an interview with local news:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
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.
Akin was Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor on a House bill just last year banning the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of “forcible rape.” This term seemed laughably redundant since all rape, by definition, is forced. But this redefinition of rape was deceptively sinister. Statutory rapists often use coercion but not physical force. If the measure had passed, a 13-year-old emotionally manipulated into having sex with an older friend or relative would no longer be able to use Medicaid to terminate a resulting pregnancy. Nor would her parents be able to use their tax-exempt health savings fund.
While the measure was defeated, conversation around it introduced skepticism about whether all rape is created equal and what distinctions should be recognized by law. Instead of making him politically toxic, Ryan’s support of the pioneering forcible rape measure likely made him a more attractive vice presidential candidate to a Romney campaign needing to energize the right-wing base.
And whether or not Akin loses this cycle, his comments have already escalated the stakes. In his world view, the rape victim’s body will be the ultimate judge of whether a crime has taken place. If she gets pregnant, by Akin’s standard, her reproductive organs consented to the pregnancy, so she must have consented to the sex. This bizarre standard of innocence is reminiscent of medieval Europe, where the men in authority held the similarly scientific view that women guilty of witchcraft floated in water while innocent women would drown. Being cleared of witchcraft was of course not much consolation to the drowned women, though they at least got to skip being burned at the stake.
Akin’s comments appear an awful lot like step one in the GOP’s favorite two-step tactic to redefine the world around us: first, more extreme figures voice opinions that would never fly from more politically palatable ones. The right-wing echo chamber picks up those opinions in the guise of news coverage. Then, the more politically acceptable candidates shift their rhetoric to acknowledge the newly accepted opinion as reality.
Consider our seemingly uncontrollable slide towards climate catastrophe: in 2006 and 2007, the link between human activity and climate change was almost incontestable. Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth was a breakout hit; and the former VP was rewarded for his leadership on the global issue with a Nobel Prize in 2007. In 2008, both McCain and Obama openly acknowledged the existence of the threat and the need for action. Scientists breathed a collective sigh of relief that the US might finally exert some leadership on this existential issue.
But when the Obama victory made the idea of a clean-energy economy a potential reality, the climate deniers kicked into high gear. Cash from the Koch brothers poured into bogus organizations to promote climate skepticism and cast doubt on the scientific consensus. Senator Inhofe called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” A 2009 Chamber of Commerce ad buy brutalized House Democrats who voted for the climate legislation. In the lead up to the climate summit of 2009, someone even hacked into a University server and published highly edited e-mails from climate scientists to make them appear to be fabricating their results. While the scientists were exonerated, the damage was done.
The resulting shift in public opinion was almost immediate. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of Americans who believed media accounts of climate change were exaggerated jumped from 35 percent to 48 percent. Among self-identified Republicans, it went to 66 percent. By last year’s Republican presidential primary, right-wing contenders made seemingly inane statements that flew in the face of scientific consensus, and even the ones like Romney who had previously acknowledged the threat were forced to recant to maintain their viability.
While the political dynamics around these two issues are different, there are striking similarities in the right-wing strategy of capitalizing on extreme statements to shift the spectrum of what’s possible. And the wary will take heed: in the span of four short years, we went from having two presidential candidates who openly advocated action to stop climate change to having no GOP candidates in 2012 who could or would affirm its existence and a Democratic president who seems to wish the issue would magically disappear. The consequences of inaction are already being felt.
The same process is underway to undermine women’s voices in our own destiny. Mitt Romney has already flip-flopped from a pro-choice Senate candidate and a governor who promised to be “a good voice” among Republicans on reproductive health to his new incarnation as Paul Ryan’s running mate and an anti-choice leader. While Ryan allows lesser candidates like Akin to carry the water on extreme views held by the right-wing patriarchy, his equally radical views become mainstreamed as his anti-woman credentials are embraced by the party leadership. If we don’t stop laughing and start drawing hard lines around scientific reality, how many Akin’s will it take before we see a President Romney ordering rape victims thrown into the water to see if they float?
By: Ilyse Hogue, The Nation, August 20, 2012
Niall Ferguson responds to critics once again. Read it and make your own mind up. Here’s his summary:
My central critique of the President is not that the economy has under-performed, but that he has not been an effective leader of the executive branch. I go on to detail his well-documented difficulties in managing his team of economic advisers and his disastrous decision to leave it to his own party in Congress to define the terms of his stimulus, financial reform and healthcare reform. I also argue that he has consistently failed to address the crucial issue of long-term fiscal balance, with the result that the nation is now hurtling towards a fiscal cliff of tax hikes and drastic spending cuts.
Niall is surely aware that the Congress writes laws, not presidents. This is not Westminster. And Niall’s preferred top-down approach was indeed pursued by the Clintons in 1994. Healthcare reform failed that time spectacularly prcisely because it didn’t flatter Congress’ prerogatives; under Obama’s “failed” executive leadership, universal healthcare passed for the first time in history. It’s very close to Romneycare. Was that as big a mess as well?
The well-documented difficulties on economic policy come from Ron Suskind’s book, which was subject to strong pushback from the people it quoted. I’m sure there were divisions and fights in the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. But the results are pretty clear: the economy under Obama has performed much better than the British economy under Osborne, or Europe or Japan. The private sector has recovered at Reagan-like rates. It’s the slashing of public sector jobs that has kept employment so subdued – but far less subdued than anywhere else in the developed world. If this is executive mismanagement, more, please.
Then the notion that Obama “has consistently failed to address the crucial issue of long-term fiscal balance.” What, then, was the Bowles-Simpson Commission about? Ryan didn’t create it – he merely torpedoed it because it dared to raise revenues in order to cut the deficit! Obama actually created it and if the necessary majority in Congress had backed it, he would have gone a long way to sign it. Why not? It would give him credit for the biggest deal since 1993. And that’s precisely why the GOP – spearheaded by Ryan – killed it.
Yes, Obama deserves a shellacking for not owning Bowles-Simpson – in what was, in my view, the biggest error of his presidency. But I have no doubt he wanted and wants a Grand Bargain – and revealed how far he would go by cutting $700 billion from Medicare in the ACA (which Ryan is now exploiting on the campaign trail). But how do you get a grand bargain between the two parties when one party refuses to bargain on its central priority, no tax increases? Given Obama’s record of Medicare cuts (never before imposed by a Democratic president), it’s clear who the culprit is for the fiscal cliff: a Republican party that wanted the US to default rather than agree to even a tiny revenue increase, and that pledged in the primaries to refuse a budget deal that was 10-1 spending cuts to revenue increases.
As for the executive banch, the commander-in-chief role is part of the job. Niall doesn’t mention the extremely successful attack on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the end of torture, the killing of Osama bin Laden and capture of mounds of intelligence, or the fact that, unlike his predecessor, Obama has not presided over a major terror attack in this country or authorized grotesque torture that effectively destroyed America’s moral standing. As for Iraq, Niall says the exit was premature. It was negotiated by Bush. Maliki didn’t want us there any more. Niall thinks we should occupy a country with all the massive expense that entails – against its will? Seriously? And it’s Obama who is unserious on the debt?
By: Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast, August 21, 2012