Akin and the Truth

I hope the furor over Todd Akin’s remarks on abortion remains heated over the next two months. Akin is not just some political neophyte who didn’t know better than to talk to the press openly. He is a major figure in the Republican House as regards their policy initiatives on reproductive health. But that seems to be an awfully serious way to describe the gentleman from Missouri. This is a lawmaker who has been trying to rewrite abortion policy and redefine the crime of rape based on a pathetic lack of knowledge about biology, human reproduction and post-traumatic psychology. This is a lawmaker who is attempting to extend the reach of sovereign law into women’s bodies. And yet his understanding of the female body (and thus the male body one presumes) is totally mystified: Women secrete all sorts of strange chemicals imbued with strange and powerful forces when they are overcome with emotions. Women are also liars, he believes, given that they will readily lie to a rape in order to get an abortion. Akin must see his job in Congress to make sure that women cannot lie, and he has been willing restrict the definition of the crime they would lie about in order to assure that they cannot even lie about a “non-forcible” or “illegitimate” rape, whatever that means.

Of course Akin does not understand that this is why he is being attacked and vilified. He merely thinks that the “liberal” media is creating an uproar because he mistakenly [sic] used the word “legitimate” when he meant “forcible.”  OK, let us take him up on that. How is it that one would mean “forcible” but substitute the word “legitimate”? I’ve studied just enough structural linguistics, axes of selection and combination and all that, just enough to know that Akin’s substitution is not “bat” for “cat.” It was a true Freudian slip, exposing a semantic association between “force” and “legitimacy.”

Yet Akin still fails completely to see that the public is outraged by what he actually spoke, not what he misspoke. Hardcore conservatives really believe that women cannot get pregnant from a rape, and they have no clue as to why anyone would be offended by this belief. Akin’s ignorance is not just run-of-the-mill ignorance. I’m ignorant about a wide variety of subjects, and if I were asked to repair an airplane or defend a murder case or write new code for Microsoft, I would merely shrug my shoulders and admit that I don’t know how to do those things. The ignorance Akin spoke is one of arrogance: He insists his mistaken beliefs are hard facts, and therefore anyone who disagrees, including real scientists, just don’t have all the facts. And so based on his ignorance of the fact that he is willfully ignorant of true facts, he feels empowered to inscribe his total ignorance into the law. And now he wishes to empower his ignorance even further by joining the U.S. Senate.

What Akin spoke is what a core of the Republican Party also believes. But this core membership is not represented by the party’s leadership, especially that 1% or less of the party that finances all of its operations. For several decades the GOP leadership has been willing to include whatever policy position in their platform was necessary to make sure Christian conservatives continued to vote Republican, even when they knew that action on those positions would make them wildly unpopular in a general election. This is the only way to understand GOP rhetoric. We endorse tax policies that will redistribute wealth to the wealthy, but our tax policies will not redistribute wealth to the wealthy, and even to suggest such a thing is class warfare anyway. We support permanent war in the Middle East, but our war in the Middle East will not be permanent, it will be short and profitable. We wish to criminalize rape victims if they get an abortion because rape victims cannot get pregnant from rape, but we do not actually believe that rape victims cannot get pregnant from rape, an outrage! Paul Ryan co-wrote legislation with Akin on rape and abortion, but now Paul Ryan does not actually believe what he and Todd Akin wished to accomplish with that legislation.

Todd Akin is not just guilty of incredible ignorance. He is guilty of admitting his arrogant ignorance publicly, and in so doing revealing to the public the true basis of Republican policy initiatives. For this reason he has been abandoned completely by the Republican establishment. Not because he is an offensive, arrogant and ignorant jackass. But because in truth the Republican Party has already tied itself to that ignorance as a matter of its political agenda, and they cannot admit this until they disenfranchise enough citizens to actually win an election in the full light of their beliefs.


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