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.