Not unlike any other kind of protracted battle, we’re already seeing some sparks appear this election season. One that Republicans saw as much in their favor – especially the right flank that has the party firmly in grip – was Mitt Romney’s naming Paul Ryan as his running mate. A spark the GOP as a whole didn’t much care for, certainly, was the unbelievably dumb comment made by the guy in Missouri seeking to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill, Rep. Todd Akin, whose publicly expressed view that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy in instances of “legitimate” rape gave him an instant celebrity he couldn’t possibly be craving.
With polls showing Missouri as a state the president is very likely not going to win, Akin seemed to be sitting pretty to topple the incumbent Democrat, in the Republicans’ game plan enhancing their chances of gaining a Senate majority. The uproar on the GOP side over the Akin remarks has been downright ferocious, the calls for him to quit the race coming without letup. That intense anger among GOP chieftains has of course nothing or very little to do with Akin’s sentiments being offensive, particularly so to women. Rather, it is all about the spark this hoof-in-mouth episode has given to opponents of their grand design for turning this country more severely right than the lot of us could dare imagine.
Akin is still insisting that he intends to remain in the contest, despite the demands for withdrawal being made by the likes of Romney, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other party heavyweights. Given that kind of pressure, it looked like Akin would soon cave…and he still might. But there are also strong signs that he is being encouraged by a hard-core following of primarily Christian conservative types, apparently, to stand his ground. One imagines that these conservatives are probably sounding off but good against what they see as duplicitous behavior of those in the GOP leadership calling for Akin’s head. Akin, they might agree, took his declaration of an uncompromising pro-life posture to silly, inextricable extremes. But there’s no questioning as to his toeing the line with his faithful adherence to what has become Republican orthodoxy on the issue. So long as, for these folks, he’s morally in the right place, what’s there to oppose?
Because Republicans are incensed over one guy not having the smarts to be hard-line without being a knucklehead, we have here the quirky circumstance of conservatives calling out Republicans for their hypocrisy in dumping on the guy. Akin committed the cardinal sin of messing with a Republican power grab – not something the party is inclined to abide. So Akin, if he stays in for the long haul as he says, will have to do so without millions in mainstream party funds earmarked for his campaign.
On the other (Democratic) side, the Akin gaffe could very well be huge. Besides the boost (conceivably one with legs) it would have given to McCaskill, it has turned the spotlight anew on those who would blithely make a “dark ages” about-face on reproductive rights for women. Absent Akin’s nonsensical comment, the GOP, with the usual rightward push, would have put its customarily strong pro-life plank into the party platform, a routine which now hardly qualifies as earth-shaking. Even with the party’s standard bearer declaring himself anti-abortion but supportive of exemptions such as rape and health of the mother (running mate Ryan reportedly said he would defer to Romney on the issue, although he is as hard-line as they come), there can be very little mystery as to what the Republican platform would reflect on the matter of unwanted pregnancies. According rights to a woman and her doctor is simply not part of the GOP conversation.
Akin’s hogwash about “legitimate” rape and women’s capacity to deal with it naturally dramatized anew what would have been a pretty benign presence in those well-worn articles of faith in this new-age Republican Party. Drawing attention, in a high-profile manner, to the extremist positions on women’s rights that are now par for the course in the GOP probably becomes a clarion call, or so Democrats hope, for moderates and progressives in the electorate whose incentive to get marching clearly doesn’t match that of their opposite numbers.
Democrats have already seized the opportunity to billboard this Republican extremism, and well they should. It can’t hurt to point out that a party, which now so aggressively preaches that the best government is one that backs off and allows folks to go about their business unfettered, is one that curiously advocates governmental intrusion into women’s lives on the matter of child bearing. It can’t hurt to remind folks that Republicans, with one of them in the White House, were ready to inject themselves, four-square, into the Terri Schiavo case to scuttle the court’s decision that a man had the right to have the life of his long-suffering wife finally end with some dignity. It can’t hurt to remind folks that this charade of getting government off the people’s backs is little more than a device to be used only conveniently.