Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What Rush Didn't Say Was No Fluke

On Rush Limbaugh's radio program this morning, a caller accused Rep. Todd Akin of having been paid off for torpedoing the GOP's chances to win back the U.S. Senate and perhaps even the presidency. Referring to Akin's theories about rape and abortion, the caller said, "Nobody believes that." Limbaugh replied, "I'm not sure nobody believes it" -- and then stopped. He said he had to go to a top-of-the-hour break and mumbled that it was probably better that he was being interrupted.

According to news reports, Limbaugh calls Akin's comments stupid and says that he hopes the congressman will do the right thing and quit his Senate race against the Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill (D-MO). I didn't listen to any more of his show today -- while driving I sometimes flip around among talk shows on KFI, KRLA, and KPCC -- so I don't know if he finished his thought about the prevalence of Akin's views.

One can't help wondering what he might have said. Mitt Romney, for instance, has accepted the support of an anti-abortion activist who believes, just as Akin does, that women's bodies have the power to terminate pregnancies that result from what Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, and others call "forcible rape" (Akin's term was "legitimate rape"). Akin, Ryan, the GOP platform committee, and 20% of the American people want to make all abortion illegal without exceptions for rape or incest. They fear that in the pre-1920 conditions they envision for American women, those wanting or needing an abortion would lie and claim to have been raped.

So Limbaugh's right: Some people do believe as Akin does, and they're pretty powerful. Expressing the rest of whatever had bubbled to his lips might well have contributed to what Akin's critics seem to fear most: Voters realizing he's not an outlier. As an opponent of women's reproductive rights, Akin actually stands neck-deep in the mainstream of his party's thinking.

It's not a debate the GOP wants to have before the election, since when it comes to women's rights, its mainstream doesn't conjoin with the national mainstream. They're not even in the same time zone. Many conservatives still have trouble understanding that women (and a considerable number of men) won't let government dictate to them about abortion. The hard work of reducing the number of abortions instead requires the broad availability of sex education and birth control, gently encouraging women (think tax breaks and free college tuition) to carry unwanted babies to term and give them up for adoption, and better teaching and preaching about sex's sanctity and awe-inspiring generative power. But as long as Republicans insist that the way to battle abortion is to put women back in chains (thanks for that image, Joe Biden), Todd Akin is the poster boy they deserve.

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