Whence Todd Akin? | Creative Destruction: You might ask in reference to Missouri Congressman and candidate for the U.S. Senate Todd Akin's recent remarks on rape and pregnancy, "where do the Republicans come up with these people?" Akin has gotten into hot water for this response to a question about his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape:
First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down...
The idea that the stress a woman undergoes when being "forcibly" raped (as opposed to some kind of "statutory" rape) is a commonly-held belief or talking point in some circles, according to Garance Franke-Ruta in the Atlantic.
But of course it is wrong and bizarre and is recognized as such by voters outside of the right-wing fringe in Missouri.
That's why Republicans across the country are running as fast as they can from Akin's remarks and commentators are saying that Claire McCaskill's chances of retaining her Senate seat have increased markedly. Josh Marshall calls it the "Tea Party penalty," the same force that allowed Harry Reid to survive his Senate race against Sharon Angle and Tom Carper to defeat Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.
So back to the question: where does the Republican party come up with these people? Are people inclined to run for office on the Republican ticket genetically stupider than the average bear and therefore more prone to this kind of gaffe? I say no, the problem is not genetic but institutional. Chances are that Representative Akin has said this kind of thing before Republican audiences in the past and has never been penalized for it. Here is a partial list of other things that a Republican candidate can say to an audience of Republican activists and primary voters without fear of criticism:
- Evolution is false; the earth is actually 6000 years old and humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time.
- The theory of global warming was created in a conspiracy between environmentalists and climate scientists to destroy the American way of life.
- Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya who got a scholarship to Columbia University as a foreign student.
- The Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. State Department.
- Barack Obama has a plan to confiscate your guns. Part of this plan is the "fast and furious" scandal which the Obama Administration created to gin up support for gun control.
- The United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.
- Gay people are more likely to be pedophiles than straight people.
- NAFTA is part of a plan to erase the border between the US and Mexico and replace the United States with a federation called the North American Union.
Oh gosh, there are dozens more I'm sure. Feel free to add your own. The point is that the Republican Party base labors under or is tolerant of some pretty bizarre illusions. There are no checks and balances, no institutional pressure that will tell someone like Todd Akin early in his career that certain statements are just stupid and damaging to one's political career. In fact just the opposite: the Republican base severely punishes a candidate who argues that, say, tax cuts for the rich lead to higher budget deficits or that the Founders intended for there to be a separation between Church and State. And that's why people like Akin, and Angle, and O'Donnell, and Bachman, and Trump, and Paul, and so on and so forth, keep popping up to embarrass the Republican Party and damage their electoral prospects.