Asked about his position on abortion in case of rape, a Republican Senate candidate told a television interviewer on Sunday that women who are raped generally don’t get pregnant. Representative Todd Akin said “It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” I think what he is trying to say is that woman can chose not to conceive when they are raped. Actually, one in 20 rapes leads to conception, so Akin’s knowledge of reproductive science is a tad off.
But the really creepy bit is the phrase “legitimate rape”, which suggests that women who do get pregnant after being raped were asking for it, or enjoyed it, or only cried rape after the fact. This view would be offensive coming from a drunken loudmouth in a bar. From a public official running for the senior legislative body in the United States it is truly shocking. Politicians, after all, are trained not to be controversial. That Akin said this during a television interview suggests that in the circles he travels in, this view is relatively mainstream.
Which brings us to Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential candidate, and maybe his biggest blunder to date. Ryan, beloved of conservative pundits, is famous for of his deficit plan that actually manages to raise the deficit because its huge spending cuts are dwarfed by its even larger tax cuts for the super rich. Were his plan in place in 2010, the year for which Romney released his taxes, the former Massachusetts Governor would have paid less than 1 per cent of his income in taxes.
As America gets to know Ryan, they are less and less impressed. He may well cost Romney the election. Now the Romney campaign is keeping him out of the crucial battleground state of Florida because they fear his anti-Medicaid stance will lose them votes in that senior-heavy states. The big question then, is why did Romney choose such a polarising figure?
I think the answer is that Ryan’s views, that the poor are unworthy scammers, that the rich are the oppressed creators of wealth, that cutting taxes and reducing the size of government are panaceas have become mainstream within Republican circles. They are what pass for intellectual seriousness. A conservative intellectual can make a nice living working for one of a slew of well-funded right wing think tanks. He goes on television on Fox News and gives legitimacy to views that a few years before would have been beyond the pale. In that world, being wrong has no cost. Loyalty to the party line is the only prerequisite for employment. Few of the men who plotted the Iraq war or the Bush tax cuts paid for their mistakes. They all still fly business class to conferences, still write speeches proving themselves right.
This hall of mirrors worked brilliantly for 30 years. But the problem with self-reinforcing views is they become more and more extreme, less tempered by reality. This happened to the left in the 1970s. It is happening to the right today. It now seems that the Republican party is more concerned about billionaires avoiding capital gains tax than about women who have been raped. I don’t think that is a viewpoint likely to win them this election.