Monday, August 20, 2012

Akins: The Big Red Button Marked Self-Destruct

In science fiction there is often a big red button marked Self Destruct and you think: Why would anyone put that there!? And then: And why would anyone push it?
Because It's So, So TEMPTING!
Now we kinda know. GOP Senate nominee in a tight race with Democrat Claire McCaskill (who actually preferred him and funded him in his primary ... money well spent, it turns out) has done his best to push the red self-destruct button on his campaign. From HotAir:
“Well you know, people always want to make it as one of those things where how do you slice this particularly tough, sort of ethical question,” he replied. “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. But, let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
How bad is it? We don't know: Akins was up in the polls but this is a particularly toxic comment and Nate Silver checks the stats and determines that in cases where gaffes hurt ... they hurt by a 5point margin. That's 10 points in a 1:1 Senate race ... which this is (you lose 5%, your opponent gains 5%). That's enough to sink him ... if it sticks.

While Sean Trende has several tweets of similarly toxic-seeming gaffes and their results, the fact is that if this does stick, it's gonna leave a mark (in that tweet I linked to, the guy did lose ... just came close. Is that going to be reassuring for Akins?)

David Frum looks under the covers and concludes that it isn't raw stupidity: it's philosophy. If you believe life begins at conception you can never justify taking it.

Others look on and ask: "Is it too late to pull that guy out of there?" Answer: not yet--but it's close.

What Do I Think?
As I write this in real-time, I'm sure Frum is getting a deluge of posts and tweets telling him he's gotten it wrong because the stupidity isn't in the philosophy around where life begins but on the "women don't get pregnant from rape." It's true--rape is pretty good at getting women pregnant and that comment is scientifically stupid. If you are going to look for where to place the word Moron, that's where you start.

But the problem isn't the 'stupid.' The problem that Akins' belief is a specific defensive mental technique to allow him to ignore the problem of forcing a rape victim to bear her assailant's child: he goes "Oh, it wasn't really rape" and suddenly the atrocity of 9 months--and then a life-time--of aggravated mental abuse and (presumably) state-mandated cruelty evaporates in a puff of 'logic.'

And that's the problem: if we focus on the question of when life begins we're only seeing half the equation. Yes, killing a baby--a fetus--even a clump of quickly dividing cells--is a huge problem for those of us who believe it is a person. That's a solid philosophy no matter what side you take: it might be, it depends on where you define it and how--and attempts to "prove" that fetus is not a person will convince only those who were already convinced you were right in the first place.

HOWEVER: that is not, by itself, an excuse for the atrocity that would be the state forcing a woman to bear that child after the traumatic events that created it. If you want to have that discussion, you're welcome to--just be real clear where you stand on it. Be clear that you have some conception of the compounded trauma you are weighing against that life you're trying to protect. It's a hard, stark call and if you are going to try to make it you should be ready for that battle. Trying to avoid that stance--one that as a man Akins will never have to live up to--isn't just dishonest. It's cowardly.

I can never tell with these things--I assumed "You didn't build that" wasn't a game-changer and I assumed that various Romney gaffes were also going to fizzle--and it looks like maybe I was right about these--but this one? My guess is it's going to hurt.

This one? I think it should.

Updated To Add: I saw a few responses that I think bear some discussion of.

Legal Insurrection: Professor Jacobson is upset and dismayed that Republicans are piling on. He expected this from Democrats ... but really? Guys? He apologized.
The Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri , Todd Akin, made a stupid statement on a talk show today regarding abortion in cases of rape. I’m not going to defend the statement. It was similar to Whoppi Goldberg’s rape-rape comment. He now has apologized.

Yet the reaction not only from the left but also Republicans on Twitter was swift that he should be forced step down, be thrown overboard, summarily executed, etc.
Erick Erickson of Red State isn't all that interested in Akin's remarks and would rather talk about Obama supporting infanticide--with a swipe at fact-checking organizations for good measure since they disagree with his take on things:
Todd Akin was inarticulate. Some are now accusing him of being pro-rape. The people horrid by Todd Akin’s remarks are, I’m sure, thrilled to have a President who defended infanticide. I’ll take Todd Akin’s inarticulate remarks over an infanticide supporter any day of the week.
 And the Princeton Election Consortium gives you the cold hard facts:
Republicans might be surprised to learn that I now upgrade the advisability of supporting Akin. Why? Donations make the greatest difference in races that are on the edge. Akin was ahead. Things just got closer.
This last bit is the sane one: if Republicans care about the (entirely vital) control of the Senate then both Erickson and Jacobson should be doing what Hot Air is: asking if they can remove Akins before he throws the seat away instead of lamenting fairness or lack thereof. And while I find both these guys generally cogent, I think they're blowing it badly here. Akins wasn't just inarticulate and GOP voices are right to be horrified--whether it be morally (which it should be) or strategically (which it should also be).

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