Monday, August 20, 2012

Thank you, Rep. Todd Akin for the insight into the Republican mindset

In 2007, in the United States, approximately 93,000 women were victims of forcible rape as defined by the F.B.I . viz.., “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”  That definition leaves out 248,300 instances of anal, oral and statutory rape; incest; rape with an object, finger or fist, and rape of men. Most rapes do not fall into this narrow definition. 

The probability that a woman who is forcibly raped will become pregnant is 1 in 20, exactly the same as the probability of pregnancy in the cases of unprotected sex. Simple math tells us that the forcible rapes resulted in 4,650 pregnancies. Another significant number of pregnancies were the result of non-forcible rape, e.g. statutory rape and incest. That someone would refer to the forcible rapes as defined by the F.B.I as “legitimate” is shocking, and it leaves me scratching my head as I contemplate what he would call the rape of a intellectually challenged 14 year old who is tricked into having sex. According to a 1996 article  in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.”

By now, everyone knows that Missouri candidate for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Todd Akin has said that doctors have told him that cases of forcible rape rarely result in pregnancy.  “If it’s a legitimate rape, says he "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume 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.”  Republicans are running away from this statement with a passion. Andrea Saul, a Romney-Ryan spokesperson said on Sunday that her candidates “disagree” with Akin and “would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.” This gave the candidates time to stick their finger in the wind, and by Monday they determined that they needed to condemn the language in stronger terms. Romney told the National Review Online that “Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong. Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”

As usual, the analysis offered by the mass media will be truncated to fit the demands of the news cycle and an audience that is largely affected by A.D.D. But beyond the fact that Akin is a boorish ignoramus, there is more to the outrageous comment he made. First, let’s give him credit for trying to walk back his comments. Unfortunately, he failed. He claims that he misspoke. The word “misspoke” means you said one thing but meant another, i.e. a slip of the tongue. It may reveal a lot about the subconscious thinking of the speaker, though in my opinion, usually not as much as pop-psychologists would have you believe. Be that as it may, it is not misspeaking when you meant what you said and said what you meant and, even though later it may be brought to your attention that what you meant and said was impolitic. That’s exactly what happened to Akin though the fact that he didn’t realize beforehand that what he was saying was stupid speaks to us about how far out of the mainstream this Republican representative is.

The myth that rape doesn’t result in pregnancy is a mainstay of the lunatic anti-abortion maniacs. For a more complete discussion, see, “That’s Not ‘Mispoke’” on Talking Points Memo.    Indeed, this ignorant justification for anti-abortion legislation has a long history as documented in The Atlantic,  “The canard that will not die; ‘legitimate’ rape doesn’t cause pregnancy.” 

What I found disturbing is the fact that in describing the results of a rape-induced pregnancy the wannabe Senator said, “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” This is wrong on many levels.

First, a zygote is not a child. Congressman Akin, as well as Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan have all supported a “personhood amendment” that would redefine a person to include a fertilized egg, but it has not become law anywhere. In fact, the voters of Mississippi have voted down a similar amendment last November, and Mississippi voters are not known as a liberal bunch. In Ohio, an attempt to get the measure on the ballot failed last month. Todd Akin and Paul Ryan co-sponsored a “personhood” amendment in the House of Representatives. The so called, “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” declares that a fertilized egg “shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” This would outlaw abortion, including in cases of rape and incest as well as some forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization. Mitt Romney has said that he would support a “personhood amendment,” when talking to his base on the Mike Huckabee show, but, as with so many issues, including a woman’s right to choose, he has said the exact opposite on other occasions. Give Mr. Romney credit for consistency in this: He invariably will profess to be on both sides of any issue.

Second, I find it noteworthy that in the case of rape, the first response of Mr Akin is to say, “there should be some punishment.” It is hardly a feat of political bravery to say that rapists should be punished, and I know of no one who advocates otherwise. But should punishment be the first response? Shouldn’t the immediate concern be for the woman so horribly victimized? Shouldn’t our instincts direct us to react with caring compassion for a woman whose life is changed by an actual invasion of her body and a complete theft of her autonomy?

This may seem like a quibble to some but it is not. The authoritarian personality has been well studied in the wake of the Holocaust as social scientists and psychologists struggled to understand how humans can collectively act with such cruelty. And what has been found is that the authoritarian personality can be diagnosed using standard tests that measure the F (for fascistic) scale.

Characteristics of the authoritarian personality include a cynical view of mankind and a need for power and toughness, as well as perceived lapses in society’s conventional norms. Other characteristics of this personality type are a general tendency to focus upon those who violate conventional values and act harshly towards them (authoritarian aggression), and an exaggerated concern with promiscuity. Notice how is so few words, Rep. Akin revealed these traits, giving us strong evidence that he has an authoritarian personality.

That Rep. Akin would focus on punishment as a first response is, as I have said, significant, but notice also, how in discussing the issue, he avoids any mention of the woman who has been brutalized. It is as if to him the dichotomy is between the rapist and the child, and the woman is just a vessel for forcible implanted sperm and the resulting zygote, not even worthy of mention. Is it any wonder that voters feel that there is a war on women?

The hostility towards women and abortion is a common feature of authoritarian personalities. Women do not represent to them the thing they value most, namely, “power and toughness.” Indeed, studies of fascist states have found that the governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution. Here we have further evidence that Akin and Ryan, and, depending upon whom he is talking to, Romney, have the authoritarian personality that can be so destructive to democracy.

Will Akin drop out of the race for Senator Claire McCaskill’s seat? I wouldn’t count on it. If he stays in, he is a seriously wounded candidate and the Karl Rove super-PAC has pulled out of his race. But this little peak into the ideology of the extreme right – of which Ryan, and increasingly Romney are a part – should set off alarm bells for any and all who love American democracy.

For this insight, we should thank Rep. Akin, 

“... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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