VANCOUVER, Wash. – “We’re glad this is a legitimate fund-raiser,’’ Jane Jacobson said by way of welcoming her fellow Democrats to lunch in her vast backyard here this week. “And we have five legitimate Planned Parenthood people here and a legitimately
great candidate for the 1st district, Suzan DelBene!”
Applause and war whoops said that none of the congressional campaign donors eating watermelon wedges at long tables dotted with blue hydrangea had missed the reference to Missouri Republican senatorial nominee Todd Akin’s comment alleging that “legitimate rape” hardly ever results in pregnancy.
Though one clueless, classless comment does not a “war on women” make, Akin’s words were more than that, and the online remedial Women 101 course the GOP has been forced to sign up for in the last few days has opened wallets and cleared calendars.
Thanks to Akin, “I just got another call this morning from someone saying, ‘I’m ready to work now,’ ” a Democratic activist told former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a fund-raising dinner she headlined in Portland, Ore. this week. “What we have reached here is a tipping point,” the woman added.
It does feel like that. On one level, an oxymoron like “legitimate rape,’’ certainly is the “poor phrasing’’ that Akin has said it is. But this conversation only has legs because the congressman from the “Show Me’’ state has shown us something real — an ugly and undeniable vein of views toward women that goes well beyond the abortion debate and runs right through the heart of his party.
For more than a year, I’ve argued against the idea that Republicans were coordinating a “war on women.’’ What hyperbole, I thought, reluctant to compare affronts to American women to the truly life-threatening situation of so many women around the globe. In May of last year, I wrote in Commonweal that “Throwing acid on a girl’s face to keep her from going to school, or dressing as she pleases, or walking out into the world without a male minder—now that is a war on women.”
Well, that was then. Though I still know plenty of Rs who show enormous respect for women, as well as some Ds who don’t, Akin hasn’t become a pariah for putting forth a marginal idea, but for embarrassing those in his party who resemble that remark. I believe in extending the benefit of the doubt, but this isn’t the first time, or even the second, that elected GOP officials have suggested that women have to be closely monitored to make sure they’re on the up-and-up about having been raped.
Laws redefining “forcible rape’’ suggest women can’t be trusted. And talk of testing whether women are really telling their doctors the truth about having been violated is so far out it reminds me of the recent congressional testimony of a woman who’d been forced to have five abortions under China’s one-child policy. Each month, she told the committee, she and other female factory workers were forced to submit to humiliating examinations to prove they weren’t pregnant. Is chasing
pregnant women with transvaginal probes any less disrespectful?
In an hour-long interview with Pelosi this week, at the end of a long day of back-to-back fund-raising events, I was surprised when she agreed that at bottom, this isn't even about abortion: “My family’s all pro-life – they don’t share my views,’’ she said of the family she grew up in. “But this is not about abortion; let’s put that aside. Abortion is something you can agree to disagree on, but this shows a disrespect of women that’s beyond that – and even beyond politics, to something that’s deep-seated, sociological, cultural and psychological. Todd Akin’s statement and the obliviousness with which he made it find a very comfortable home with House Republicans, who are rushing to get rid of him because of what he says about them.”
Particularly, she says, because Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (Wis.) has sponsored a number of the same bills Akin has, including laws redefining rape and pushing for a ‘human life amendment’ that would ban some forms of birth control.
If Democratic women get any more energized, by November they’ll be exhausted.
But Pelosi says that as good as all this is for turnout, “I really have a level of sadness about it.’’
Of the “war on women,’’ meme, she shrugs and says “it’s alliterative. I have not been one of those who’s been out there with the ‘war on women’ words.’’ Those who send e-mails with her name on them don’t seem to know that, but she insists that for a long time, “I was hoping it was the odd duck here or there.’’
What the congressman from Missouri has done, though, she says, has shown that’s not the case – and made him “the doggie doo on the shoe of his party, the tattoo on Paul Ryan that they won’t be able to get off.’’
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political reporter and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.