And they have been very odd.
Now everyone’s heard the name of Missouri Senate aspirant Todd Akin, a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who gets his views on science and ideas about the rights of women via special delivery from the Medieval era. On Sunday, he stuck his foot in his mouth at several previously unimaginable angles, saying in a TV interview, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
As red meat goes, his comments were of the primest cuts, large and juicy and easy to chew over in a disdainful manner. There was really no way to defend him. Those who tried (Connie Mackey at the Family Research Council’s Action PAC, for one) had to resort to saying things like: “I know nothing about the science or the legal implications of his statement.” Even Mr. Akin came to admit that his ideas were erroneous. He released an apologetic 30-second video, “Forgiveness,” in which he backs away from the science in his comment.
But it’s more than that. The trouble was not, as he thought, using the word “legitimate” and “rape” in such uncomfortable proximity. The problem was the idea behind that statement. This was the kind of gaffe you serve at parties — several juicy bacon strips of gaffe wrapped around a fundamentally flawed way of looking at the world. And he hasn’t apologized for all the layers yet. He’s simply admitted that he didn’t know the science and told Mike Huckabee that by “legitimate” rape he meant the “forcible” kind. But this does not, as Akin and those around him seem to think, make things better. He’s put down the Raid, but he still seems to think he’s talking to a giant cockroach. There are problems in this too deep to be resolved in 30 seconds.
And the damage has been done. In a few hours, the entire corps of People Who Write About These Things were transformed into a mob of crazed bacchants, running through the woods covered in vine leaves tearing the heads off our firstborn. Well, not quite. But you get the idea. His own party has been equally strident in its disapproval. RNC chairman Reince Priebus noted that “if it was me, I would step aside.” He has until today at 5 p.m. before his name is stuck on the ballot.
But the trouble, as Nate Silver points out, is that anyone with poor enough judgment to say a thing like that in the first place has poor enough judgment to stay in the race.
Now the GOP body politic is doing its level best to expel Akin, and he is not going. So much for the magical power of any given body to jettison the unwanted. Was his gaffe not legitimate enough?
He failed to show up on Piers Morgan’s show, and Morgan, knowing a good show when he saw one, addressed Akin’s empty chair and called him a “gutless little twerp.”
This is how the rocks fall.
It is so easy to start the avalanche. It begins with the high-pitched, dudgeon-summoning whistle and ends with moments like this, a man clinging desperately to the end of a plank.
The indignation is certainly real, as it should be. This view is much more mainstream than anyone controlling the damage would like to admit. This is not a distraction from the real issues; it’s a real issue.
But the indignation is also predictable. And look how competently it’s been wheeled out. President Obama emerged and condemned the comments, calling them “offensive.” The McCaskill campaign (which has been doing its due diligence to position Akin as Claire McCaskill’s opponent, after intercepting a shipment of his beliefs on its way from the Middle Ages) has a massive pop-up featuring the quote and asking for donations on its Web site. It’s been a safe bet so far.
And perhaps it’s just the echo chamber that makes it seem so bad. According to Public Policy Polling, which conducted a quick survey Monday night, Akin still leads McCaskill by 1 point, 44-43, in spite of the fact that 79 percent of voters disagree with his statement. If he can just stay on the horse for another few hours ...
We’ll see what the body politic can do. The thing everyone involved in this storm seems to realize is that the longer we talk about this, the less time we have for anything else. No wonder the Republican Party is trying so desperately to shut Akin down. No wonder McCaskill tried so hard to get him in the race in the first place.