Akin’s “incorrect comment”

Todd Akin thinks it natural to change his proclaimed beliefs about facts of nature in response to political pressure. No matter how hard he thumps his Bible, he simply doesn’t believe in any real difference between truth and falsehood.

Todd Akin has apologized. He “used the wrong words in the wrong way.” Mike Huckabee wants the apology accepted.

But which words does Akin regret?

Akin said (at least) two regrettable things in that fateful interview. He tried to draw a distinction between “legitimate rape” and some unnamed alternative; not clear whether he intended to minimize the seriousness of any rape not involving explicit violence or instead to imply that women systematically falsify rape accusations, or would do so if abortion were banned but with a rape exception. (Of course he could have meant both things.)

But Akin also offered a bit of grossly false biology: that (according to “doctors”) “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down,” meaning that pregnancy rarely if ever results from “legitimate rape.”

I can understand the claim that “legitimate rape” was a slip of the tongue, though Akin’s record casts doubt on that interpretation. But what about the biological claim? That could hardly have been a mere “mis-speaking,” except in the sense that Akin wishes he’d only said it to a purely RTL audience rather than putting it out there for the whole world to marvel at. He was quoting a well-worn bit of Christianist bullsh*t. Did he believe it when he said it? If so, what has caused him to change his mind? Did the imaginary “doctors” correct themselves?

Of course what really happened is that the firestorm made Akin aware that he couldn’t get away with this stuff, now that he’s playing in the big leagues. So he took it back, just as he might take back some policy position that his pollsters found the voters weren’t buying.

That’s what I mean when I say the GOP fringe has gone Postmodern. To someone like Akin, or Huckabee, everything is contestable, and it makes perfect sense to change your mind about natural phenomena on the same basis you’d change your mind about proposed legislation. Since the apparently scientific claim wasn’t intended to be true in the first place, but merely to score political points, there’s no reason not to adopt, or pretend to adopt, new biology with every change in the political winds.




Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

20 thoughts on “Akin’s “incorrect comment””

  1. postmodern or postfactual?

    i’m close to giving up hope in our political system. the right-wing party tells the most ludicrous lies and is seldom called on them while the more centrist party refuses to stand up for the policies favored by its base or even policies favored by reality. i’m voting democratic this year, as usual, because there’s at least a tiny sliver of hope for rational policy with them but my heart’s not in it. i started losing hope when clinton refused to fight for zoe baird or lani guinier.

  2. If he had said “forcible” instead of “legitimate,” he would still have the support of Fox News and its minions, and the controversy would not have become large. Republicans have tolerated pseudoscience for many years. Sean Hannity would have said that it was just the opinion of liberal doctors that rape causes pregnancy.

  3. Or, in other words, to lie. And I don’t care which of the contradictory statements he really believed, if any. He lied at least once. As do so many politicians and public figures, so often.

    Maybe this pattern is partly traceable to casual use of “believe.” So often I hear the commentariat say that a politician “believes” something because the politician has said something approximating it. When someone *says* something, I have no way of knowing whether it’s an expression of inner conviction or just something convenient to say. Odds are it’s the latter, though, if the same person contradicts it in short order, or acts in contrary ways. And when politicians speak, I’ve always thought the rational approach is to be skeptical, because they’re in the business of trying to be liked by enough people to win elections.

    Speaking is a public act and puts them on the public record. That’s what I care about. Just like with perjury, what’s on the record, speech and action, is what matters. In a case like this one, if they’re consistent, there’s a better chance that down the road they’re going to act in accordance with the way they speak. The inner state of “belief” is unapproachable and I really wish media figures would stop pretending to get at it or understand it or explain it. \rant, I guess.

  4. Commenters elsewhere insightfully suggested that Akin’s biology is merely a new version of the Salem witch trials: claiming that only those who are NOT raped can get pregnant is no different than claiming that only those who are NOT witches get drowned. It’s a wingnut’s way to differentiate between the raped and the willing participants, just like they did with witches and non-witches. That it makes no sense biologically or in reality-based world is irrelevant to their outlook, and they’ve always believed that most rape victims are lying to some degree–hence the “legitimate” rape distinction.

    I think this connection to the witch trials is both valid and important to note, as it illustrates very well the deep fear of women and their sexuality, and the need for their subjugation to mitigate the great danger they pose to such pathetic little men as Akin.

    1. Salem did not use the water test. Not all things in Python movies are completely accurate. It used dream testimony. They also reversed themselves within a year and paid restitution to families of the accused in 1711. Our courts should move so quickly.

      1. Someone in another discussion yesterday posted an a legal discussion in support of Akin’s version of “God’s little shield”. It was in Latin from 1290 in the reign of Edward I.

  5. It’s entirely possible that Todd Akin believed that biological absurdity and was surprised to find out there’s a scientific consensus to the contrary. Never underestimate the profound effects of living in a Christianist bubble. I think it’s hard for urbanites and coasties to grasp what a different world much of the Midwest really is, particularly the rural and small town Midwest. We kind of get that the South is a whole ‘nother place, but we tend to think of the Midwest being like the coasts except that things are farther apart. Only superficially, in my experience–and I’m from the Hicksville part of the left coast, not LA or SF or even Seattle. There are places in the world where they speak languages other than English that feel less foreign to me than Indiana or Ohio–both places where I’ve spent considerable time.

  6. Wasn’t it Reagan, referring to liberals, who said something along the lines of “they know so much that isn’t so”?

    Religious conservatives are a funny lot. In the same way that their god always seems to hate what they hate, their “science” always seems to “find” what they want to be true. In both cases, the dissonance is almost always politically motivated.

    I live in Missouri and see Akin’s new “apology” ad airing relentlessly on TV. While it’s a nice switch from the old relentless ad campaign lying about McCaskill’s record, it is clear from the tone and word choices that Akin is apologizing, not to physicians who were credited as the source of his malarkey or to women who were deeply offended by it, but to his party and to republican voters. He’s keenly aware that the nature of his sin was not the spreading of misinformation, which is, of course, modus operandi in politicking, but rather the sin of blowing his dog whistle too hard, thereby alerting the opposition during a time when the party is trying to covertly sneak weasel language into abortion law. He apologizes for choosing the wrong words, not for saying a wrong thing — i.e. he said “legitimate” instead of “forcible”, and now it’s clear to everyone what republican legislators really mean when they use the language “forcible rape” in abortion bills they propose.

    1. If Reagan said that, he was quoting (or plagiarizing) Will Rogers, who said “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you; it’s what you know that ain’t so.”

      1. Republicans know “ain’t so” that Obama ripped the work standards out of welfare reform, but continuing to say it as if they believe it certainly is not hurting them.

      2. I love Will Rogers quotes. Another favorite of mine is “prohibition is better than no liquor at all”.

  7. What’s the difference, in this context, between going pomo and just having a fullscale adherence to bullsh*t as a debating tactic? Both make thoughtful discussion pretty much impossible, no?

  8. What’s more galling to me is the utter lack of compassion for women who have become pregnant after rape. That’s offensive. But it just is more of the same lack of empathy that also characterizes the modern GOP. I mean come on, you don’t have to look very far to find that women are raped and they get pregnant. Like Darfur, for instance, if you want to go far afield.

  9. “To someone like Akin, or Huckabee, everything is contestable,” Romney/Ryan, in their first response to Akin at least, were similarly postmodern, finding it sufficient to say that they “disagreed” with Akin’s statement about how reproduction works.

  10. I got a taste of this post-modern approach years ago when I was watching TV with my corn-fed ex-roommate from Nebraska. Some political commentator made a scientific assertion that was grossly false, and when I protested, my roommate defended it saying “but he’s just making a point”. My naive self back then was pretty stunned.

  11. And Huckabee is one of the rape-liars, as well.

    What Akin said was not a slip of the toungue – this is hardcore right-wing Christofascist belief.

  12. It’s simple: Akin pointed the spotlight to a portion of the Republican platform (no abortion even for rape victims) of which many undecided voters were hitherto unaware. This, and nothing else, was his “crime.” His beliefs are mainstream among the American Taliban. As a pro-choice progressive atheist, I thank him for shining that spotlight and hope he stays in the race until the bitter end.

  13. I know that in this company it’s not necessary to demonstrate that rape can and does result in pregnancy, but given U.S. history it’s incredible that it needs to be explained in any company. Rape of African-American slaves by their white masters resulted in thousands of births. If this weren’t the case America wouldn’t have so many black people with green eyes.

    1. Yep, that denial-of-the-obvious thing never fails to stun me, at least just a little, every time I see it.

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