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November 04, 2012 4:25 PM Todd Akin’s secret history of abortion protest arrests: the G.O.P.’s new normal

By Kathleen Geier

The National Journal is reporting that Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin was arrested at least eight times in the 1980s in anti-abortion protests. The crimes he was arrested for include tresspassing and disturbing the peace. These arrests haven’t surfaced until recently, largely because they occurred when he used the name William Akin. He didn’t start using the name Todd until became involved in electoral politics. It seems obvious that the name change was motivated because he wanted to cover up his arrest record.

Akin is expected to lose the Missouri senate race to the incumbent, Claire McCaskill, on Tuesday; Nate Silver lists the outcome as “likely Democratic.” Nevertheless, it is remarkable that McCaskill’s average lead in the polls is less than 3 percentage points. It would appear that many voters remain utterly unperturbed by the politics of right-wing extremism, even in states like Missouri, which isn’t a deep red state — McCain won it by only one-tenth of a percentage point in 2008.

How is the rest of the Republican rape fan club doing this election cycle? Glad you asked! Rape enthusiast Richard Mourdock of Indiana — the dude who said that pregnancy as the result of rape is all part of God’s plan — is expected to lose his senate race, though again, he’s close enough in the polls (less than 5 points behind) to pull an upset. The despicable Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and has also claimed that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life, is behind in the polls in his congressional race against the challenger, Iraq War vet Tammy Duckworth. Paul Ryan is another of the rape minimizers; he opposes abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and has referred to rape as just another method of conception. Ryan, unfortunately, pretty much has a lock on his House seat (although he certainly is spending a bundle this election cycle to hold it down).

Opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest used to be a stance taken only by the most extreme fringe, but it is fast becoming the default Republican position. William Saletan has noted that in this election cycle, at least a dozen Republican Senate nominees oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest:

Of the 28 nonincumbent nominees, 12 to 15 share the view of Akin, Mourdock and the party platform. They believe a rape victim should be forbidden to terminate her pregnancy. This is no longer a fringe position. It isn’t a couple of gaffes by renegade crackpots. It’s what the Republican Party is.

Indeed.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • cwolf on November 04, 2012 9:40 PM:

    Hi Kathleen, nice to see you.

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    for the rest of my life.
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    I refuse to read STOP signs too,
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  • Oh my on November 04, 2012 9:59 PM:

    This is no longer a fringe position. It isnít a couple of gaffes by renegade crackpots. Itís what the Republican Party is.

    Driving around in the suburbs of St.Louis, I go by many more Akin yard sign than Romney ones.

  • bluestatedon on November 04, 2012 10:27 PM:

    "which isnít a deep red state..."

    I agree that it ain't Alabama, but it's voted for the Dem nominee just three times since 1968; one of those (1976) was for an Evangelical from Georgia, and the other two (1992 and 1996) were for a good ol' boy from neighboring Arkansas. Furthermore, the last time that Missouri voted for a Dem from north of the Mason-Dixon line was in 1960.

  • cwolf on November 04, 2012 11:47 PM:

    I may also disdain sites where the comments are not editable.

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    6 - Other punctuation & case adjustments would have led to a much cleaner comment.

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  • bluestatedon on November 04, 2012 11:52 PM:

    Somebody either has a dangerously high fever or needs to adjust their medication. That's a pretty impressive stream of semi-consciousness.

  • Keith M Ellis on November 05, 2012 12:14 AM:

    Aiken's arrests are relevant in that they show his anti-abortion extremism — which we were already aware of, but this makes his deep and longstanding commitment to it very clear.

    Aiken's arrests shouldn't be relevant merely in that they were arrests associated with protesting, which is pretty much exactly how you presented it in this sentence:

    "The crimes he was arrested for include trespassing and disturbing the peace."

    That is to say, that these were crimes, and that they were trespassing and disturbing the peace are only relevant insofar as they may or may not have been specific actions we'd rightly find objectionable in themselves, such as intimidating women.

    We should not find these objectionable simply because they were defined as crimes, and particularly not insofar as they were specifically the crimes of trespassing and disturbing the peace committed in the context of protesting. Because, speaking for many of my fellow progressives, including fellow pro-choice activists, the authorities will often arrest peaceful protesters with charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace and a great many of those causes are causes I agree with and where I reject the claim that the alleged criminality is determinative.

    Now, perhaps you are toward a hard law-and-order position. If so, then fine: vilify Aiken on the basis of the fact that he was arrested. But it's usually the right-wing who sees legality as dispositive — it's the right-wing who points to OWS protesters being arrested as demonstrating their defective moral character and the wrongness of their cause.

    For the rest of us, Aiken's cause itself demonstrates its wrongness. And if his actions for which he was arrested are specifically additional proof, then it's that he specifically intimidated women or did something that we wouldn't excuse ourselves or our allies for doing, not simple trespassing or disturbing the peace.

  • marc_b on November 05, 2012 12:59 AM:

    You know, I am cheering for McCaskill too, and I think the views shared by Akin and Moursund are badly misguided. I even agree that it's fair to call Walsh "despicable," considering how he has handled himself.

    But I can't really read a reference to a "Republican rape fan club," or see Moursund characterized as a "rape enthusiast," without feeling--well, maybe "sorrowful" captures it. Kathleen, it just goes too far. It's not right.

    You can recognize their views as insensitive, and chauvinistic too, and informed by religious views that presume essential inequalities between men and women. I agree, it may all be misguided, but I don't think it's necessarily insincere and I don't see that either of these guys is deliberately trying to be a bad person. We have to be able to argue against their views without letting our anger take control of us.

  • aimai on November 05, 2012 7:53 AM:

    Really, marc_b? Making fun of the rapist's rights groups is a bridge too far? And sincerity is a bar to criticism? I don't at all see the same "rights" extended to women on my side of the aisle--do you? Raped women, sexually abused women, children who have been raped by family members, women who have proudly or sorrowfully had abortions, women with ectopic pregnancies, women whose fetuses can't survive outside the womb and will never grow--the "sincerity" of their beliefs and their choices has never been a bar for the Akin's and the Mourdock's to enforce a blunt force legal attack on them. The virginia ultrasound wand rape law was, perhaps (?) sincere but it sincerely amounted to legislating physical assault on traumatized women. I've had a wand ultrasound and it is extremely humiliating and painful and I took it voluntarily as a diagnostic tool.

    The political decision to legislate women's bodily autonomy is, indeed, no laughing matter. But mere tear stained male sentimentality and hurt feelings doesn't constitute a moral argument for keeping out mouths shut about it.

    aimai

  • boatboy_srq on November 05, 2012 8:27 AM:

    @marc_b:

    I agree, it may all be misguided, but I don't think it's necessarily insincere and I don't see that either of these guys is deliberately trying to be a bad person.

    I suppose it all boils down to how you define person. From both observation and personal experience, people like Akin, Walsh, Mourdock et al tend to think anyone not Caucasian, heterosexual, male, and belonging to their particular flavor of Xtianity do not qualify for that moniker. That may not mean that they are deliberately trying to be bad people - but that doesn't absolve them of the bad person label. If they don't think of the rest of us as persons, due the same rights and consideration they (and maybe, just maybe their spouses as well) merit, then their "good intent" is irrelevant, and their "sincerity" is the sort of virtue that gave us the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Wars of the Reformation. That's "good intent" and "sincerity" we are far, far better off without.

  • joanneinDenver on November 05, 2012 10:13 AM:

    I would be interested to know you all think that the popular opinion on abortion has changed so much that these "pro-lifers" have a chance at winning?

  • joanneinDenver on November 05, 2012 10:15 AM:

    Correction:

    I would be interesting in knowing your opinions on why the popular opinion on abortion has changed so much that Todd Akins, etc., have a chance of winning?

  • boatboy_srq on November 05, 2012 10:37 AM:

    @joanneinDenver:

    Akin has a snowball's chance in Hades of winning at this point unless McCaskill makes some mind-blowing blunder in the next 36 hours. That's not the point. The point is that Akin has enunciated the GOP position on this issue in terms the electorate understands, and that is what has killed his chances.

    Akin may have done himself out of a seat in Congress with his words. But his words are merely plain-English versions of positions held by DeMint, Rubio, Brown, Ryan - by the entirety of the GOP caucus, in point of fact, most of whom are safe and snug either already in office or winning their races fairly handily. Akin may be done, but the GOP is not.

    I would ask you, in turn, what makes you think that the GOP's simply phrasing a position like Akin's in prettier, harder-to-apply language makes you think the GOP as a whole ought to be winning any seat where anti-choice voters are not the majority?

  • JoanneinDenver on November 05, 2012 11:12 AM:

    You have misstated my question:

    I have asked why do you think that public opinion has changed to the point that Republicans holding this "anti-choice" position are " safe and snug either already in office or winning their races fairly handily."

    My impression is that this is a change in public opinion. My question: Is why do you think this is true?

    I am not arguing what "should" be happening. I am not arguing anything. Only asking 'why?"


  • boatboy_srq on November 05, 2012 12:48 PM:

    @joanneinDenver:

    Four factors jump out at me.

    1) The rise of sectarian media, especially Fox. Generations weaned on Cronkite and Brinkley, used to being informed of "the facts," are getting propagandized instead. Characters like Murdoch, Limbaugh, Beck and the like, bringing an agenda to their presentations, have colored the debates in ways unseen in generations. Rove dismissed unbiased journalism as "living in the reality-based community" as if doing so were somehow, well, unrealistic: this is the converse of biased media spinning the debate to suit their own ends, and political figures working the system to achieve comparatively petty goals within the sphere the media are building.

    2) Fundementalist Evangelical Xtianity. What was once the realm of the marginalized "TV preacher" has become suddenly respectable - to the point where whole industries are springing up around their congregations. The Reichwing likes to talk about the "decline of Faith" - and it's true that mainstream Xtianity is shrinking at least as a percentage of the US population - but what's striking is how many of these snake-oil salespeople are suddenly powerful. All Robertson, Dobson, Perkins or others of their kind need to do is say one good word about an issue and it's suddenly front-page news; conversely, one tirade against something and it's damned by half the country (hate crimes legislation, for example). And while every success is proof of their "gawdliness" and "virtue," every failure within their ranks (the Bakkers, Ted Haggard, Eddie Long) are greeted not with increased skepticism for the brand as a whole, but dismissal of the fallen person(s) as not representative.

    3) Corporate money bleeding into the public sector. Fewer and fewer large corporations are spending more and more to persuade, cajole and drive the electorate as the business chase what they perceive as ever-scanter consumer dollars, just as their means of reaping income have grown. In turn, their push has meant ever-shorter statements, glossing over details. We have become a soundbite culture in part as a result of this, and our attention spans are being aggressively shortened by corporate interests more willing to damn future generations' ability to produce than compromise their own short-term prospects.

    4) The aging of the Boomers. Former flower children are now our business and political leaders, and as a whole they're proving far more conservative than their parents, and far more self-centred than many generations previous to them. I can't decide whether age alone drives them Rightward, or whether the last vestiges of the "Me Generation" attitudes are pushing them that way, but it's not hard to find people who can simultaneously brag about going to Woodstock and complain bitterly about "kids these days."

    We're getting older, crankier, and we're getting sold a bill of goods by increasingly-wealthy entities that are not our friends.

    And for this, we get wankers like Akin, wound up in the FundiEvangelist world, propped up by the Kochs and Fox, eager to provide for their corporate masters and religious propagandists, and doing it for the Baby Boomers who want to stick it to the younger folks just because the kids have it easy and they're tired of paying for the next generations' wantonness. And we get somewhat more wily ones like Ryan and Collins, who can be bought for the same efforts, but say it in a nice enough way that folks who aren't able to hear dogwhistle get lulled into thinking that the entire GOTea isn't like Akin and his ilk.

  • bluestatedon on November 05, 2012 12:59 PM:

    Joanne, your question is a very good one. My view is that it's not public opinion that has changed so radically; all the national polls I've seen recently still show a statistically significant majority of Americans are in favor of abortion rights, especially in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's health.

    No, what's radically changed is the nature of the media, which is overwhelmingly conservative; the GOP whining about MSNBC and Rachel Maddow is comical, as her audience is just a fraction of the size of Rush Limbaugh's alone. Add in the media behemoth of FoxNews, the Wall Street Journal (both owned by Murdoch), and the thousands of wingnut talk-radio stations across the country spewing the demented bile of Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, Coulter, Malkin, et al, and there is a near-total dominance by conservative media in most sections of the country. And these conservative talkers are relentlessly pushing the views of a conservative movement that has largely become a creature of evangelical Christianists who believe that the Bible should supplant the Constitution in American public life. There isn't a single liberal or progressive radio personality anywhere in the country with the reach of Limbaugh, and the few hours per week hosted by Maddow or Lawrence O'Donnell pale in comparison to the relentless 24/7/365 GOP propaganda machine that is Fox. All of which means that if you judge public opinion by what you see on TV, read in print, or hear on the radio, you'd get the impression that only a tiny minority of Americans are pro-choice.

    But there's another factor that I think is at work here: I truly believe that the extremist anti-abortion forces have succeeded in chilling or muting vocal public support for abortion rights through the use of intimidation, violence, and murder. That fact alone is all you need to know about the true nature of American evangelical Christianism: it uses the name of Jesus to justify homicide, torture, and other forms of violence.

  • Anonymous on November 05, 2012 2:52 PM:

    @ boatboy_srq and bluestatedon

    Thank you.

    I think that these are excellent analysis's. I would add two more important points and those are the failure of "objective" journalism, if you will, to define and defend itself. The very concept of "objectivity" has been hijacked to become another way of saying "liberal" or "progressive." Also, Democrats have simply abandoned the talk radio empire as well as any real attempts to confront Republican propaganda, on the same playing field as the Republicans.

    So, for example, Sandra Fluke, IMHO, should have sued Limbaugh for defamation. Or, she could have demanded the right to go on his radio show and confront him. Instead, she became an iconic figure in Democratic party circles.
    But, a lot of people, thought that Limbaugh was "on to something," because she never directly and effectively addressed what he said.

    My impression is that Democrats talk to each other and reinforce ideas, but Republicans are talking to "everybody" and never allow anything said by the Democrats to go unanswered.