Monday, 20 August 2012

Postcards from PR Purgatory - 9 Reasons Why Todd Akin's Career Is Toast


The only thing more stunning than Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin's jaw-droppingly stupid and offensive remarks about rape and pregnancy over the weekend was the swiftness and decisiveness with which his party dropped the hammer on him. While it's still too early to conduct a full post-mortem on Akin's seppuku moment this weekend, it would appear - at least for now - that the once-high-flying Republican senate candidate's career is well down the crapper. After all, politics does occasionally require a human sacrifice, and this particular lamb was begging to have its throat slit.

Prior to this weekend, the Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri's 2nd district appeared likely to succeed in unseating the state's Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. That is until Sunday, August 19, when the hardline anti-abortionist politician defended his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape with the following words:

"From what I understand from doctors, [impregnation from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that 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."

It's difficult to know where to begin with this. Stepping aside from the fierce misogyny on display here, one is hard-pressed to think of a more ridiculous statement ever made by an elected politician in a First World democracy. Even Iranians generally have a better grasp of reproductive science than this guy. Making it all the more terrifying to people with brains is the fact that this buffoon, as member of the US House of Representatives, sits on the  House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. This is the same man who was instrumental in passing Missouri’s 'Right to Pray' amendment, which allows school children to opt out of any educational assignments that conflict with their beliefs - specifically sex ed. This is the equivalent of appointing Osama bin Laden to the Department of Homeland Security.
"Things in the grammatical realm that is counter to how they're supposed to be"

Of course, Todd Akin is merely the tip of the iceberg. Numerous commentators have remarked that Akin's views are in fact compatible with the mainstream of US Republican social conservatism. On the abortion front, some have noted that newly minted GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan is a co-sponsor (along with Akin and 62 others) of a 'personhood' bill that defines human life as beginning at fertilization, a bill that many believe would also outlaw birth control and in-vitro fertilization. As for misogynistic statements, few excelled in this category quite like former Republican leadership candidate Rick Santorum, who famously condemned legalized abortion as "license to do things in the sexual realm that is [sic] counter to how things are supposed to be." In other words, don't be a slut.

Speaking of slutdom, Santorum and his ilk can scarcely hold a candle to some of the more egregious statements made over the years by the US right wing's favourite talking heads. Conservative radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh stirred up consternation earlier this year when he called Georgetown University Law Center student Sandra Fluke a 'slut' and 'prostitute' for her support of mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives. Half a year later, he's still on the air, with most stations standing with him. Rush's female counterpart Ann Coulter once famously advocated revoking women's right to vote, while also advocating a Middle East policy along the lines of "Attack their cities, assassinate their leaders and convert the people to Christianity." She still sells books. And then there's the late Reverend Jerry Falwell who infamously welcomed the 9/11 attacks as divine punishment. His death sparked an outpouring of eulogies.

Blatantly misogynistic remarks have long been par for the course among GOP politicians. In 1990, Texas Republican gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams infamously compared rape to the ever-changing Texas weather, remarking that “As long as it’s inevitable you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” More recently, millionaire Santorum backer Foster Friess quipped that women ought to use aspirin to pregnancy, specifically by "putting it between their knees." Words such as these are a sadly apt reflection of the party's policy agenda, which has included defunding Planned Parenthood and allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for anything deemed morally or religiously objectionable to employers, such as contraception, HIV/Aids testing and pre-natal care for single women.

Considering the Republican Party's horrible track record on issues of consequence to the 50-plus percentage of the American public with ovaries, the swiftness of the rebuke against Todd Akin seems like a remarkable change of tune. And yet, in the scarcely 24 hours since the prospective senator's badly chosen words, Republican leader Mitt Romney and the entire GOP apparatus have been on the rampage in their quest to drive Akin out of the senate race. While Clayton Williams and other unreformed misogynists within the GOP might have escaped with their careers intact, it is looking increasingly as though Akin has kicked his own political bucket.

Why him and not others before him? Here are nine reasons why Akin won't be bouncing back from this one anytime soon - if at all.

1) His remarks were equal parts misogynistic and idiotic.

Calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" for advocating on behalf of contraception or telling women that they should "just lie back and enjoy it" are awful things to say for any right-thinking human being. Akin's remarks this weekend are equal to the aforementioned ones in the woman-hating department (What exactly is 'legitimate' rape, Mr. Akin?) while at the same time astonishingly stupid and ignorant - not to mention completely indefensible on any medical grounds. Moreover, his claim to have been informed by "doctors" that the female body has "ways to try to shut that whole thing down" can only mean that he was lying or that he keeps company with terrifyingly negligent medical professionals. Regardless, in politics you can generally get away with being an moron or a douchebag. Being both at the same time is a liability.

2) The GOP has reached the tipping point on this issue.

Akin's comments this week are regrettably simply the latest in a long list of anti-woman outbursts from the Republican Party - a fact that the party's mandarins are without doubt acutely aware. This latest stunner comes not long after Friess' Aspirin remark and Limbaugh's outburst against Sandra Fluke, and Romney and company - eager to avoid alienating every single woman in the country - are treading carefully. In the end, the GOP will have to persuade at least some women to vote for it if they want to form the next US government.

3) Akin is an elected official, not a media pundit.

Limbaugh and Coulter could probably have gotten away with this. They are, after all, talking heads who make a living by offending liberal sensibilities - and as such are accorded greater latitude. (Granted, Rush's ferocious backpedaling in the aftermath of the Sandra Fluke controversy showed that even a shock jock like himself doesn't necessarily have a get-out-of-jail-free card for this sort of thing.) Nevertheless, somebody like Rush can count on their grassroots supporters to sustain their livelihood in the wake of potentially debilitating controversies. Akin, on the other hand, whose career depends on a mandate from the masses, enjoys no such latitude.

4) He doesn't have a religious title.

In his famously vitriolic 'eulogy' for the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Christopher Hitchens remarked that "You can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called 'reverend'." While many took offence to his posthumous pillorying of the late televangelist and political commentator, Hitch does have a point. Be it Falwell's extraordinarily insensitive remarks in the aftermath of 9/11 or Pat Robertson's equally appalling explanations for Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, preachers - at least in the US - seem to get away with barking mad statements with alarming frequency. In fact it seems to go with the job.

5) He doesn't have the necessary eccentric charisma to pull this sort of thing off.

There is a certain type of politician that seems to be able to weather any and all shitstorms. London mayor Boris Johnson has, since assuming office in 2008, managed to offend just about everybody from the Irish to Papua New Guineans. Tokyo's beloved trashy author-turned-ultranationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara makes Johnson look like a lightweight in the offensive remarks category, picking fights with everyone from the French to elderly women who he once opined were “useless” beyond their reproductive years. If you're going to make a career as an eccentric rottweiler, you either have to be an equal-opportunity douchebag like Ishihara or a specialist prick like far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders who has made a career out of being a professional Islamophobe. Either way, you have to truly own your offensiveness.

6) The GOP doesn't need him.

Akin's remarks have made him a liability to the Republican Party in the face of a key senate race in which his continued presence looked to make a walkover for Democrat Claire McCaskill. And with little national profile beyond his home state (at least until his remarks on rape this weekend), he probably doesn't seem worth the PR effort from the standpoint of the party loyal. In other words, the party will probably have no reservations about throwing Akin under the proverbial bus should it prove expeditious to do so. And it's certainly looking that way.

7) Social conservatism is on the wane.

When George W. Bush was elected in 2000, social conservatism was on the march and the Republican Party - abetted by outgoing president Clinton's marital indiscretions while in office - could claim to its supporters that it held the moral high ground. Not so in 2012.With gaping economic disparities, stubbornly high unemployment, a widespread distaste for Bush-era neoconservatism and a rejuvenated secularist backlash against the religious right, the evangelical wing of the Republican Party doesn't have the same power that it had a decade ago. After a nauseatingly unimpressive parade of candidates rose and fell like a procession of lemmings, the GOP finally coalesced around a priggish Northeastern plutocrat (of downplayed Mormon faith) running on the basis of being a successful businessman and not being Barack Obama. In 2012, social conservatism is a side-dish but most definitely not the entree.

8) Ageist double-standards.

At 65 years of age, Akin is no Paul Ryan. And unfortunately, we live in an ageist culture where idiotic remarks are more likely to be forgiven if the speaker is of a youthful disposition. In fact, there is little if any difference between Ryan's stated views on abortion and Akin's, but Ryan's youthful image coupled with his fiscal conservative and Tea Party cred will invariably see him through. American culture is notoriously ageist, and as such Akin's seniority and lack of media moxie are definite strikes against him.

9) Two words - social media.

When Clayton Williams compared rape to the Texas climate back in 1990, there was no Twitter or Facebook to circulate his remarks. And while he lost the 1990 gubernatorial race, he only did so by a narrow margin and remained a popular figure and emerged again as a major fundraiser for John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008 - at which time his 1990 remarks re-emerged as a point of controversy. Had he made those same comments today, they would have been circulated through cyberspace in no time and would invariably have resulted in greater political damage.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting commentary. I think you "misunderestimate" Missouri's right-wingedness, though. However, my fingers are crossed. I'm still reeling over those comments he made. What an idiot.

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    1. Did you read Eve Ensler's savagely beautiful rebuttal? Brought tears to my eyes. I do think that the GOP's backlash against this buffoon has been atypically swift, which to me suggests that the party feels it's crisis time on the gender front. But then again, we've been there before with these clowns and things have a way of never changing.

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