Full disclosure: I have known former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) since I was about 12 years old. Before I was aware that he was involved in politics, I knew only of his involvement in my church. As such, my perception of the kind of man Akin is may be different than most.
Until the 2012 election cycle, most Americans outside of Washington only vaguely knew who Todd Akin was. He had made a near instantaneous name for himself in Congress, however.
Akin’s first vote set him apart: He defied both party and president to vote against the No Child Left Behind Act. Later, after a late night phone call from then President George W. Bush and pressure from Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R), Akin defied them again to vote against the expansion of government through Medicare Part D ("Firing Back" Page 58).
Mostly, though, Akin just did his job. He used his influence on the House Armed Services Committee (a job he held close to his heart as a former Army Engineer and the father of three Marines) to bring better armored vehicles to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan ("Firing Back" Page 67).
Photo Credit: AP
He voted for stronger defense. He voted against expansions of government. And he went home to Missouri to spend time with family or campaign for his next term.
All of that changed in August of 2012.
After a hard-fought Senate primary in which he dispatched GOP challengers John Brunner (entrepreneur and former Marine) and Sarah Steelman (former Missouri State Treasurer), Akin had to battle sitting Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). In an effort to increase his reach, he made the first in a series of mistakes: He accepted an invitation to do an interview with local liberal host Charles Jaco.
That interview quickly went viral, rapidly spreading the second of his mistakes: The way he answered Jaco’s question concerning abortion rights for women who had been raped. Instead of saying, “I am 100 percent pro-life, no exceptions. Next question,” Akin uttered the quote heard around the world:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, pregnancy 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. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Not to beat a dead horse, but let’s examine what he said. This is important because many of the people still criticizing him are also misquoting him.
“…from what I understand from doctors, pregnancy from rape is really rare.”
So what Akin is saying here is twofold: First, that in matters of women’s health and fertility, he is deferring to the expertise of doctors – not laying claim to a personal wealth of medical knowledge. And second, he is noting that pregnancy from rape is rare – not that it never happens or that it cannot happen.
“If it’s a legitimate rape…”
The word "legitimate" refers to the claim rather than the act. The FBI and other law enforcement entities routinely refer to rape and assault claims as either legitimate or illegitimate. The most famous illegitimate rape claim in history was made by Norma McCarvey, who lied to the Supreme Court about being raped. You might know her better as the “Roe” in Roe v. Wade.
“…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.”
Akin, contrary to popular belief, is not referencing the “magic uterus.” He is simply – if extremely awkwardly – referring to the profound impact that stress can have on fertility. As evidenced by the words “try” and “maybe that didn’t work,” he also is quite clear in stating that stress does not always prevent pregnancy.
This Aug. 10, 2012 file photo shows Todd Akin, Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Missouri taking questions after speaking at the Missouri Farm Bureau candidate interview and endorsement meeting in Jefferson City, Mo. Akin fought to salvage his Senate campaign Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, even as members of his own party turned against him and a key source of campaign funding was cut off in outrage over the Missouri congressman's comments that women are able to prevent pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape."Credit: AP
Why the stroll down nightmare lane? Several weeks ago, Akin’s book "Firing Back" was released. The reaction was predictable from the left. Salon called him “deranged” and said that he was “at it again.”
But in interviews with Megyn Kelly and Dana Loesch, Akin defends the veracity of his statements and makes a very relevant point: Just weeks after both right and left vilified him for poorly chosen words, the Democratic National Convention celebrated the repeatedly accused sexual abuser, former President Bill Clinton. Clinton was convicted of lying to Congress, and they gave him a pedestal and a national platform. Akin told the truth in a clumsy manner, and he was crucified by both his enemies and his own.
Twitter, meanwhile, has imploded. And just as before, the attacks have come from both sides. From the Democrats, it makes absolute sense. In July of 2014, there is a midterm election cycle in play and many of their seats are considered to be extremely vulnerable.
But what of the Republicans? What can they possibly hope to accomplish by the continued flogging of a legislator they already succeeded in assisting out of public office? McCaskill thanks you for that, by the way.
By responding to Akin’s comments in the way that many on the right did – by reacting first to what they found offensive rather than attempting to understand what he meant – they effectively (in the absence of a better word) legitimized the progressive idea that we have a right to not be offended.
By continuing to blow up social media with criticisms and insults, they give the story longer legs. They provide cover for the current administration. And they all but ensure that Akin’s comments will influence yet another election cycle – one that they should be focused on winning.
While no one can say that he has made the argument well – except for possibly within the confines of his book – the point he endeavors to make with the publication of "Firing Back" is quite relevant: The narrative will kill conservatism, and Republicans will help it happen.
Virginia Kruta holds a dual BS in Political Science and History from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, and writes from her home in the People's Republic of Illinois. Find her on Twitter @VAKruta or reach her by email: email@example.com
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.