About two months ago, the right wing’s attack dogs had a field day tearing into Barack Obama’s unfortunate aside that “the private sector is doing fine.” As we discussed at the time, this was a lapse of great significance, but not, of course, for the reasons suggested by the hacks of Fox News or the many Super PACs that burn millionaires’ money on not-so-subliminal messaging. Shortly thereafter, the professional propagandists deliberately lied about what Barack Obama meant by his comment that successful business people didn’t get there all by themselves. Now, for once, it is the right wing that finds itself on the back foot, reeling from the national reaction to a loose cannon that has just shot a large hole in the G.O.P.’s flotilla right before its national convention. The almost unimaginably idiotic declamation, by Missouri Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Todd Akin, that women are biologically capable of preventing themselves from becoming pregnant when victims of a “legitimate rape” deserves to live in infamy. But it also deserves widespread application across multiple policy arenas far beyond the abortion debate, for it is a phrase of singular descriptive power, perfectly encapsulating the ethos of the aggressive plutocracy that is victimizing Lady Liberty and Mother Earth not just with impunity but with the imprimatur of law.
Presumably – if we dare venture into the twisted neuronal pathways of American fundamentalism – Todd Akin’s immortal choice of words was meant to refer to sexual assaults in which women really, really meant “no” when they said it, as opposed to situations in which they “had it coming” by dressing provocatively or otherwise weren’t “really” raped. But if the right wing – the party of Christian morality, let us never, ever forget – sees no problem with completely altering the meaning of the President’s words, or of his policies (witness the current Medicare scare tactics), then they can hardly object (though they will, poor, defenseless victims that they are) when they find themselves subjected to a dose of their own medicine. Thus, henceforth, we intend to use the phrase, “legitimate rape” in a variety of ways that Todd Akin may not have had in mind. And we are not going to feel the least bit guilty about it.
Following the Slime Trail of Cal Thomas
Thursday’s Leesburg Daily Commercial featured a rare sighting: a column by Bonnie Erbe, one of the better Scripps Howard columnists usually squeezed out by the right-wing propaganda merchants deemed by the editors to be more appropriate fare for their programmable readers. Perhaps the editors felt that a token gesture toward the womenfolk was necessary in the interests of appearing balanced. We were almost disappointed to see her, however, for what we really wanted to read was the manner in which Cal Thomas, self-appointed high priest of conservative propriety and eminence grise wannabe, would deal with this mess. We did not have long to wait, as normal service was quickly resumed on Friday, with Thomas front and center and Deroy Murdock providing a risible sideshow attempting to sell Paul Ryan’s Medicare lies and vouchers to seniors.
As we have seen before with Thomas, his approach to a damaging issue is to attempt to change the subject by telling us – and his own party – that we are focusing on the wrong thing. In the recent case of Mitt Romney’s tax returns, for example, Thomas decreed that the discussion about what Romney might be hiding would do nothing to create jobs or restore the economy, which was what really mattered. Why should we – good Christians, all – be troubled by such niceties as honesty when there is power to be seized? In this case, Todd Akin’s spectacular ignorance of human biology and incredible callousness towards women was merely an ineffective way of campaigning against abortion, which is apparently a much more important social problem than rape:
If Akin wanted to comment on abortion… when asked what he thought about abortion in cases of rape, he should have made the pro-choice side explain how they can defend more than 50 million abortions in the U.S. since 1973….
Theologically and morally he is right…. Akin shouldn’t have to compromise his position. But if the goal is to reduce the number of abortions, focusing on pregnancy from rape does not advance that worthy objective.
Not so fast, you slimy little worm. You may not change the subject from the specific to the general, and you may not change the terms of the debate to suit your own purposes. The issue at hand here, as Bonnie Erbe correctly noted, is the profound insight that Todd Akin has provided into the soul of the religious right. Thank God that Akin dealt with the reporter’s question less evasively than Thomas retroactively prescribed. For Akin’s absolutist position on abortion is exactly the same as the position of the Republican Party itself, albeit not of its nominee-in-waiting. And the only way to justify such a position – which effectively rewards rapists by allowing them to impose their genetic heritage on the world – is to appeal to primitive religious thinking that is every bit as hostile to scientific knowledge as Akin revealed himself to be. As Bonnie Erbe concluded, this spectacular demonstration of child-like ignorance leads to a political question of great importance:
[W]hen are party leaders going to realize [that] their embrace of the antiquated thinking of the religious right is an albatross, not an advantage? And when are they going to toss them overboard like the detritus they have proven to be?
If anything, Bonnie Erbe does not go far enough in disparaging the quality of the thinking on display here. But she has gone too far in dismissing the importance of the religious fundamentalists to the Republican coalition. The sad truth is, as detailed (almost too painstakingly) by Kevin Phillips in American Theocracy, the G.O.P. needs these people. From a purely political standpoint, the Republicans’ monopoly of white, Protestant churchgoers has been a master stroke, rivaled for deviousness only by Barack Obama’s enlistment of African Americans in his beautifully camouflaged corporate neoliberalism. The self-styled party of liberty can count on a bedrock of support across the Bible Belt and the Corn Belt, thanks to its advocacy of policies that strip women of one of the most fundamental liberties they thought they possessed, the right to control their own bodies. And, conveniently, the willingness of this particular audience to elevate faith over reason and “antiquated thinking” over enlightened progress lends itself to support of faith-based economics (the best way to describe trickle-down economics other than legalized kleptocracy) and aversion to the bold environmental policies we need (since God has given his chosen species dominion over the earth and won’t, according to Father Rush Limbaugh, let them drown in another great flood). Thus, unless Bonnie Erbe’s question was purely rhetorical, she has allowed her anger to prevent her from seeing its answer: when governing regimes require flocks of gullible marks, the church pew is a great place to look. One cannot help noting the irony that the propagandists of today benefit greatly from the work of their 350 – 400 A.D. antecedents who compiled the Bible to control dangerously divergent thinking.
Backed into a Corner, Out Come the Fangs
Echoing his Fox News comrade and forsaken starlet, Sarah Palin, Thomas alleged that Akin had been trapped by a leading question from “the Democratic friendly media.” If ever there was a time to refrain from repeating this tired old trope, surely this was it. Todd Akin has just exposed the Republican Party’s ignorant cruelty toward victims of violent assaults, and you’re going to complain that the rich businessmen you represent are being victimized? Do you really want to go there now? Was the St. Louis reporter guilty of legitimate rape against poor, defenseless Todd Aiken? If so, then we’re sure that, as a professional politician, he has a way of shutting down his pain and suffering. And he can always go to the nearest Baptist Crisis Center to get counseling on all the options that are available to him, presumably excluding the one which might be most appropriate, hara kiri.
But since you bring it up, Cal, what is this allegedly Democratic mass media you keep talking about? It obviously excludes the national one that pays you to be a talking head, and the local ones that print your dross on a regular basis. The American mass media is largely owned by corporations, depends on corporate advertising revenue, and conspicuously fails to explain how both parties represent corporations, perpetuating the fiction that the two factions of the corporate oligarchy present the people with a real choice. This allegedly liberal mass media didn’t raise a peep when Bush-Cheney lied the nation into a war that cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqis their lives. It didn’t have the courage to do what Wikileaks did – real journalism that truly informs the people about how powerful organizations, both government and corporate, behave – and it hasn’t exactly bent over backwards to defend Bradley Manning from torture and Julian Assange from an obvious witch hunt.
But this pathetic whining about media bias against noble, innocent, well-meaning conservatives was not Cal Thomas’s most despicable response to the Akin affair. He went even lower than that, descending to the primitive level of straw man fallacies and schoolyard name-calling. Todd’s an insensitive moron? Well Ted Kennedy was a murderer and an adulterer, and Bill Clinton was a rapist. In contrast to this kind of “outrageous behavior” from Democrats who remained in office, opines Thomas, Todd Akin is merely “guilty of using the wrong words.” This is all tasty red meat for Christian conservatives, who love to attack the failings of others while turning a blind eye to their own, but throwing out such distractions won’t help you here, Cal. The legions of women and right-thinking men that Todd Akin has just alienated won’t fall for such an obvious ploy. They know that Slick Willy was a scumbag, but that’s not the point here. (And if it were the point, we should really be discussing Bill’s policies, which gave the farm to Wall Street, encouraged the ravaging of our manufacturing base through trade “liberalization,” and caused countless Iraqi children to die from harsh sanctions against Saddam Hussein. All of this, of course, has been carefully picked over by our Democratic media….)
The Ultimate Cost of Religious Fantasies
For the sake of completeness, let us conclude by giving Cal Thomas the fight he wants to have. Cal Thomas would have us believe that Todd Akin is right “morally and theologically.” The alleged beginning of life at conception supposedly gives rise to an independent life within the body of the mother that has its own set of rights, and these rights are apparently superior to those of the mother. Normally, this is the point in the debate where we all come to an impasse, for one either subscribes to this spiritual viewpoint (whether on doctrinal grounds or otherwise, for not every spiritual person belongs to Team Jesus) or one does not, and never the twain shall meet. So it is time to shake things up a little and introduce a substantial battering ram that no-one seems willing to use, even though there are 7 billion reasons to use it.
The earth is severely over-populated. While the Bible-bashers preach the virtue of large families in order to maximize the number of souls that will be harvested at the Second Coming (or something like that), the planet that really does exist right here and now is groaning under the massive weight of too many humans – 7 billion now and heading towards 9 billion, a number that is infinitely more disturbing than the national debt figures so beloved by conservative manipulators. This infestation of bipeds is emitting too much and too many pollutants, killing too many other forms of life with no good reason or no reason at all, and generally behaving as if it believes it doesn’t need to worry about the mess it’s making down here on earth because a perfect celestial afterlife awaits. (Perhaps they’re trying too hard to prove that hell exists, ensuring that those souls not fortunate enough to be saved will have somewhere to rot.)
The answer to Cal Thomas’s question to the pro-choice forces, concerning the justification for 50 million abortions since 1973, is that the planet doesn’t need any more humans, thank you very much. The planet would fare incomparably better and, by extension, so would all the life forms that depend upon it, if the human population were drastically reduced. In the United States, the population at the end of WWII was 150 million. It reached twice that number in 2006 and in six short years has added another 14 million, putting us easily on course to surpass 400 million by mid-century. For both major parties, this is apparently not a problem. (The right’s belly-aching about Latino immigration is simply another exercise in coalition-building, for their corporate sponsors need all the low-paid, non-unionized, hard-working labor they can get. Hillshire Farms wouldn’t be the same without them.) Population is not just a problem, it is a meta-problem. So, Cal, if you want to enlarge the terms of the debate, bring it on. In a contest between your party’s cynical lust for power and the preservation of life on earth, the moral choice is very clear to us.