Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Trouble With Todd Akin

The news is all aflutter the last few days with Missouri Senate hopeful Todd Akin. Akin is under fire for commenting that a woman will not get pregnant in cases of "legitimate rape" (his term) because "the body has mechanisms that prevent it."

Set aside the comedy-skit ridiculousness of that statement; set aside the 100% absence of scientific proof supporting his claim; set aside his public display of absolute ignorance about biology. The Onion did a pretty good job of disposing of him with their satirical headline: "I Misspoke: What I Meant To Say Was 'I Am As Dumb As Dog Shit And I Am A Horrible Human Being.'" Touché.

The real difficulty is not that he will change the landscape for women's sexual lives in this country; it's that he let slip the secret that others like Paul Ryan have been smart enough to keep relatively quiet and low-profile. Despite the cry for Akin to withdraw from the senate race after his comments--a cry coming from such retrograde elements as Fox News and Sean Hannity--his beliefs are EXACTLY THOSE of the gaggle of white men who make up the Republican power base. He's not being called out by his fellow Republicans for WHAT HE BELIEVES; he's being called out for being so dog-shit stupid to SAY THOSE THINGS OUT LOUD. In vote after vote, state after state, issue after issue, the current Tea-Bagger-controlled Republican Party has made it clear that women's concerns are "liberal" and they intend to set them aside (just like funding government is 'socialism'). But saying this out loud as election races are heating up is to almost guarantee to offend 51% of the electorate. I may find it offensive and insulting to claim to believe these idiotic things, but it's just brain-dead stupid to actually admit them (at least until the women's vote has been curtailed; and don't think they're not working on it).

But here's what really gets me. I'm not particularly shocked any more to read of draconian Tea Party reprobates saying unconscionable things. And I'm not even terribly shocked anymore that one of our two parties has fallen under the control of a faction that virtually everybody--conservative and liberal alike--despises. This is the pact with the devil that Republicans have made: there aren't enough super-rich to win elections unaided, and so all manner of wacky, jebus-freak social strictures are trotted out to capture this or that fringe social conservative bloc. These social issues don't amount to a hill of beans to the corporatists who are in control: 'I'll give you abortion and gay marriage, and you give me hobbled government and tax-free status.' And it's working for them.

What really gets me here is that these people are succeeding in shifting median public opinion into shockingly right wing territory by way of Overton Window mechanisms that we've discussed before. Overton Window shifts occur when ideas outside the public comfort zone are raised in a systematic way. By floating ideas which are outside the window of public acceptance (but not too far outside), public opinion moves in that direction, thus shifting our comfort zone to embrace things previously outside the window. There have always been people who dislike abortion, but 20, 15, 10, even five years ago no mainstream politician would dare say that a woman who has been raped must carry the pregnancy. But this is exactly what Todd Akin is trying to whitewash, and the Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is openly, if quietly, espousing precisely that. "Illegal is illegal," is how he responds to the question--never mind that abortion is NOT illegal; illegal is exactly what they're fighting to make it, and he has signaled his intention to prosecute criminally anyone who breaks these not-yet-passed laws. 

And this shift is occurring on many subjects. By way of these Overton Window mechanisms, we now find public discourse occurring in philosophical areas where I would never have dreamed we would be. Republicans are talking openly now about slashing the social safety net, about gutting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, all while managing to get even Democrats to refuse to even consider substantial cuts in defense spending. THIS is what astounds me. 

And I've concluded (not alone, of course) that progressives aren't going to get very far by just pointing out the Right's inaccuracies and lies and hypocrisies and manipulations. Until we are prepared to apply our own Overton Window tactics, the voting public will continue to slide further and further to the right, which is exactly the outcome the Kochs and the Military-Industrial Complex and big corporations are paying to achieve. They're paying millions upon millions--to both parties--to change elections and to buy policies that they want, and they're succeeding. Education is about the only defense against this tactic--that, or a head-to-head propaganda campaign--and these regressive forces are hard at work hobbling our educational system as well. Thus do we find science and critical thinking and social studies labeled "liberal."

I don't know if Akin actually believes what he says or not, and it doesn't really matter. Whether he's the Dick Cheney or Karl Rove masterminding a cynical political ploy to shift the Overton Window, or a mindless George W. Bush given the dirty job of water-carrying, the outcome is the same. However they're getting there, we must mount a more sophisticated strategy for fighting back.

Certainly I don't know how a progressive Overton Window campaign might be mounted, though I can think of a few things. But there surely are people whose life's work is to understand these things. We need to get these people engaged--and funded--in an organized way.


payingattention said...

George Lakoff, a cunning linguist at Berkley, discusses using the GOP's rhetorical tactics on the left in at least two books that are easy reads and make good sense, and yet no one seems to be in charge of deploying them, either. We have the thinkers, but in the Democratic Party, no one wants to be "The Executioner".

wunelle said...

I'll have to look him up. I think I have rarely felt so stupefied at our political state of affairs--and I'm not even the one under attack! It's just such a profound assault on simple justice, and this kind of meddling goes against the very core things that Republicans used to stand for--personal liberty and responsibility, a non-interventionist, non-intrusive government, etc. Those days are long gone. They don't stand for anything anymore but, as the saying goes, Greed, Oppression, and Piety. (I'm intrigued by Gary Johnson's Wikipedia page. He seems to be Ron "government-is-bad-unless-jebus-said-it-then-government-can-meddle-all-it-wants" Paul without the Jebus. I just don't know if I have much libertarian in me, but he seems at least to be mounting legitimate conservative arguments; we're not getting that from anywhere else.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff, this.

Two points:

1. The issues regarding rape that Akin and Ryan are espousing aren't your typical run-of-the-mill insanity that we can simply dismiss as Tea-Bagger tripe; they are actually a part of the Republican Platform. This is stuff that they simply don't want us to know about (as you mentioned).

2. You state that you don't know if Akin actually believes this stuff or not, but he cosponsored a bill that would have codified these very criminally stupid ideas into law. So, yes, I think he actually believes this what he says.

Please watch these two films for further information. I find them to be quite excellent and informative:

A. Random

wunelle said...

I'll take a look at the videos (though I cringe in advance).

I guess the salient point is not so much what HE believes, but what others believe who seek to put him in power. Whether he's a true believer or not, he's saying things that resonate with a large body of voters. THAT's what is so depressing, that a big group of Americans has become hell-bent on dictating the behaviors of people whose views do not align properly with their own.

And this has come about, I'm convinced by sheer, cynical manipulation of the unwashed masses: through fear-mongering and hate-mongering and lies and spin and cynical machinations. It works. And because it works, I fear we could be brainwashed to believe and do absolutely anything.

I'm trying to decide what it is that anyone can find attractive in the modern Republican party. Honestly, I cannot even see it at this point. I used to be able to grasp what others might see even when I did not find resonance myself; but at this point I think the train is off the rails completely. This seems so patently obvious to me that I'm completely stupefied to encounter this Fox-fed Obama hatred up close. How do you reason with a person who appears, to me, to be completely without reason? How do we retain a faith in our electoral system when these people are exercising the franchise? And even worse, when they're asking the same questions about me--that degree of cynicism can keep a fella awake at night. Whence hope for a positive outcome?

I really wonder how we ever achieved any degree of civilization when so many people are vulnerable to their basest instincts.

wunelle said...

Yeah, the videos are excellent. What an evisceration of this scum! I love this Cenk Uygur guy; I've heard of The Young Turks, but I've never watched the show. Very nice!

Anonymous said...

I watch him often. He's been on CNN and MSNBC as well. I love the clips of Republicans saying it was a stupid comment by Akin, meanwhile being mum on the fact that the party platform holds a position even worse than what he espouses.

He and Ryan are scum of the earth. The Democrats should attack, attack, attack. Heck, everyday folks should be attacking the Republican party nonstop. That fact that they don't shows that the Overton Window which you discuss is in full effect.

I'm reminded that abortion used to involve a fetus, but the anti-abortion argument evolved to calling it a baby, and now it's known as an unborn child. No wonder the nut cases are taking over.

A. Random

wunelle said...

Totally agree. I think our media are so fearful of charges of bias that they're failing to do their job. We need a 24-hour Repuglican BULLSHIT channel that dissects their ugly hearts in minute, excruciating detail. You're quite right: we should attack and keep attacking until this party is no more and the lunatics at the top are back where they belong on the fringes of society.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

I have voted across party lInes in the past believing that the individual's beliefs, voting record and capabilities were more important than the party affiliation. I stopped doing that a number of years ago because there's too much lock-step voting on whatever the party says, rather than what is right and good for the constituents. This is happening in both parties, to the point that nothing really gets accomplished. Voting against what your party directs will get funding pulled for your re-election, will make sure you don't get put on select committees and that no legislation you promote will go anywhere. What I'm trying to say, is I used to be able to vote for the occasional moderate Republican. I can't do that anymore, because they will vote on the party lines, and as long as the Republican party is being hijacked by extreme religious nuts who hate women and want to set us back a century, I never will vote Republican again. I wish the moderate, sane Republicans could see what's becoming of their party. If they keep going in this direction, it could take them generations to recover from this foolishness.

wunelle said...

I quite agree. There's a vital place in political systems for conservatism and restraint, even if these are not my default sensibilities. But even our supposedly liberal politicians have moved considerably rightward, and conservatives are waaaay into troglodyte territory. And an alarming number of conservatives--who are pretty much having things all their own way for 30 years--are now so pissed at what they don't have that they're willing to destroy rather than compromise with the half the population that opposes them. Result: gridlock and studied dysfunction with the most toxic propaganda campaign to obscure the blood trail. Rotten, rotten, rotten. I certainly don't think Democrats' hands are clean, but the difference between bumbling and sabotage is all the difference in the world. To me, anyway.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

I wish we had another viable party to challenge the status quo.