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.