Todd Akin and the Anti-Science Know-Nothingism Undermining the Republican Party

Rep. Todd Akin on December 9, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Todd Akin on Dec. 9, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Nickelodeon.

For a party intent on closing a gender gap that could spell electoral disaster, the Republican Party sure keeps saying the most remarkable things. Put aside for the moment the persistent efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, the many personhood and mandatory invasive ultrasound bills, and even Mitt Romney’s selection of the vehemently anti-choice Paul Ryan as his running mate. Now we have this from Rep. Todd Akin, for the moment the Republican Senate candidate from Missouri, a dismal new expression: “legitimate rape.”  

Akin also informs us—based on fake science that he and others on the far right endorse—that the body can shut down a pregnancy in cases of “legitimate” rape, therefore abortion should not be legal in any case. For the record, about 32,000 pregnancies every year result from rape.

Akin has few friends right now even in his own party. Mitt Romney, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Texas Sen. and NRSC Chairman John Cornyn, and virtually every Republican Senate candidate in the states that will determine control of the Senate have turned on him. 

Control of the Senate is really what is at stake here. Whether a Republican Party dependent on the Tea Party controls the Senate is a hugely important issue. Let’s not forget what hinges on this: the confirmation of justices and judges, the willingness to address serious structural issues in our economy, the embrace or rejection of a worldview that rejects science. These are all at stake this November.  

We should not be fooled that Akin’s statement, merely because it is so offensive and quickly retracted or clarified, is a mere slip. It actually represents the worldview of Akin and many like-minded Republican colleagues. His comments are part and parcel of a view of civil rights, women’s rights, and science that should be antithetical to a modern society. It reflects a worldview that has held up progress on too many serious issues, a form of know-nothingism for the modern era, a rejection of the very notion of learning. 

So Republican rejection of the statement is fine, and appreciated.  But until there is a broader Republican rejection of what the statement stands for, those rejections ring awfully hollow.