Is Todd Akin unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate?

The deadline came and the deadline passed, and Todd Akin, predictably enough, is still running for the U.S. Senate. Actually, it may still be possible for Akin to bow out, but now he would need a court order permitting him to do so.

Perhaps if the polling data goes far enough south on Akin, he will change his mind and exit the race. The other option is a write-in candidate who better represents the Republican Party. But Akin probably retains support among some social conservatives, so it seems likely that Claire McCaskill would prevail in a three-way race. Thus, defeating McCaskill probably depends on an Akin withdrawal.

As the dust settles a little bit, I think we should examine Akin’s comments in detail to see what he did and didn’t say, and to identify his error with some precision. In doing so, I’m not going to defend Akin’s comments or argue that he is a good Republican Senate nominee. However, I will argue that he has not shown himself to be unfit for the Senate, as many claim. In fact, I would vote for him over Claire McCaskill if they were my only options.

Here is Akin’s statement:

It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that [a pregnancy resulting 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: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.

First, contrary to the outrageous claims of feminists/Democratic partisans like Kirsten Powers, Akin never claimed that there is such a thing as a legitimate rape (in the sense of an acceptable or ok rape). Clearly, when he said “legitimate rape” he meant actual rape, as opposed to consensual sex that later is alleged to be rape.

We know this from the context, including the fact that he calls for punishment of the rapist. If Akin thought that actual rape can be “legitimate,” he would not have advocated punishing the rapist. Akin plainly was saying that in cases of real rape the female body shuts down the reproductive process, whereas in cases of falsely alleged rape, it does not.

Some feminists would take issue with Akin’s implicit claim that not all reported rapes are actual rapes. But that view represents the triumph of ideology over facts. In reality, not all claims of rape are legitimate claims.

The most damning interpretation of Akin’s remarks would be that if a pregnancy results, the claim of rape could not have been legitimate. But Akin stopped short of making that claim. Indeed, he assumes that this is not the case. And he talks of the body “trying” to shut the process down, not invariably being able to do so.

The problem with Akin’s statement – and it is a very big problem – lies in his view that the female body has ways to shut down its reproductive process in response to rape, such that pregnancies resulting from rape are “really rare.” The evidence strongly contradicts this assertion. Akin’s embrace of junk science not supported by data represents the same kind of triumph of ideology over facts that, as noted above, some feminists are guilty of.

But does a member of Congress become unfit because he adopts a junk science position in service of ideology? Perhaps, if the position is offensive enough. But what if that member of Congress admits his error and conforms his view to the facts – here, the fact that pregnancies from rape are not “really rare”? Then, I wouldn’t say that the member is unfit to serve in Congress.

Akin, then, needs to make it clear that he understands and accepts the facts regarding rape and pregnancy. If he does, then I don’t see him as unfit to serve in Congress.

To summarize:

Was Akin’s comment stupid and offensive? Yes, in the sense I just described, though not in the sense that some have claimed.

Does Akin’s continued candidacy jeopardize the chance to defeat Claire McCaskill? Yes, if we’re lucky. If we’re unlucky, it destroys that chance.

Do the Republicans deserve a better candidate than Akin, even apart from concerns over electability? Yes.

Is Akin unfit to be a U.S. Senator because of his remark? No, in my opinion, provided that he repudiates his view that pregnancies caused by rape are really rare.

Would Akin be a better Senator than Claire McCaskill? Yes, just compare their voting records in Congress.

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