Eugene Robinson Live: The 'war on women' reemerges

Aug 21, 2012

In his latest column, Gene Robinson wrote, "At least until Election Day, Republicans were supposed to pretend that their party?s alleged ?war on women? was nothing but a paranoid fantasy stoked by desperate Democrats. Obviously, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) didn?t get the memo."

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly therapy session. As of this writing, it doesn't look as if Todd Akin is ready to fall on his sword. His stupidity is so absurd that one almost forgets how absolutely vile it is. What he was suggesting is that if a woman is sexually assaulted and becomes pregnant, that's not really rape -- not "legitimate" or "forcible" rape. A sentiment worthy of the Taliban, and one that Paul Ryan apparently shared until yesterday, when Mitt Romney seems to have told him otherwise. Welcome to the GOP Convention! Let's get started.

I don't know myself what was in Mr. Akins' mind when he made his statement about rape and pregnancy. But what do you mean today by your comment that Republicans in general are making "misogynistic attacks?" I haven't heard Romney or Ryan say anything at all that had to do with misogynistic attacks on women.

Mitt Romney, as we all know, once was pro-choice. He now, however, seems to be toeing the party line. Paul Ryan was a cosponsor of the House bill (along with Akin) specifying that federal funds could only pay for abortion in cases of "forcible" rape, as if there were some other kind of rape. I call that misogynistic. You may disagree.

Thanks for the great piece. If I may add another point of insight: The woman seems to be the only non-person in Akin's statement. He talked about the "child" (an innocent person), he talked about the rapist (a bad person), but the closest he came to referring to the woman was when he talked of the "female body" - just a vessel for sex and baby making. One may think it's mystifying that some women will still vote for him. I think it's more mystifying how those women obviously view themselves.

I agree. It's as if a woman is nothing but an instrument for making babies -- an instrument whose use is to be determined by men like Todd Akins. I know I'm sounding like an old-school feminist, but come on, people, didn't we settle all this many, many years ago? 

As a woman, the discussion surrounding my choices is just ridiculous. It's stunning that a man so ignorant is running for a seat in the Senate. My mother always says that nothing will get better until women take control of these conversations. How can we do that? (Outside of more women running for elected positions.)

1. Women running for more elected positions.

2. Women voting for non-Taliban candidates for office.

I apologize if I am off topic to the point of intruding but I have a basic and what I consider a very simple question; "can someone, anyone of official standing within or affiliated to the Romney campaign, with credible authority and the ability to provide supporting evidence in-camera, can anyone who meets this fairly moderate level iof credibility, that can state unilaterally, and categorically that the Romney's DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN ANY SORT OF IRS amnesty?" That would very easily put this to bed... I am probably one of a very limited number of people that think that secretly the Romney's are doing cart wheels re Todd about re-directing enemy fire when you are about to get over run by the facts

I can pretty much assure you that no one in the Romney camp is doing cartwheels over the Todd Akin affair. If it's a distraction, it's a damaging one -- and temporary, at least until Romney releases more tax returns. Your question presents the problem for Romney: He can't or won't prove the negative, and so people will continue to speculate until he does what presidential candidates are supposed to do and releases the returns.

Any comments on the DOJ upholding VA's voter ID law. It looks like both sides have found some common sense and common ground. No one should be concerned about voter ID laws as long as they are not viewed as a poll tax or similar mechanism. We use IDs for virtually everything in life, if we can require one to get on a plane (and lets face it 99% of the people out there have IDs), then reasonable laws such as VA's should be allowed.

I don't ike the Virginia law because it's unnecessary. There is no impersonation voter fraud, so the law is a solution in search of a problem -- actually, a solution to the problem of young people, elderly people, African Americans and Hispanics voting in large numbers. The Virginia law isn't as bad as some others, but that doesn't make it good.

Would Sarah Palin say that Todd Akin was the victim of a "gotcha" question by that reporter? It seems mighty, ahem, coincidental that this would occur just a few days before the deadline to withdraw from the campaign. Makes me wonder if the Missouri GOP realized they have a loose-cannon on their hands who could lose the party an otherwise sure Senate seat pickup (like Sharron Angle vs, Harry Reid in Nevada in 2012), and needed a way to dump Akin pronto.

This was no gotcha. Watch the clip. Akin digs his own grave.

Last night on the Rachel Maddow program, she identified several prominent Republicans who have shared with us virtually the same sentiments as Akin's. I can see why a current Senate candidate with those views are news, but don't you think that it is even more amazing that he is really just one of many. It makes you wonder, just how prevalent is this kind of thinking amongst our "leaders"? The other just amazing thing is that Akin was appointed to a congressional Science committee.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. A man who clearly hasn't cracked a science book since, well, ever. Yes, amazing.

Is he still a Senate candidate 48 hours from now? If he does refuse to drop out, does the GOP have any way of getting another candidate on the ballot?

Akin is the candidate until he says otherwise. The party has threatened to withdraw all planned campaign funding, but he may be gambling that if he stays in, the party will eventually cave.

Gene-- I have to take issue with this part of your column today: 'I find it hard to believe that any physician told Akin that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”' Talking Pints Memo posted a good piece yesterday on the history of this idea: (While they don't mention it, at least one of the pols quoted in the article was a physician). It's been my experience that physicians-- even ones with gold-plated MD's-- are quick to forget any science that doesn't touch on their specialty, and rely on magical thinking for the rest. As for Akin, from a perfectly selfish point of view he'd be well-advised to stay in the race. If he does, the party has every incentive to help him salvage his career. They'll make a big show of cutting off his checks, but once things quiet down they'll find some way to fund him while keeping him at arm's length. OTOH, once he drops out he immediately becomes "Todd Who?"

Maybe that's where he got the idea. And recall that Akin was never the preferred candidate of the Republican establishment. He may well figure he has nothing to lose.

Says Akin should resign because the GOP has a better chance to win with someone else. So, not because what he said was atrocious. I understand it's politics. But have they no decency?

Ask Mr. Priebus.

Thank you for hosting these weekly rant/therapy sessions. I have so much on my mind I do not know where to start! Akin's remarks were so obviously offensive on so many levels (which you coherently described in your column), that I would rather focus my offense on something else: the GOP's audacity to claim that Rep. Akin's views are so far outside the realm of normal GOP views. Anti-abortion activists and politicians who do not believe there should be any exceptions in cases of rape have been saying a variation of Akin's comments for over 30 years. Now that the GOP has allowed the far-right to co-opt its platform, Akin's position is not unusual, it is the norm. I believe that the GOP platform has never included an exception for rape or incest since it included the abortion issue in 1976. In 2010, many GOP then-candidates espoused the view that there should be no exceptions. But now that it is a presidential election year and women voters are all of a sudden magically important (just like their vaginas can magically repel rape-sperm), the GOP wants to rewrite its 30 year history of telling women what is best for their bodies and telling victims of sexual assault that the GOP doesn't believe their claims if they got pregnant. I hope Akin stays in the race so the issue does not get swept under the GOP rug. Thank you for taking my rant!

You're welcome. The GOP playbook is to play to anti-abortion voters in the primaries and in the platform, then do nothing while in office. The problem is that the House Republicans actually want to act -- and yes, that spells big trouble with women voters.

Says Akin still leads McCaskill despite comments. Your take?

That snap poll was taken too soon to show any shift in opinion. McCaskill has a much better chance of keeping her seat right now than she did a few days ago. But she'll still be in trouble if Akin drops out. And even if he stays in, I don't think this race is completely in the bag for her.

...Akin, Ryan, etc. This is what happens when sex ed is girls in one room, boys in another! Anything else you need to know get your parents to tell you, or you know, the thirteen year old on the bus! Because obviously no man ever needs to know accurate information about the female reproductive system.

Those ladyparts are so darn mysterious.

Gene, most folks are focused on the political ramifications of Mr. Akin's comments, which is appropriate considering that he's running to be a US Senator. But shouldn't the focus be more broadly at the GOP's insistence that a legal medical procedure be criminalized? They seem to favor complete economic freedom combined with strict moralizing civil law. Shouldn't that be where the debate lies because the truth under this statement is a policy that his fully embraced by the Republican party.

I think that's where the debate is headed.

Gene, how long into the GOP convention do you think it will be until they do something humiliating, embarrassing or patently destructive to their election ambitions? Mr. Paul's pre-convention rally, Mr. Trump's surprise or some Palin gathering are ripe for alienation, are they not?

I'll be in Tampa and I can't wait for Donald Trump's "surprise." I wish the GOP good luck with that.

Denying women access to health care is misogynistic, and both Romney and Ryan have publicly stated their devotion to policies that deny women health care.

Mitt Romney: "Planned Parenthood? We'll get rid of that."

Gene, it seems as if Mr. Romney has spent the last week or so evading the aspects of Mr. Ryan's budget and his policy views. If this is the case, why choose Mr. Ryan as a running mate? Did his campaign not realize that non-Fox journalists were actually going to dig into Mr. Ryan's policies and question them as part of the presidential campaign?

In the interest of fairness, I have to note that the earliest tough interview of Ryan as vice-presidential nominee was conducted by Brit Hume of Fox. It seems to me that if Romney was prepared to take Ryan on board, he should have been prepared to take Ryan's baggage, too.

You say that like it's a bad thing. If there's one thing I'm sick of, it's denying that one is a feminist while declaring that one supports women's rights.

I was being ironic. I had hoped we were at the stage where certain basic concepts -- a woman's personhood, for example -- were no longer at issue. I guess I was wrong, so once again I'm a proud feminist.

A female friend of mine and I were chatting about the female's body to know the difference between consensual sex and rape and this is what she said: "I guess the egg knows if the sperm is a kind, happy sperm filled with respect for the woman or an angry, violent sperm with a criminal record. Yeah, okay, I get it now." Just had to share.

Thanks for shaaring.

A bizarre sidebar to this story is learning that Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), is a ranking member of the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Science? Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), is 100% certain that the planet we all share cannot be more than 6,000 years old, based on his counting of the sequence of "begats" from the Old Testament. In order to accommodate the inconvenient evidence of paleontology and geology, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) has declared that dinosaurs rode on Noah's Ark and that the carbon dating of objects is one of Satan's clever tricks. People are free to believe whatever they choose to believe, but when one is entrusted with the power to make laws and policies that others have to obey, a certain level of intelligence and healthy brain activity is required. Based on his past and present pronouncements, having Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) as a member of the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology represents a clear and present danger to the safety and security to the citizens of The United States of America.

That kind of says it all.

If some conservative researchers start going through all the comments made by democrats, this could get really messy for the left. They would then become business hating socialist that hate the military. Basically you are applying a laughable double standard you would never agree to with your own party. Its people like you who feel the need to demonize large groups of people who have helped politics devolve into the hellhole that it has become.

Look at the "forcible rape" legislation. Look at the GOP platform. It isn't just one person. I wish it was.

Every time I hear Romney talk about his taxes I always hear he paid what was legally required. They always hedge with the "legally required". In my mind I'm thinking what high priced accountants sheltering money all over the world in various barely legal tax shelters. Will he ever release them? Maybe on a Friday night before the labor day weekend when no one will notice?

I can only conclude Romney has decided that releasing the taxes will be worse for his chances of becoming president than stonewalling. So I guess he'll just stonewall, and people will speculate about what's in there.

I find it rather hypocritical that someone who considers themself a "progressive" would find fault in a law that is pro-active. Liberals are always complaining about reactive laws, yet on the voting rights issue, laws that are pro-active, are condemned to the point that racial bias needs to be injected into the argument to make it pass a smell test. Honestly, it's pretty sad that forward-thinking laws are bashed while backwards-thinking laws like Obamacare are lauded. What happened to the progressive mantra?

It's not that these laws are pro-active, it's that they serve no purpose except to disenfranchise people. It amazes me that conservatives are arguing for massive intrusion by Big Government. Next, they'll be lobbying for a national ID card. Right?

I've survived two attempted rapes and one date rape. Ugly stuff. It's been twenty years and I am now well and happy with a great life. It's rare that I think about the ugliness. But when someone like Akin shoots his mouth off and it is all over the media, it affects me. I've been swinging between furious-to-the-point-of-punching-something and deeply, profoundly sad. I know how to get myself level again and I'll get there, but my point is that for all of us who have survived, the words bring so much of it back. It still hurts. Thank you for yesterday's column. It helped me.

Thank you so much, and don't let ignoramuses like Akin get you down.

I heard the strip clubs are staffing up and building tents in front so people can go in and out unobserved. I hope someone is doing a story on this aspect :)

I have read -- and I apologize, Tampa Chamber of Commerce, if this is not true -- that Tampa is by some measure the strip club capital of America. I've seen stories about how the clubs are gearing up for the convention, and I have a feeling there will be up-close-and-personal feature stories written in the coming days.

I condemn Akin's comments probably as much as or more so than you have articulated in your piece today. However, I find it appalling that this story is getting so much more play and is literally stereotyping the conservative movement while our Vice President made racially insensitive comments that passed virtually under the radar. Do journalists and columnists such as yourself forget that the Democrat Party was the filibuster to the desegregation movement, and many of the most highly regarded Democrat Party figures of the last 50 years have racist (Byrd) or sexist (Keneday/Clinton) pasts? Akin certainly needs to step aside and his comments are uncalled for, but lets not paint an entire party with broad strokes without also examining the other side.

But we're not talking about Akin's distant past, we're talking about what he said two days ago. If there are any segregationist Dixiecrats left, tell me and I'll happily write about them. As for whether the progressive movement polices itself, do the names Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner ring a bell?

Aikin was stating the obvious policy position of the GOP. Let's not individualize his language. His language is not different from Ryan's language on the piece of legislation that he co-sposored with Aikins.

No, it's not different. Akin has made clear that by "legitimate rape" he meant the same thing as "forcible rape," which is in the legislation he co-sponsored (along iwth Ryan) in the House.

Am I right with my timeline: Romney condemns Akin and says he won't have any other comment on the subject; GOP leaders call fromAkin to resign; Romney calls for Akin to resign. Sounds like more of a follower than a leader.

I actually think Romney's reaction has been reasonable -- so far. I believe he's trying to find the most effective way of getting Akin out of the way as quickly as possible. The question is, how does Romney react if Akin doesn't go? And yes, in any event, Romney will have some explaining to do on the campaign trail.

Mika Brzezinski was mentioning on Morning Joe that her father said to never back someone into a corner, they'll just fight back. I guess Todd is in that position. Don't forget that he gave up his US House of Rep. seat to run for Senate. If he drops out by 5pm Central Time, can he get on the ballot for his old House seat?

Actually, it was Joe Scarborough who reminded Mika that her father always says that. I do think the GOP is genuinely trying to get Akin out of the race, and wanted -- at least initially -- to let him make his exit as gracefully as possible. Which was never going to be very graceful, but you get the point. 

Gene: You just typed: "The GOP playbook is to play to anti-abortion voters in the primaries and in the platform, then do nothing while in office. The problem is that the House Republicans actually want to act..." This statement is stunningly simple and filled with truth. It is by far the most intelligent political commentary on either side that I've heard in many years. Thank you, sir. I am completely serious. I wish everyone could read and ponder those few lines. Brevity and truth win every time. All that is needed is clear vision, and an open mind.

Thanks. I don't agree with social conservatives on much of anything, but I do believe they've been jobbed by the Republican Party for years.

Eugene, what does it mean when the RNC Chair says that the GOP Platform is, quote, "not the platform of Mitt Romney?"

Cognitive dissonance.

And on that harmonious note, friends, my time is up for today. Thanks for a great discussion, and I'll see you again next week -- from Tampa. (Not from a strip club...)

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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