Saying What They Mean

Mitt Romney is staying vague, but his fellow Republicans aren’t

Surely, I thought, Republicans will come to some semblance of their senses before they go before a national TV audience. I mean, it’s one thing to stand before a crowd of true believers and yowl about how a fertilized egg deserves the protections of the 14th amendment because, after all, we are talking about life — but to do that before a national TV audience? To not only admit that you believe this, but to say that you want to impose your strange beliefs on others? No, I thought in the run-up to their convention they would try to hide the truth about their “base” — you know, the stuff you don’t care to talk about in polite company.

Then came Todd Akin with his line about women’s bodies being able fight off pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” Just putting “legitimate” and “rape” in the same sentence is crazy, but as we’ve learned, it’s not that far-out an opinion for the Republican base. Somehow, still, Akin managed to do the impossible: embarrass the religious right with his verbal broadside of ignorance. 

Akin was dumbfounded by the reaction of his Republican leadership. Paul Ryan calling for him to step down? That Paul Ryan? The colleague with whom Akin has cosponsored all that righteous social legislation — including bills taking rape off the table as a reason for women to get an abortion? That Paul Ryan, his buddy?

And it only got worse. Mitt Romney weighed in. He, too, went after Akin’s political scalp. What did Mitt say? “I can’t defend him?” This from the man who, only a short time ago, when asked by Mike Huckebee if he would support a “personhood” Constitutional amendment, said, “absolutely.”

Perhaps Rep. Akin didn’t know what the entire country by this time does: Mitt Romney is the original man-without-qualities. He changes his positions from week to week, even from day to day. You name it: health care, gay rights, choice, Obama’s pledge to go after bin Laden inside Pakistan. (Mitt called it a terrible idea, until Obama actually did it; then it became a “no-brainer.”) Or how about saving the auto industry? Nope, he called that socialism, until Obama’s policies worked — then Mitt just flipped and claimed that Obama had magically copied what he, Mitt, had recommended all along.

His flip-flop du jour? Seems he now wants to endorse RomneyCare by way of making a case that he really does care about women. Mitt’s message to women about those invasive ultrasounds: “Just kidding! Hey, I provided health coverage in Massachusetts for women!” And this after running away from RomneyCare for the past year or so?

Did Akin not understand that Mitt is way, way beyond flipping and flopping. That he is the personification of Humpty Dumpty, who famously said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

So we can appreciate Akin’s confusion. All those fundamentalist, anti-abortion preachers he listens to down in his neck of the woods have been saying for some time that women’s bodies will ward off pregnancy — that is if the woman is “truly” being raped.

More to the point, we now know that Akin wasn’t an outlier. He is the mainstream Republican “base.” So of course he had every reason to be confused, every reason to react as he did when he discovered, to his dismay, that his right-wing buddies, including Romney, view his deeply held principles as nothing more than political expediencies. He learned that the leadership will bail at the first indication that the broader American public might view his principles as just so much repulsive nonsense.

But wait: The party platform committee, under the leadership of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — aka, “Governor Ultrasound” for signing a bill that forces women waiting for an abortion to take and watch an ultrasound before any choice can be made — writes a platform that has in it every single plank of repressive and invasive nonsense that Akin was talking about. (There’s no line about women’s bodies being able to ward off pregnancy — that was supposed to stay inside the inner circles and not be for general consumption.)

Usually candidates just kind of ignore platforms. Platforms are so vague that they fairly beg to be dismissed. But having put Paul Ryan on the ticket? The Paul Ryan who agrees with everything that Akin has been saying? How is Romney going to duck and weave his way around this?

Mitt’s billionaire friends have swung into high gear and paid hundreds of millions of dollars to come up with a way to present their man-without-qualities as a man of principle. It’s a tough sell.

How will they do it, post-convention? They’ll have Mitt avoid saying what the Republican base wants him to say, while making it seem as if he has. We call this smoke-screening. 

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.