Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Akin's Crazy Claim of "Legitimate Rape" Matters

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

Republicans have spent the last few days furiously trying to distance themselves from Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's assertion that women who are victims of "legitimate rape" do not get pregnant. They've tried to get him to drop out of his U.S. Senate race, even as polls say he's leading. But they have a tough case to make, since the real takeaway from Akin's ludicrous charge is that his approach to women's rights (if not necessarily the "legitimate rape" claim itself) is entirely consistent with the ideology of the modern Republican party.

GOP concern that the rape exception to abortion bans would be used to allow too many abortions is not new. In 2011, Akin was one of 226 sponsors of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which, among other things, sought to rewrite the definition of rape (to change the language to "forcible rape") in an effort to make it harder for women to get a post-rape abortion. Who else was a sponsor? Rep. Paul Ryan. With millions of Americans out of work, 226 members of Congress (nearly all Republicans) were laser-focused on abortion and limiting the definition of rape (the bill was H.R. 3, so it was among the first pieces of legislation offered that session). And Paul Ryan was one of them.

Given the waves of condemnation (as well as fundraising efforts) resulting from Akin's "legitimate rape" claim, it's no surprise that Ryan is now trying to walk back his sponsorship of H.R. 3, cutting off a questioner about Akin's claim with the statement, "Rape is rape. Rape is rape, period. End of story."

Ryan would desperately like his answer to the be the end of the story, but it won't be. It's just the beginning, as it becomes clear that Akin's "legitimate rape" charge was in keeping with the Republicans' "war on women" since taking control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. (I detailed some of the aspects of the GOP assault on women's rights in June.)

Akin's assertion isn't problematic for Republicans because it is outrageous. It's a disaster for them because it shines a light on the GOP's disdain for women's rights.

Firedoglake recently put together a piece on Ryan's record on right-to-life issues. He voted to ban the FDA from approving any drug that could be used to abort a fetus. He voted for numerous "fetal protection" acts, including some that would criminalize a mother's behavior (not just a doctor's). He supported intervening to keep Terri Schiavo alive. He supported a bill requiring a doctor to tell mothers that the fetus could experience pain after 20 weeks. He spread the myth that health care reform legislation funded abortions. He opposed the president's requirement that health care plans provide birth control coverage. He sponsored a bill that would establish in law that life started at conception.

Ryan also sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which, if strictly interpreted, could ban not only abortion but also in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood four times. And he sponsored a "fetal personhood" bill, a concept so outside the mainstream it was voted down by the people of Mississippi last year.

And on women's issues that don't pertain to abortion, Ryan's record isn't much better. He voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And he supported the watered-down version of the Violence Against Women Act authorization that would have gutted the original law.

When it comes to women's rights issues, Ryan's record is closer to Akin's than it is to the beliefs of a majority of Americans.

And it's not just Ryan. The 2012 Republican platform supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion with no exception made for incest or rape.  Not surprising, given that Rep. Steve King of Iowa said he hadn't "heard" of someone getting pregnant from incest.

(Given Mitt Romney's epic inability to tell the truth and comic record of flip-flopping on most issues, it's hard to pin down his views on abortion. So his choice of Ryan as a running mate and willingness to run under the GOP platform will have to speak for themselves.)

The bottom line is that the Republicans have spent the last two years conducting an all-out assault on the rights of women. So when Akin made his high-profile, obviously offensive and ridiculous charge about "legitimate rape," it didn't stand as the ranting of a looney on the fringes, outside of the boundaries of his party. Rather, he made his claim under the backdrop of a history of people who really believe the nonsense he spouted. And his assertion is in line with the approach of his party, who only a year ago sought to redefine rape to make the term cover fewer attacks.

Akin isn't an outlier. He is more accurately described as sitting on the right side (but fully inside) of a party that wants to legislate a return to a 19th century view of women's rights. Akin's looney claim didn't come from nowhere. It is a product of the far right's attempts to roll back women's rights, a view that has taken over the Republican party.

Ryan and Romney desperately want voters to see Akin as outside of the GOP mainstream. But the record shows that Akin and Ryan are more in tune than divided on women's issues. Akin speaks with a Republican voice, not a fringe one, and that's something that most Americans, I'm guessing, will not see as a good thing.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pick of Ryan for VP Slot Tells Us More About Romney Than His Campaign Speeches

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

Mitt Romney says a lot of things on the campaign trail, many of which turn out to have no relationship with the truth. But in selecting Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate, Romney made a statement as clear, unequivocal and truthful as he's made since announcing his run for the presidency: No matter what he says for the next nearly three months, the only path he genuinely cares about following should he be elected president is to pursue a far-right economic policy that cares only about the success of the wealthy and corporations, and takes no account on the outcome for all other Americans. Because in selecting Ryan, in effect, Romney can be saying nothing else.

Romney's severe 1920s business conservatism has always been his core belief as a politician, even beyond his Mormon faith. That's why he so easily flip-flops on so many issues. He doesn't really care about abortion, gun control, immigration, stem cells, foreign policy or even health care reform, so it was easy to take whatever position was politically expedient at the time. To Romney, these issues are just obstacles he's forced to address so he can gain power and pursue his corporate-centric, Bain Capital agenda.

Which brings us back to Romney's choice of Ryan as his running mate. Romney is making his statement loud and clear: He doesn't care about the middle class. He doesn't care about women's rights. He doesn't care about those who aren't doing as well in the current economy. He only cares about cutting taxes for the wealthy, cutting spending and providing an environment for the rich to get richer while income inequality gets worse, the middle class continues to collapse and the ranks of the unemployed and working poor swell to Hoover-era levels. In embracing Ryan, he is casting his lot with a public figure who has aggressively fought to redistribute wealth upward, from the working and middle classes to the very wealthiest.

After all, that set of values is exactly what Ryan is all about. Republicans might want to sell him as practical or intellectual, but he is nothing more than someone who Nate Silver documented as the most conservative VP nominee of the 20th and 21st centuries. He is nowhere near the mainstream, even (especially) on non-economic issues. This is a man who worships at the altar of Ayn Rand, gave a thousand dollars to Tom DeLay's defense fund, and supports fetal personhood (a concept so fringe it was voted down by the people of Mississippi), which would ban certain types of birth control.

In short, Ryan holds the positions of a right-wing extremist who poses a threat to basic American values that have sustained the people of this country for the last 80 years (and the welfare of lower, working and middle class Americans, not to mention the basic rights of women), tucked neatly behind a pleasant looking facade. Don't believe me? Okay, how about listening to Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who, as reported by Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic, called Ryan's budget: "Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history)."

This is the guy Romney chose to run by his side. Why? It's all about Ryan's far-right economic values, which match those of Romney. In April 2011 Ryan's proposed budget (which was passed by the GOP-controlled House) included provisions to phase out Medicare, drastically cut taxes for the wealthy (beyond the levels of the Bush tax cuts), raise taxes on the middle class, and gut a range of programs meant to aid the working and lower classes (62 percent of his cuts hit these vulnerable Americans, including things like cutting Pell grants). After an epic backlash (and some GOP losses in races in which Democrats ran against Ryan's plan to end Medicare, including a special election for the House in New York's GOP-leaning 26th district in 2011), Ryan revised his Medicare plan, this time turning it into a voucher system (rather than guaranteed insurance) that would leave millions of seniors without adequate health care, as well as turning Medicaid into a block grant system that would, according to a study funded by the Kaiser Foundation, leave 14 million to 27 million Americans who currently receive care without health insurance. Oh, and of course, Ryan supports the privatization of Social Security.

Robin Hood in reverse, indeed.

(Paul Krugman was in early on the dangers of Ryan's policy positions, expertly exposing Ryan's lies in a 2010 column that demonstrated how awful Ryan's policies would be for the middle class.)

The only reason for Romney to choose Ryan is that he agrees with Ryan's economic policy ambitions. There is no other explanation. Tapping Ryan was clearly not a strategic choice. While Marco Rubio might have helped attract voters in Florida (as well as Latinos in other states), and Rob Portman may have been helpful in the key swing state of Ohio, Ryan's value in his home state is virtually zero, since the only way Romney wins Wisconsin is if it's part of a massive landslide. Other than making some in Romney's right-wing base happy (and they were going to vote for him anyway, since they hate the president so much), Ryan doesn't deliver a single electoral vote to Romney. And as Ryan's out-of-the-mainstream, sure-to-be-unpopular positions make their way to the American people, he will be a hurdle for Romney to overcome in attracting moderate voters, not a candidate who helps deliver votes. (The ads targeted at seniors informing them of Ryan's plan to end Medicare as we know it virtually write themselves.)

No, the only explanation for Romney's selection of Ryan is that he actually agrees with his positions on economic issues (which is all Romney really cares about). That is the takeaway from Romney's pick. And that is the reveal of the selection: Romney is telling the American people, loudly and clearly, what he believes in. And if you're not a member of the wealthy elite, a Romney-Ryan administration will be devastating for you.

Of course, the rhetoric coming from the Romney-Ryan camp for the rest of the campaign will all be about helping the middle class get jobs and improving the life of ordinary Americans. But don't believe these lies (and they are lies) for one second. Ryan's record (it's hard to pin a "record" on Romney, since he has been on both sides of so many issues aside from his business conservatism) demonstrates exactly what a Romney-Ryan administration would do in power, and it would be an utter disaster for anyone not in the top two percent of wealth in the U.S. In announcing Ryan as his pick, Romney made the laughably dishonest claim that he and Ryan would “protect Medicare and Social Security." If by "protect" he means eliminate the popular programs and replace them with vastly inferior versions under the same name, then yeah, he wants to protect them. The disconnect between what the Romney-Ryan ticket says it wants as outcomes and the policies it advances will be massive.

By picking Ryan, Romney is telling the American people what they can really expect if he wins: The end of Medicare as we know it, the privatization of Social Security, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class, and a general approach to governing that considers the wealthy and corporations first, and everyone else not at all. That is Romney's true religion. And by choosing Ryan, he has decided to run for the White House with the very symbol of these far-right economic policies.

Romney's choice of Ryan speaks far louder than any (usually dishonest) words that have come from his mouth. Let's hope the American people are listening.