Todd Akins and Paul Ryan’s 2011 bill has two GOP Congressmen cosponsoring legislation about what is or is not “legitimate rape”.
The stridency of anti-government and anti-tax rhetoric coming from Tea Party activists within the Republican Party has its roots in Ronald Reagan’s two Presidential campaigns and what is known as the Southern Strategy. In 1984, Reagan’s political messaging operation leveraged the Southern Strategy as masterminded by the campaign’s deputy director Lee Atwater.
What is the Southern Strategy? (Make no mistake, it is still being employed with a vengeance.)
Wikipedia notes: ”Though the “Solid South” had been a longtime Democratic Party stronghold due to the Democratic Party’s defense of slavery prior to the American Civil War and segregation for a century thereafter, many white Southern Democrats stopped supporting the party following the civil rights plank of the Democratic campaign in 1948 (triggering the Dixiecrats), the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, and desegregation.”
This approach to converting longtime Democratic voters to the GOP was evident in Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. But it was in the 1980′s that the Southern Strategy was formalized as a central Republican political strategy by operatives like Lee Atwater. He knew that he could turn out white Southern voters by leveraging racial code language delivered in the carefully nuanced political abstractions of the Republican Party.
Wikipedia quotes from political scientist Alexander P. Lamis’ book titled Southern Politics. In that book, Atwater framed the Southern Strategy this way: Atwater: “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Atwater’s no holds barred street fighting style of electioneering continues today in the ongoing influence of Karl Rove, Ed Rollins, Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, and others who have helped drive the messaging of the Republican Party. This emotionally volatile, wedge issue driven style of politics has, over the last thirty years, increased in stridency to the degree that Ronald Reagan’s conservative credentials would fall far short of what is required in present day Tea Party politics. This increasingly ideological hardening of the Republican Party that has fostered the rise of the present day Tea Party anti-tax, anti-government, and virulently anti-immigrant platform. The highly emotional framing and messaging Lee Atwater encouraged and Karl Rove carried forward, the wedge issues, the southern strategy, the use of anti-big government rhetoric, have been amplified in subsequent elections to the degree that they have dramatically shifted the ideology of the Republican base to the far right, alienating independent, Latino, and Women voters.
With each ensuing election, the Republican Party has, out of the need to again energize its base, pushed further and further to the ideological right, encouraging its supporters to attack gay rights, public education, abortion, birth control, environmentalism, immigrants, social security, and a range of the Democratic Party’s core ideological strongholds.
This strategy has proven to be highly successful over the last 30 years, shifting the political center in America to the right. But the endgame of Atwater’s anti-government Southern Strategy is now playing out in a much different way than he might have hoped. Because as the political rhetoric of far-right candidates continues to shift ever further right, we are seeing that no matter how far those ideologies go, there is always an additional step they can take, and as they express these next ideological shifts, they are imploding their political prospects at crucial moments in state wide and national campaigns.
Four years ago, Sharron Angle failed in her run for U. S. Senate in Nevada. By all rights, it was a year in which Democrats like Senator Harry Reid were very vulnerable. Two years into Obama’s first term, the economy was in tatters. The House of Representatives shifted Republican by huge margins, often due to Tea Party candidates who, because they were not running in state wide or national elections, could leverage their extreme rhetoric to win in limited regions of the country where voters shared their philosophy. But Angle’s race was state wide. Meaning that her political platform needed to appeal to more than just the Tea Party base that was instrumental in her nomination.
Angle has stated:
• She does not believe Constitution mandates the separation of church and state.
• She favors the privatization of Medicare.
• She opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, saying that it is against God’s “plan”.
• She says that the Social Security system should be “transitioned out”.
But what was most alarming during the campaign was Angle’s repeated mentioning of what she calls “second amendment remedies;” a direct reference to the right to own guns. For example, On Bill Manders’ radio show, she stated that the Second Amendment is there “to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.”
On Lars Larson’s radio show, she stated “…but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, ‘My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?’ I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”
And so it has been going in elections across the country. Again and again, the Tea Party is showing it has the muscle to nominate candidates, but in many cases, those candidates once nominated in the much more ideologically dogmatic party primary are supporting policies that make them unelectable in a general election. And now we have the implosion of Congressman Todd Akins, who until a few days ago was competing successfully against embattled Sen. Claire McCaskill, in the race for the U. S. Senate seat from Missouri.
As reported by the Washington Post, ”Akin, an engineer by training, was asked about his staunch opposition to abortion even in the case of women getting pregnant after a rape.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said. “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.”
The implication that Adkins has clear ideas about what does or does not qualify as “legitimate rape” has created a firestorm of public anger and once again reinforced the message that where women’s issues are concerned, the Republican Party just doesn’t get it.
If this were a singular instance, it could be viewed as an anomaly. But it is not. The daily drumbeat of extreme comments by GOP candidates is reinforcing the view that the GOP is being dominated by ideological extremists.
In California, the Republican Party has simply collapsed. The New York Times reports: “It’s no longer a statewide party,” said Allan Hoffenblum, who worked for 30 years as a Republican consultant in California. “They are down to 30 percent, which makes it impossible to win a statewide election. You just can’t get enough crossover voters.”
“They have alienated large swaths of voters,” he said. “They have become too doctrinaire on the social issues. It’s become a cult.”
By creating the perfect storm of conservative religious fervor and anti-government zeal over the last few decades, the Republican Party has shifted its base past a political tipping point. In order to be nominated, national and state wide candidates supported by the Tea Party wing of the party hold political beliefs that alienate cross over voters in the context of a general election. What once was a guarantee of national election viability, the building of coalitions between the southern red state voters and disillusioned independent voters, has moved incrementally further right to the degree that independents have begun the flee the ideological shift of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Democratic politicians, in their own rightward shift have filled the vacuum with what Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council called New Democrats. Democrats that have moved away from the left leaning democratic politics historically epitomized by Presidential candidates like Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. But Democrats continue to reach out to women and minorities.
In two very specific ways, increasingly vitriolic Republican rhetoric has already had a significant impact on the 2012 election cycle. First, what has come to be framed as evidence of the Republican “war on women” is Rush Limbaugh’s notorious attack on Sandra Fluke wherein he called her a slut for wanting access to birth control via her health care benefits.
That coupled with the aging white Tea Party’s virulent anti-immigration stance has set the GOP on a path veering toward political irrelevance. And now, with Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his VP candidate, the GOP Presidential ticket is one degree of separation away from Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment. Why?
ABC is now reporting: “Akin and Ryan cosponsored a 2011 bill, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, that would redefine rape as “forcible rape,” narrowing the scope of what’s considered rape in cases of abortion. Akin and Ryan also cosponsored a personhood bill and the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act of 2004, which would require abortion providers to “make a specified statement to the pregnant woman that Congress has determined that there is substantial evidence that the process will cause the unborn child pain.”
Todd Akins and Paul Ryan’s No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act which seeks to legally redefine rape as “forcible rape” puts them both in the room during discussions about what is or is not “legitimate rape.” This is only the beginning of the public’s growing awareness of Paul Ryan’s extreme positions on a range of issues outlined in his budget proposal and other legislative efforts.
Sometimes endgames are planned. Sometimes a particular endgame is the result of events set in motion by limited vision and an obsession with short term gains. And unless I miss my guess, the 2012 Presidential election will be another example of the declining fortunes of the increasingly extremist GOP, which in its growing stridency and dogmatic inflexibility, will lose critical races in a political and economic environment in which they should be winning and winning big.
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