A GOP congressman from Missouri seeking a promotion to the U.S. Senate caused a coast-to-coast firestorm yesterday when he said in a TV interview that it's "really rare" for women to become pregnant when they are raped.
Rep. Todd Akin -- whose race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is key to Republican hopes of taking back the Senate, added: “If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
So is that the stupidest a U.S. politician has ever said?
It's just a tie. It turns out that Todd Akin has a Freind in Pennsylvania -- Stephen Freind, to be exact.
In the 1980s, Freind -- a Pa. state representative from Delaware County in the Philadelphia suburbs -- was a fixture in state politics, largely because of his die-hard anti-abortion stance. Freind. first sent to Harrisburg in the 1976 election, was a proto-pundit, willing to debate pro-abortion advocates anytime, anywhere.
On March 1, 1988, Freind make a comment that went viral, to the extent that things actually went viral before Al Gore invented the Internet. It happened during a York, Pa., radio debate with Barry Steinhardt, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. At the time, then-Gov. Robert Casey -- then the nation's leading anti-abortion Democrat -- had just signed a law placing restrictions on the procedure.
Freind said in the debate that the odds of a rape victim becoming pregnant are "one in millions and millions and millions." He then explained that was because "when that traumatic experience is undergone, a woman secretes a certain secretion which has a tendency to kill the sperm."
It's not clear whether the episode has any lessons for Missouri's Todd Akin. Freind initially refused to apologize, then backed off a bit -- only to insist that some of his evidence that few rape victims become pregnant came from Nazi concentration-camp experiments. Nonetheless, Freind won re-election two more times before a political-suicide (then...he might have won today with the Tea Party) Republican primary challenge to then-Sen. Arlen Specter in 1992.
That was then. In 2012, the pre-Neanderthal-minded Akin was able to win his Republican Senate primary. Some pundits think his comments -- Akin said last night that he "misspoke," without elaborating -- could re-elect the once vulnerable McCaskill, help Democrats keep the U.S. Senate, and maybe even harm the ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, since Ryan teamed up recently with Akin to co-sponsor a bill restricting abortion.
The politics matters, for sure, but the import of Akin's ignorance is much greater. His "misspoke"-n remarks are a national disgrace, an insult to all women but especially the victims of rape. And they celebrate the triumph of willful ignorance in our politcs. If you've been paying attention, it probably won't be shocked to learn one of this Missouri MO-ron's House committee assignments: Science, Space, and Technology.
(h/t Tom Fitzgerald)