It’s been widely noted that Tampa is the strip-club capital of America, and this week vigilant media will be scrutinizing arrest reports in search of Republicans who strayed too far from the convention center (not to mention the party’s puritanical agenda).
Hillsborough County actually has a law that strippers must keep a six-foot distance from patrons, but wanton groping is bound to occur as delegates celebrate the wild and crazy nomination of Mitt Romney.
Hopes that Missouri Congressman Todd Akin would be caught with a naked dancer writhing on his lap have been put on hold. As of this writing, Akin says he won’t come to the convention, a monumental relief to Romney but a disappointment to those who are curious to hear Akin clarify his odd theories of female biology.
Party leaders would rather deal with a Hurricane Isaac than a loose cannon who, with one ill-timed monologue, illuminated the chilling gap between the Republicans’ radical social agenda and mainstream voters.
Akin is one of those self-righteous meddlers who oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest, a view supported by only 17 percent of Americans (according the latest Washington Post poll) but championed by right-wing Christians.
In fact, it’s part of the GOP platform that will be presented to delegates.
What got Akin in trouble with his own party wasn’t his punitive stance against rape victims; it was saying on TV that women’s bodies have a natural way of “shutting down” to prevent pregnancy after a “legitimate rape.”
Issue number one is Akin’s boggling stupidity, which Republican leaders never worried about until he opened his mouth and embarrassed them. Issue number two is his destructive insensitivity.
Driving away female voters is the last thing the GOP needs before a tight election, and even the bad hairpieces on Fox News are twitching in dismay.
Akin, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has so far refused to drop out of the race, and continues to stoke the abortion debate. This is what happens when you pander to extremists while trying to sell your party as compassionate and level-headed — the extremists don’t always shut up when you want them to.
As the Republican delegates this week struggle to stay six feet from the strippers, Romney is trying to put about 600,000 light years between himself and Todd Akin. However, the presidential nominee has a big problem, and that problem is his running mate, Paul Ryan.
The Wisconsin congressman, another “social conservative,” joined with Akin to co-sponsor anti-choice legislation in the House. The bill would ban all abortions “unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of forcible rape or incest.”
Last week, during the Akin fiasco, Ryan clammed up when he was asked to explain the term “forcible” rape in relation to other rapes.
“Rape is rape,” he said over and over in the tone of a constipated macaw.
Like Akin, Ryan doesn’t really believe rape is rape. He and many anti-abortionists favor a narrow definition of the crime. For example, they think statutory rape involving teens is different, and that pregnancies resulting from those acts should not be terminated.
The philosophy is pure Akin and Ryan. They want to be in your bedroom, in your doctor’s office, in your church. Forget privacy. Forget personal decisions.
A 14-year-old girl who gets pressured into having sex with her boyfriend must have the baby. Same goes for a wife forced by threat to have sex with a violent husband. Same goes for any woman with a medical condition that makes pregnancy dangerous.
Meet your new Republican Party, hijacked by reactionaries.
Poor Mitt Romney. To placate the Bug-eyed Right, he has flip-flopped on so many issues that he’s got ideological whiplash.
He even put Ryan on the ticket to fire up the Tea Party and religious conservatives who are wary of his moderate past, and also of his Mormonism.
And what did Mitt get for all his trouble? Ten weeks before the election, the national debate has been diverted away from the sputtering economy to the emotional subject of women’s rights and free choice.
Romney’s mission at the convention is daunting. He must make a speech that shows he’s different from the Akins and Ryans while at the same time sucking up to the rabid factions whose votes he will need in November.
And this pivotal appearance will occur after four days in Tampa, of all places, where the rains of Isaac could chase the party faithful and morally upright into lurid dens of cheap champagne and pole dancers.
Sin, and Facebook fame, is only six feet away.
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)
(AP Photo/The Tampa Tribune, Chris Urso, Pool)