Whenever politics gets stranger than fiction — say, when a grown man talks about things like “legitimate rape” and a woman’s magical sperm zapper — I can’t help but wonder about behind-the-scenes conversations that no one covers.
Take the Todd Akin debacle, for example. He’s the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.
Last Sunday, he sat down in a St. Louis television studio equipped with a running camera and working microphones. Nevertheless, he proceeded to have this exchange with reporter Charles Jaco, who asked Akin to explain why he opposed abortion in the case of rape.
AKIN: “Well, you know, people always want to make that one of those things, well, how do ya, how do ya, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question? It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that may that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be in the rapist and not attacking the child.”
JACO: “OK. Let’s move to the economy.”
OK — let’s move to what?
You’ll notice I added no ellipsis between Akin’s comment and Jaco’s response. That’s because the only thing missing in this exchange is the common sense God gave a goose.
Here’s what I want to believe: Somewhere in that studio, a producer was screaming in Jaco’s little ear-thingee, “Jaco! JACO! Did you hear what he just said? Ask him what he means by ‘legitimate rape.’ Ask him what doctor on planet Earth told him a woman’s body can zap away sperm. For cryin’ out loud, ask him anything that indicates you were actually listening to what he said.”
Surely, a producer, cameraman or even an intern tried to jolt Jaco awake, but the effort was lost to a technical glitch. That’s what I want to imagine, anyway. Instead, I keep seeing that table in the back of the bar. It’s full of high-fiving, right-wing consultants cackling over another member of the mainstream media failed to challenge a ludicrous Republican claim.
“Works every time, man,” one of them shouts as the others laugh. “Just have to keep make ’em scared to death that we’ll call their editors and accuse ’em of liberal bias.”
Something else I’m wondering: How did Mitt Romney go from counseling Akin on Monday to “correct” his statements to demanding on Tuesday that he resign?
I imagine a series of huddles with staffers.
SENIOR AIDE: “Guv’nor, you’re gonna have to distance yourself from Akin.”
ROMNEY: “But we’re both pro-life.”
Roars of laughter, followed by dead silence.
AIDE: “Oh, sorry, Guv’nor, you were serious. Yes, sir, in this campaign, you are definitely pro-life. But you have to make it clear that your pro-life is better than his pro-life.”
Thus, Romney’s response to Akin’s comments, via National Review Online: “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive. I have an entirely different view. What he said is entirely without merit and he should correct it.”
The next day, five Missouri senators, past and present, and a boatload of other Republicans called for Akin to resign.
AIDE: “Guv’nor, everybody wants Akin to drop out.” (Deep breath) “And some people are saying Akin’s gonna hurt your campaign. You’re going to have to tell him to get out of the race.”
ROMNEY: “You mean change my position, just to keep votes?”
The staff members look at the ground, shuffle their feet.
AIDE: “Last time, Guv’nor. I promise.”
Romney’s statement on Tuesday: “As I said yesterday, Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong, and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country. Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”
That same day, a GOP committee outlined the party platform that includes anti-abortion language, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
AIDE: “Guv’nor, it looks like the Republican Party isn’t going to make any exception for rape or incest.”
ROMNEY: “But I support those exceptions.”
AIDE: “Yeah, but don’t worry. The RNC said the platform, and I’m reading now, ‘reflects the views of the grassroots leaders of the Republican Party.'”
ROMNEY: “But I’m the leader of the Republican Party.”
Roaring laughter, followed by dead silence.
AIDE: “Oh, wow, again. Sorry, Guv’nor. We thought you were joking.”
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.