Rep. Todd Akin's fame — more accurately, his infamy — now reaches all the way to the Congo.
There, Eve Ensler, the award-winning American author of "The Vagina Monologues" and herself a survivor of rape, wrote an open letter castigating last week's suggestion by the Republican congressman that when a woman is a victim of "legitimate rape," her body has means of preventing pregnancy. As it happens, Ms. Ensler is in the Congo working to help some of the thousands of women raped in the fighting there. She called Mr. Akin's words "ignorant."
Nor is hers the only voice of international opprobrium. Criticism of the Missouri lawmaker has rung from such far points as London ("shamefully inaccurate"), Belfast ("profoundly offensive") and Paris ("medieval"). A writer in Australia dubbed Mr. Akin a "boofhead" — apparently, not a compliment. All this, plus domestic denunciation, including sharp criticisms from his own party.
Mr. Akin, make no mistake, richly earned every ounce of contempt that now rains upon his head. What he told KTVI-TV, the Fox affiliate in. St. Louis, manages to combine repulsiveness ("Legitimate rape?" As opposed, one supposes, to the rapes where "she brought it on herself"?) and remarkable ignorance (Does he really think the uterus is equipped with a force field?) into one appallingly malodorous ball of stupid. Naturally, given his grasp of biology, Mr. Akin sits on the House Science Committee.
Yes, you read right. You can't make this stuff up.
Still, this is not about one congressman's need for sensitivity training and remedial science. Akin is hardly unique, after all. To the contrary, he is just the latest vivid example of conservatism's unrelenting hostility toward women's reproductive rights — as in a Texas judge who just upheld the state's ban on Planned Parenthood. Indeed, even as this controversy was simmering, the GOP unveiled a proposed platform plank calling for a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. It's a plank Mr. Akin himself could have written.
But he is emblematic of more than hardcore opposition to abortion. In him, one also senses the juvenile discomfort with which some male conservatives are afflicted at the merest suggestion of female sexuality. Think then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, piously covering the breasts of the "Spirit of Justice" statue at the Department of Justice. Think then-Rep. Tom Coburn decrying the "full-frontal nudity" of a movie broadcast on network television — the movie being "Schindler's List," the nudes being doomed European Jews. Think Republicans banning Rep. Lisa Brown from speaking in the Michigan State House for using the word "vagina" — as opposed, perhaps, to "lady parts," "third base" or "tunnel of love." Think Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut because she has, presumably, on occasion had sex.
It's the kind of behavior one associates with a locker room full of adolescent boys, waiting for their faces to clear up and their voices to change. But these are men. Worse, they are men who are judged competent to make, interpret or influence laws impacting the most intimate decisions a woman can make.
Including, for example, whether she must have a probe stuck up her "lady parts" before being allowed to terminate a pregnancy.
The temptation is to view Mr. Akin's gaffe in isolation. But there is a pattern here. In his antipathy to abortion and his childish grasp of reproductive science, Mr. Akin personifies much of the GOP, increasingly an extremist sect from which moderation has been banished.
He has said he just "misspoke," but that is disingenuous, as is, frankly, much of the criticism from within his party. Their problem and his is not that he misspoke.
It's that he spoke all too clearly.
Leonard Pitts lives in Maryland and is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.