Gaffes We Can Believe In

I wish there were more people in public life like Richard Mourdock.

In case you missed it, Mourdock is the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Indiana, having defeated six-term incumbent Richard Lugar in the GOP primary in May.  In a recent debate against Democrat Joe Donnelly, Mourdock responded to a question about his abortion views by stating, “Life is a gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

To the surprise of no one, Mourdock’s comments engendered something of a brouhaha, with folks on both the red team and the blue team behaving more or less as you would expect.  Democrats strung together attack ads in the hope of conflating Mourdock with Mitt Romney, while Republicans distanced themselves from Mourdock’s comments, if not Mourdock himself.

In some ways, of course, this latest abortion-related electoral kerfuffle mirrors the one generated in August by Todd Akin, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, who suggested (erroneously) that it is biologically impossible for a woman to become pregnant from being raped.

What interests me is that in both cases, there has been real confusion about what, exactly, Republicans were distancing themselves from.

Allow me to quote an excerpt from the 2012 Republican Party Platform:  “[W]e assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

This is not an equivocating policy p0sition.  It states boldly and clearly the official GOP stance on abortion, which is that the practice ought to be prohibited in all cases.  Period, full stop.

This being the case, it is curious how every time an actual Republican affirms this view in public, he is roundly filleted not just by his adversaries, but his fellow travelers as well.

The journalist Michael Kinsley famously defined a “gaffe” in politics as “when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

If Mourdock’s abortion view does not fit this definition perfectly—we might argue whether there is anything “obvious” about it—it is very much in the spirit of the sentiment that a politician is never made more vulnerable than in saying what he truly believes in plain, unambiguous language.  For this—if only for this—Mourdock is to be commended.

However, we are not done with him, as we have still to wrestle with the substance and implications of those very words.

In her most recent New York Times column, Gail Collins rightly observes, “If you believe life begins at conception, then that’s a life, and you should try to convince women not to terminate any pregnancy, no matter what the cause.  Our difference of opinion is over whether you can impose your beliefs with the threat of cops and penitentiaries.”

On this point, I need only add that Mourdock has done his potential constituents a service by making it clear that, in electing him, they would be installing as their representative a person who very much would like to impose his beliefs on life and death upon everyone else.  What could be fairer than that?

It is every other Republican—those who supposedly differ with Mourdock on this matter—who have the explaining to do.  After all, if one is to bestow “personhood” on a fetus from the moment of conception, it becomes very difficult to then issue exceptions.  By not doing so, Mourdock’s crime was political, not logical.

What I have not addressed is whether his views are moral.  There has been much talk that they, along with the Republican Party’s abortion stance in general, are “extreme.”  I hazard to say that I will leave such judgments in the safe keeping of the good people of Indiana.

The point is that voters need to know what they’re voting for.  Nancy Pelosi has been going around the country reminding everyone that issues, not just individuals, are on the ballot this year.  (I’m not aware of an election in which this was not the case, but the point is taken.)  George W. Bush’s entire case for re-election in 2004 rested on his (largely true) appeal, “You know what I believe and where I stand.”

With these two considerations in mind, I humbly request that this year’s candidates meet the voters halfway, following Richard Mourdock’s lead by stating, in no uncertain terms, who they are and what they think.

My advice to these pols:  Gaffe early and often.


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