Romney on the rocks over rape ahead of the convention
The economic news in America is unpleasant.
The Pew Research Centre has just published data illustrating that for the first time since the Second World America’s dwindling middle class ended the decade worse off than it started, by a jaw dropping 30 percent if you measure wealth and not just income. There are fears a double dip recession. The Euro is snivelling menacingly in the wings.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presumptive nominee should be lapping up this bad news which – presumably – bolsters his main argument for replacing Barack Obama in the White House as a more competent custodian of the economy.
And yet the Grand Old Party and indeed most of the media is busy discussing “the legitimacy” of rape and the circumstances for abortion.
America’s most senior Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Timothy Dolan will give a televised benediction at next week’s Republican Convention in Florida. Dolan’s spokesman, for the record, insists that his appearance on a giant screen is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney. Really?
But the Cardinal also happens to be suing the Obama administration over their healthcare reform because it obliges school and hospitals, even those that could theoretically be linked to the Catholic Church to provide free abortions and birth control. In other words if you closed your eyes and just listened to the debate you could be excused for having got into a time machine and accidentally hit the reverse button to, say, the 1950s.
The ill judged, offensive remarks made on Sunday by Todd Akin, the Missouri Congressman who was on course to becoming a US Senator from Missouri have kicked a hornet’s nest that has Only in America written all over it.
First there is the outrage felt by millions of women. As the powerful open letter by Shauna Prewitt shows, rape is both extremely personal, painful and yet has consequences that are not always predictable. Shauna decided to keep her baby. Being pregnant made her feel “alive” again. Eventually. After untold pain and agony.
Lest Congressman Akin or indeed Cardinal Dolan should be tempted to think that this proves their point, they had better read her letter. It is sobering stuff.
Secondly there are the political ramifications of the Akin saga. His refusal to stand aside despite arm twisting from the grandees of the GOP illustrates the split that has foxed its ranks ever since the emergence of the Tea Party.
The Republicans are torn apart by an ongoing battle between the Establishment of this most established of parties and its popular insurgence. Whether they are fiscal, social or evolutionary conservatives Tea party folks hate being told what to think and how to vote. Many of them support Akin just because he has been mauled by the men in grey suits. That’s why he is still in the race.
For once it is the Republicans not the Democrats who are caught between their principles and their thirst for power.
The presence of people like Todd Akin and his vocal supporters has made the usual ideological fudges, which are unavoidable in as broad a church as the Republican Party, much less forthcoming.
They have also shone an uncomfortable light on the Republican manifesto, a document which is usually both celebrated and unread at Conventions. There it states, as it has done in the last two Conventions that the party does not think abortion should be allowed even in circumstances of incest and rape.
This is a position staunchly supported by Paul Ryan, the Congressman who has been chosen to run alongside Mitt Romney and whose principal task it is to echo his boss’s every thought and word. The problem is that Mitt is on record for having said that there are indeed circumstances like rape and incest when abortion should be permitted. So once again the question arises what does Mitt really think? I mean REALLY.
Despite all the collateral noise it is hard to see how this will pan out politically. If female voters are disgusted they may swing to the Obama camp in even greater numbers. Since women vote in larger numbers than men that would be bad news. It was this worry that led John McCain to chose Sarah Palin as a running mate. In haste and in desperation. We all know how that ended.
If the Republicans now lose Missouri’s Senate seat that will make it even harder for them to wrench a majority from the Democrats in the US Senate. I love the fact that the only Senator urging Todd Akin to stay in the race and not dismiss the wishes of his supporters is his female Democrat opponent who now stands a chance of winning.
All this could make the Tampa Convention messy and interesting, which is exactly what no party wants a Convention to be.
But then it is the end of August. A hurricane called Isaac is barrelling towards the Gulf of Mexico. It could soak the Tampa Convention forcing it to flee to drier higher land. It would be a disaster for the organisers for sure. The question is whether it would create a welcome distraction from the Romney campaign’s inconsistencies or an unwelcome metaphor for its shambles.
The Obama camp is sniggering from the sidelines hoping that no one will pay too much attention to the hard numbers of the economy.