When Mike Huckabee’s radio show debuted in April, one of the ways Cumulus Media positioned his entry into the market was as a classier alternative to Rush Limbaugh. At the time, Limbaugh was in the midst of a controversy over his nasty attacks on then-Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, who he’d attacked for her testimony on coverage of contraception, and he looked like a viable target. As I noted at the time, “Cumulus Media’s seized that opportunity, telling stations that don’t have Limbaugh now and that might choose not to reup their contracts to carry him in the future, that in Huckabee, they’ve got a better alternative. The company’s distributed a list of 31 advertisers who have asked that their spots not be affiliated with any Limbaugh-related programming. And they’re pitching Huckabee’s show by telling stations it’ll offer ‘more conversation, less confrontation.'”
So there’s something rather astonishing about watching Limbaugh be more reasonable on a women’s health issue than Huckabee, as has been the case as both men have covered Rep. Todd Akin’s deplorable remarks about whether women can get pregnant as the result of rape. In the midst of peddling conspiracy theories about poll sampling and nailing down his pro-life bona fides, Limbaugh made a fairly good point on his show today: that comments like Akin’s are the result of a closed community reaching for any arguments they can make, no matter how specious, to convince listeners to of their position. He said:
So they sit around amongst themselves — I’m not being critical of ‘em; don’t misunderstand my choice of words or tone, and they try to think of ways to persuade other people who agree with them. So Akin goes on TV with Charles Jaco, which is mistake number one, but he goes on with Charles Jaco on local St. Louis TV. And this whole business of a woman’s body shuts down in rape, there’s no evidence for that. But this is the kind of thing that people who do nothing but talk amongst themselves will conjure up, a belief system like that, and they’ll grab on to anything they can to support what their empirical belief is because their ultimate aim is to save life.
Their ultimate aim is to protect the baby no matter what circumstance the conception occurs in. And I think that’s just who the guy is, but he doesn’t know how to explain it. He has no clue how to make his case for it. And so he hangs around people who are like-minded and they’ve devised this belief. He’s not the first guy to say this. I’ve had people tell me that a woman’s body shuts down in rape. There’s no evidence for this. I mean it’s absolutely absurd. This leads to the second problem. This is absurd. That belief that a woman’s body shuts down and the whole notion of “legitimate” “illegitimate” rape, that’s the thing that bothers me about it. That’s just absurd. It’s not intelligent.
Huckabee, by contrast, has doubled down in support of Akin. He’s given him space on his show for Akin to explain that he didn’t mean to promote ideas with precisely no scientific basis—he just mean to communicate that sometimes women lie about being sexually assaulted. Huckabee’s continued to flog the junk scientific claims of Dr. John Willke, the physician who’s backed up Akin’s claims, and whose fitness to handle women’s health issues I dearly hope is under investigation by the relevant credentialing organizations. And most horrifyingly, on Monday, he got on the air to guilt women who have become pregnant as the result of rape about carrying those pregnancies to term:
“Ethel Waters, for example, was the result of a forcible rape,” Huckabee said of the late American gospel singer. One-time presidential candidate Huckabee added: “I used to work for James Robison back in the 1970s, he leads a large Christian organization. He, himself, was the result of a forcible rape. And so I know it happens, and yet even from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things.”
There’s no question that for some women, choosing to keep a child in the aftermath of a sexual assault can be a powerfully affirming decision, as it was for Shauna Prewitt, who writes about her daughter in a powerful rebuttal to Akin posted on XOJane today. But just like abortion, that’s a profoundly personal decision for a woman to make that should be influenced solely by her beliefs about what would be best for her physically and mentally, rather than by the suggestion that if she chooses to terminate a pregnancy that’s the result of rape, she’s doing a wrong to society at large. Not to mention the fact Prewitt points out, that rapists retain parental and visitation rights in many states, and giving birth to a child conceived in an assault could force a woman to have ongoing contact with her attacker. It would be interesting to see what both Akin and Huckabee, both vigorous advocates of two-parent, heterosexual-led households have to say about that element of raising children who are the product of rape.
Conversation, Huckabee-style, it turns out, can be a way to mask in niceness ideas that are even nastier than those revealed by Limbaugh-style confrontation.