Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin has been appropriately pilloried over the past 24 hours for his amazing "legitimate rape" comments. And clearly that phrase and its potential electoral implications are alarming enough to other Republicans that numerous party leaders have strongly condemned his comments. But should we any longer be surprised? Isn't this what the Republican Party has come to? The litany of outrageous views and worse, of course, policy advocacy related to those outrageous views is staggering. This is a party populated by public officials who are witch-hunting, science-denying extremists, oozing contempt for those who are struggling to make ends meet and frothing mad at anyone who dares challenge the privileges of the already-privileged. It is now replete with officeholders who lie repeatedly in pursuit of their policy goals, bathe themselves in self-pity when they actually get called on their lies and proudly strut their staggering ignorance and contempt for the less well-off -- both badges of honor in the GOP.
It doesn't help, of course, that the lamestream media (there's one Palinism that should stick, if not in the manner in which she intends it) plays along with this ridiculous charade of a political party. The unbelievable defense offered by Politico's Dave Catanese -- that real problem is liberal meanies attacking Akin and shutting off the possibility of a "nuanced debate" about rape and pregnancy -- shows the depths of the pathology afflicting the fourth estate. It used to be a somewhat hyperbolic rendering of the nature of media coverage to say that, if someone spouted holocaust denial, for instance (or in Krugman's rendering, differing opinions on the shape of the planet) media balance would render them unable to deny the validity of that position. But Catanese's astounding comments represent a kind of apotheosis of such logic: if attacks on Akin's mind-numbingly moronic assertions can only be construed in partisan terms -- the necessary premise of Catanese's comments -- then there is no legitimate rejoinder to insisting that holocaust denial (or the earth being flat) be a valid part of our national conversation.
Akin, at least, didn't try to pull a Santorum -- he didn't try to argue that he really said "legitimately taped" or whatever. But what he said was no gaffe in the usual sense. He knows now that his statements may cost him politically, so he's backing off. But he meant what he said, even if he tries to deny it. He comes from an ecosystem with well-developed ideas about why it is that women who do get pregnant must have been asking for it, just as party leaders now believe -- incredibly -- that if a town is struck by natural disaster, it's their problem, not the government's. Akin's comment is no one-off -- any more than was Santorum's comment about "blah" people, or Kyl's "not-intended-to-be-a-factual-statement" classic, or the repeated venom about gays, the witch-hunting of Muslims in government, forced vaginal probes, death panels, the allegation that dozens of Congressional Democrats are members of the Communist Party, a deliberate effort to undermine the capacity of the government to function with minimal effectiveness in times of crisis, the President is a Kenyan socialist -- and so on and so forth. These are not the rantings and strivings of fringe crazies. They are the repeated statements and actions of party leaders -- members of Congress, candidates for president of the United States and other Republican luminaries and right-wing media elites.
As the former GOP staffer Mike Lofgren has detailed, the GOP is now a breeding ground for sheer lunacy, an "apocalyptic cult" many of whose leading lights are hell-bent on ensuring that those who endure misfortune have no one to blame but themselves (except, of course, for these elites' own well-placed buddies). I guess that now includes rape victims (and sorry, Akin's "apology" did not actually repudiate his underlying view of the issue). No, not every Republican officeholder believes this, of course. But a party that repeatedly traffics in the kind of contemptuous and hateful extremism that is now the GOP's calling card inevitably produces this kind of swill. Expect more of it, not less, as time goes by.