Monday, November 12, 2012

Which Way the Republicans?

The Republican party seems to have shot itself in the foot this time in at least two ways. The big one was positioning itself as more anti-immigrant than the Democrats,  pushing the Hispanic vote, which on other grounds ought to be largely Republican, over to the other side. One of the few things that Bush got right in my view,  at least more nearly right than the rest of his party, was immigration.

The other mistake was having two senatorial candidates sufficiently inexperienced, or poorly advised, or insensitive to connotations of language, to make statements that could be viewed as condoning rape. 

Quite a lot of people would put the matter more strongly than that, but I think they are mistaken. If you actually look at what Todd Akin said, it demonstrated nothing worse than ignorance of human biology. And there was a reason for the mistake—arguably a creditable reason. Akin was both a committed opponent of abortion and a sufficiently decent human being to be unhappy with the idea of a woman having to bear a child conceived by rape. He solved the problem by believing the claim, apparently originated by a physician on his side of the abortion controversy, that a woman who was raped would not get pregnant. The belief is false, but not entirely absurd—I gather that a pregnant rabbit can, under some circumstances, reabsorb the fetuses. And it is a very convenient belief for someone in Akin's position. 

There is no good reason to expect senatorial candidates to know much about biology. And the pattern of imagining away conflicts between the policies you support and the consequences you want is hardly unique to him. Think of all the people who claim, and presumably believe, that cap and trade or subsidies to renewable energy will not only reduce CO2 output but create jobs and save money, or the supporters of farm bills who like to believe that they help not only the farmers but the rest of us as well.

Akin's other mistake was the term "legitimate rape." It was easy to interpret that as implying that some rape is legitimate—acceptable. But it was clear in context that what he meant was rape that is really rape, rather than consensual sex mislabeled rape; it was not the act he was describing as legitimate but the label. 

There is quite a lot of "rape" that in that sense is not legitimate—when a seventeen year old sleeps with his fifteen year old girlfriend, for instance, in a state that classifies that act as statutory rape. His mistake was failing to filter out of his response to a question words that could readily be misinterpreted—and, predictably, would be.

Richard Mourdock, the other senator who got caught up in the rape controversy, was not even guilty of a mistake, unless one is willing to classify religion as a mistake—a defensible position, but not one that many in politics are willing to take. For those who believe in an omnipotent God, there is an obvious problem—how to explain bad things happening. The simplest solution, although not the only possible one, is to believe that even bad things are somehow part of God's plan. It was for saying that, in the emotionally loaded context of rape, that Mourdock got in political trouble.

Aside from those two errors and some mess ups in the mechanics of getting out the vote, it is not clear to me what the Republicans got wrong or why they lost. There are a variety of issues on which they could and, in my view, should have taken a different position, such as foreign policy, military expenditure, or the war on drugs. But I have no particular opinion as to whether doing so would have gained votes or lost them.

Which long prelude leads into the real subject of this essay—the future of the Republican party. Currently it is an alliance of several quite different  factions, united mostly by the desire to elect candidates. It is possible that that situation will continue—but less likely as a result of the recent defeat in the presidential election. If not, there will either be a civil war within the party, with different factions trying to take over, or a new compromise, probably brokered by the professionals at the top and sold to as much of the existing membership as possible.

What are the factions, what policies are important to them, where are there irresolvable conflicts?

The faction I am closest to is the libertarian faction identified with Ron Paul. Its policies include opposition to aggressive foreign policy and the resulting wars, support for ending or at least scaling back the war on drugs, and support for actual reductions in federal spending—as opposed to the reductions in the rate of growth of spending which are what everyone else means by spending cuts. Insofar as it has a view on issues such as gay marriage or abortion it tends to be the opposite of the current position of the Republican party, although those issues did not play a large role in Ron Paul's campaign for the nomination. He himself is anti-abortion, although he mostly qualified that view by arguing that the question should be dealt with at the state rather than the federal level.

A faction close to that one but not identical is the Tea Party. Its central policy is holding down government spending and the deficit. Membership appears to include both  libertarians and social conservatives. 

The social conservatives are a third faction, and the one that ended up playing a dominant role in the primary campaign—with the result that the winner of that campaign had to rapidly reverse course once he was nominated, in order to get closer to the political center. Social conservatives have no particular reason to be for or against an aggressive foreign policy, are likely but not certain to support the war on drugs, are hostile to abortion and to gay marriage—although one might argue that their support for marriage ought to outweigh their disapproval of homosexuality. Their ideology has no obvious implications for the level of federal spending, so long as the money isn't spent on things they disapprove of. 

The fourth faction is the neo-conservatives. My guess is that they are the smallest of the four judged by numbers but play a major role in the party leadership. They are strongly in favor of an aggressive foreign policy and war when necessary to implement it. They are, as a result, hostile to cuts in defense spending, and so less likely to support reductions in overall spending than any of the other three groups, especially the first two.

If this rough typology of the factions is correct, what plausible coalitions might form over the next few years?

The easy one is a coalition of the libertarians and the tea party, since both agree on the central policy of the latter, reducing government spending and the deficit, and the tea party has no policy on other issues the libertarians care about. One way of reducing government spending is by a less aggressive foreign policy, requiring a smaller military, so Tea Party Republicans ought to be at least somewhat sympathetic to the libertarian position on foreign policy.

A coalition of social conservatives and neo-conservatives is less plausible, since they have nothing much in common, but at least there are no major issues on which their positions are directly opposed. Much the same is true for a coalition of social conservatives and the Tea Party.

I think that exhausts the possibilities for coalitions without serious internal conflicts. Neo-conservative support for a strong military and the foreign policy that requires it is directly contrary to the position of the libertarians and at least partly in conflict with the Tea Party, since expanding one major part of the budget makes it harder to reduce the total. Social conservative opposition to legal abortion and gay marriage conflicts with libertarian views on those issues, and social conservatives are unlikely to support libertarian calls for legalizing (at least) marijuana.

One possibility is for the party to split—but it is hard to see how any of the two-faction coalitions I have described could get enough votes to win a national election, unless it could somehow pull a substantial number of voters out of the democratic coalition. A Tea Party/Libertarian coalition could conceivably attract voters in favor of legalized marijuana, a position favored by a substantial number of Democrats, but I doubt that would be sufficient. Adding support for some way of making illegal immigrants legal might do it—but might also drive out some of the Tea Party faction. A coalition of neo-conservatives and social conservatives looks even less hopeful, at least as long as the Democrats continue to support an aggressive foreign policy.

The closest to a workable restructuring of the party I can come up with would be one that dropped the neo-conservatives, probably the smallest faction, downplayed the conflicts between libertarians and social conservatives, and emphasized spending reduction and associated shifts in foreign policy. 

One alternative, given the American political system, is a national coalition of regional parties sharing a common name and not much else. That, after all, is what the Democratic party was for a long time. But I still find it hard to see what, beyond the desire to elect a president, the neoconservatives would have in common with the other three factions sufficient to make the alliance worth the while of either side. And it is hard to imagine a presidential candidate who would appeal to both anti-war libertarians and neo-conservatives.

Another alternative is for one coalition to control the party and hope that the others will stay in despite not being given much beyond crumbs. That is what happened this time, with neo-conservatives and social conservatives getting their preferred policy positions and conceding to the other two nothing much beyond the promise to increase federal spending a little more slowly than the Democrats. If the efforts of the Ron Paul people to take over state party organizations turn out to have succeeded, we might get a rerun of that with the roles reversed. I am not sure what reason neo-conservatives would have to stay in a party dominated by libertarians and the Tea Party, given the alternative of supporting a Democratic party with an aggressive foreign policy, but at least the social conservatives, having nowhere better to go, might remain out of inertia. And some of the anti-war left might finally let the reality of the current administration's policy overcome their ideological distaste for Republicans. 

The most interesting alternative would be some restructuring that tore both parties apart, forming new coalitions out of the pieces. Foreign policy is one issue that could do that, drug policy another. No others occur to me, but perhaps readers can offer suggestions.

P.S. (added later) It occurs to me that I ought to tie the end of this essay back to the beginning. Both of the problems I listed come from the social conservative faction—at least, I cannot think of any reason why the other three should be especially hostile to immigration. On the other hand, reducing the coalition to two factions doesn't look like a viable strategy. Perhaps the best option is to point out to the social conservatives that Mexican immigrants are rather more religious and more socially conservative than the current population, so should be welcomed—and persuade them to be more careful about how they defend their position on abortion.


dWj said...

"neo-conservatives and social conservatives getting their preferred policy positions and conceding to the other two nothing much beyond the promise to increase federal spending a little more slowly than the Democrats."

This may have been, in part, a function of the opponent. Against Obama the neo-conservatives, in particular, may have had the greatest willingness to defect from the coalition.

Anonymous said...

Neo conservatives should not be classified as a sub party of the larger republican whole. Rather it is a way of looking at the world. Many people who hold neocon views on foreign affairs ascribe to JSM style classical liberalism. I personally think the most likely outcome of the restructuring depends entirely on what Obama does in his second term, and the outcome of those policies. If they are not good, aren't effective, then it will not matter if any such lead is taken. There may be a 2008esque landslide in the election for Republicans. If they are reasonably well supported I, like you, see a number of possibilities.

Gordon said...

David, a few quibbles. There might indeed be no *good* reason for senatorial candidates to know much about biology, but, as long is there is a Senate Science Committee, it would be better if its members knew something about generally accepted science, even if they personally reject the consensus. Second, there is something more of a relationship between neo-cons and social conservatives than you suggest with regard to foreign policy, at least regarding those social conservatives who identify as evangelicals. Both groups place great emphasis on support for the State of Israel come what may. Indeed, in my experience, social conservatives generally were very taken by Romney's "apology-tour" claims about Obama's foreign policy, and I think this suggests a more natural alliance between them and the neo-cons than your analysis implies. Third, although you do touch on this, the pivot (indeed, almost an about-face) that Romeny had to do after the primary did not contribute to his credibility ("They call him Flipper, Flipper!"), at least among voters who had paid attention throughout the entire campaign. Arguably, that was not, however, all that many voters.

Fred Mangels said...

I get the impression at least some here are not considering the "fraternal" partisan Republicans that are with the party regardless of most issues. I know at least a couple Republican bigwigs in my county that can hardly discuss any issue without having to check with others first.

But more to the point, I've felt for some time the Republicans would be much more accepted, especially in California, if they simply adopted the libertarian standard of social tolerance.

They have to get away from their obsession with homosexuals, abortion and drugs. I'd suggest they might also have won the White House this time around if they'd nominated someone who could even remotely have been considered a "peace candidate".

The problem is, their obsession with moral issues and their propensity to support military action ensures a decent candidate won't make it past the nominating process.

Anonymous said...

You are drastically underestimating the support for heavy military spending by all factions except yours. Safety and security through military strength is part of the mindset of virtually all non-libertarian conservatives, regardless of the costs involved.

Fred Mangels said...

As an aside, some years ago we had what I thought was a good example of how a Republican being socially tolerant can get them places, although in this instance, he blew it:

In the almost 40 years I've lived in Humboldt County we've never had a Republican elected to state assembly. Some years ago we had one come close.

Rob Brown sits (I believe still does)on the Board of Supervisors of Lake County. He ran for state assembly. As I watched his campaign I felt he was probably a closet libertarian; fiscally responsible, yet making no bones about believing the war on marijuana was a waste. I thought him the perfect candidate for the area and I recall polls showed him close in the running with his Democrat opponent.

I couldn't believe it when a week or two before the election his campaign released a statement- obviously encouraged by the local religious right- that he supported Prop 22. That was the anti- gay marriage initiative from back then.

There was no reason to send out a statement like that as it hadn't been an issue in the campaign. It just came out of the blue. I questioned whether Brown really cared about Prop 22 himself. It seemed more along the lines of something to get out the vote amongst the religious right Republicans in the district.

Brown surprised most everyone when the votes were counted and he ended up closer than any Republican had to beating a Democrat for state assembly in this district. No way of saying for sure, but I had to wonder if his Prop 22 statement actually had something to do with his loss? Up until then he'd come off as a very socially tolerant guy.

jimbino said...

I agree with Gordon that it's crazy not to expect our legislators and justices to be far more sophisticated in math and science, especially considering that the UK and Germany have recently been well led by PhD scientists.

As far as the future of the Republican Party goes, I think you ignore three other salient fractures.

One is the federalism (states-rights) question of whether to strip the feds of powers exceeding their Constitutional ones of defending the borders, national defense, delivering the mail and regulating maritime commerce while devolving powers over health care, education, gay rights, marijuana rules, to the states.

Another is the abortion question: there are even libertarians who align with the Democrats and some who are pro-life.

Another is the religion question: there are secularists among the Republicans who can't stomach the religionism of the Evangelicals and Catholics and, of course, Evangelicals and Catholics who want Republicans to pray more and fiddle with rosaries.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Akin's statement about rape and pregnancy was a convenient thing for someone in his position to believe, but I don't think it comes from "a physician on his side of the abortion controversy," but rather from a centuries-old belief that pregnancy can occur only when "the woman enjoys it," with the implication that if she got pregnant, she must have enjoyed it, so it's not really rape. (I've heard this belief traced to "medieval Europe", but I don't have an actual citation, so take that with a pound of salt.) It is indeed a "convenient" belief for people who consider any sexual activity to be a blemish on the moral character of the woman involved.

There is no good reason to expect senatorial candidates to know much about biology.

Not to be experts in biology, but you'd think they would know what is (or should be) taught in every high school sex-ed class.

Richard Mourdock, the other senator who got caught up in the rape controversy, was not even guilty of a mistake, unless one is willing to classify religion as a mistake

Yes, I think Mourdock is the more principled of the two, and both of them used unfortunate wording. But Mourdock lost his election for holding opinions out of step with those of the mainstream electorate -- which is the best possible reason for anyone to lose an election.

Aside from those two errors and some mess ups in the mechanics of getting out the vote, it is not clear to me what the Republicans got wrong or why they lost.

Well, the candidate at the top of the ticket (as you point out) was forced to take moderate views to get elected Governor of Massachusetts, then very socially-conservative views to get the party nomination, then moderate views again to run in the general election, which made him look opportunistic and insincere. Since Republican voters often rank "personal character" highly in their voting criteria, this cost him the Republican base.

And anything that hurts the top of the ticket hurts the rest of the ticket.

But Akin and Mourdock were far from the only Republicans who seemed disconnected from reality. There are plenty who don't believe global warming is happening at all (as opposed to believing that it's happening, but the costs of preventing it may outweigh the costs of allowing it). There are plenty who don't believe Barack Obama was born in the U.S., or that he's a Christian. There are plenty who don't believe evolution happens through natural selection. There are plenty who still believe Saddam Hussein had a large stockpile, and an active development program, of WMD's before we overthrew him. There are plenty who believe that tax cuts actually reduce deficits. And there are plenty of intelligent, educated Party bigwigs who refused to believe any poll that didn't show them winning this election.

It could also have something to do with the all-or-nothing behavior of recently-elected Tea Party candidates, in many cases replacing moderate, rational Republicans who were capable of spelling the word "compromise".

Anonymous said...

Another faction missing from your analysis: the "pro-business" Republicans. These agree with the libertarian faction about deregulation and reducing taxes, but are more likely to favor protectionist trade policies and active government involvement in helping businesses, whether through industrial espionage, immunization from lawsuits, no-bid government contracts, or bailouts.

I think this faction has actually dominated the party for the last thirty years or more, producing candidates such as the Bushes and Romney, and harnessing the social-conservatives and libertarians for their votes while not actually addressing their issues except during the few months leading to an election.

(Yes, I know Romney opposed the auto-industry bailout, but I think the rest of his record puts him firmly into this camp.)

David Friedman said...

On the "knowledge of biology" question, I think several posters are vastly overestimating the intellectual sophistication of professional politicians. They are experts at getting elected and using political power to get re-elected, and most of them are pretty good at faking the rest.

The clearest example is our current VP. Believing that FDR was president at the time of the stock market crash and went on nationwide TV to speak to the people demonstrates an ignorance of history a good deal larger than Akin's ignorance of biology, and history, especially political history, is something politicians have more reason to know than biology.

Does it follow that Biden is clearly unqualified to be a VP or senator? I don't think so.

jimbino said...


You think that politicians' ignorance of math and science is typical and not a problem, seeing that their main focus is to get elected.

How would you explain the math, science and foreign-language ignorance of the Supreme Court (excluding Breyer)?

Benjamin. said...

Really, David? Going to buy this whole idea that Republicans are just racists that hate Mexicans? I'm quite certain that it just has to do with conservatives being very legalistic in how they want government to play out. If a person immigrates illegally, they want that recognized.
Otherwise there would be little point in making it illegal.

Perhaps a more rational solution would be to make it much easier to immigrate.

astrolabio said...

kick out neocons and take pacifists instead, on the other issues the parts can agree on following the costitution and leave the controversies at the state level.

Max said...

With several close elections in a row, the parties are evidently very well positioned already. Well, it could be just chance. But it looks to me like the parties are doing a good job of maintaining a 50/50 equilibrium.

RKN said...

You are far too generous with regard to Akin's gaffe. One is not stupid and foolish to be ignorant of human biology, but demonstrating that ignorance on national television in the context of a sensitive issue, especially one for women, especially when you are running for office, is.

My $0.02: So long as Republicans continue to court the religious right, remain hawkish and jingoistic in their foreign policy, and not promise voters they will continue to benefit in one way or another from government's largesse, their support will continue to dry up.

David Friedman said...


Making it much easier to immigrate would be a desirable policy, but neither party seems to be in favor of it. There remains the question of what to do with a large number of people who are already here.

BerserkRL said...

It was easy to interpret that as implying that some rape is legitimate—acceptable.

I don't think the controversy over the term was misunderstanding him that way at all. We all understood that he meant "genuine." But taken in conjunction with the medical claim, he was essentially saying that the thousands of women who get pregnant from rape every year are liars and not genuinely raped. Hardly surprising that this should generate controversy.

David Friedman said...


I didn't say that the ignorance of politicians wasn't (or was) a problem, I said it wasn't surprising. Neither is the scientific ignorance of some judges. Most Americans, even most intelligent educated Americans, are ignorant about quite a lot of things, although which things they are ignorance about varies from person to person.

Judging by my observation of law professors, legal scholars of my age or older tend to have very limited knowledge of math or science, although there are, of course, some notable exceptions. That's much less true of younger professors.

Laird said...

Any restructuring of the Republican Party (along the lines you propose or otherwise) would necessarily eliminate some group from the coalition. Unless it simultaneously attracted an equal or larger group from other parties it would be a net loss, and would thus do nothing to help Republicans get elected at the national level.

The fundamental problem is that the Democrats have done a far better job of attracting and holding together their coalition than have the Republicans. In other words, they are much better at pandering. The Democratic coalition of the youth vote, minorities (including Hispanics, the largest-growing cohort), labor unions (especially the public employee unions), those dependent upon governmental largesse (which includes not only welfare and Social Security recipients but also crony capitalists, defense contractors and Wall Street bankers), plus a few unrepentant marxists and socialists, seems unbreakable. Fiddling at the margins is meaningless; why would anyone switch to the Republicans over the issue of, say, gay marriage, when the Democrats already own that position?

The only thing which is going to fundamentally change the status quo is an event of the magnitude of the Great Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal, which saw blacks leave the Republican Party, of which they had been stalwart supporters for 80 years, in favor of the Democrats. Absent such an event I don't see anything at the national level which should give the Republicans any hope. They are doomed to be a permanent minority opposition party for the foreseeable future. They're strong enough at the state level to keep control of the House, and they just have to hope that they can retain enough Senate seats to maintain their filibuster over especially onerous bills and appointments.

Rebecca Friedman said...

What -about- immigration? That's someplace where the democrats aren't throwing (some of) their people a bone. Labor unions mean they can't support it, but if the Democrats tend to have former immigrants, I would expect said people to be sympathetic to easier immigration. Why couldn't the Republicans, for example, court -that- vote?

What part of their coalition is opposed? (Not being rhetorical - serious question here.)

The Democrats have - have to have - people who aren't getting much, too. Is there some reason to assume the Republicans can't offer any of them anything?

jdgalt said...

I see the conflict within the GOP as a three-cornered one -- the same groups you cited except the "Tea Party", which is (or was?) nothing more than an alliance of convenience between libertarians and some of the more flexible social conservatives, aimed at taking control of the party away from its old-time social-conservative leadership.

The "Tea Partiers'" attempt at a hostile takeover was pretty thoroughly thwarted by the rules changes at the GOP convention (though enough unfairness took place there that I wonder if some of the losers will be able to overturn the results in court). But it seems to me that libertarians can win another way -- by showing the GOP leadership that they can sway a large block of votes toward or away from the GOP depending on the nominee. But for that to work, Gary Johnson would have to have polled quite a bit better than he did, say 3%.

My feeling is that the libertarians should think twice about continuing this alliance if the conservatives in it won't commit to following that strategy.

Joey said...

With regard to the Akin rape comments, I think I can interpret it in a more plausible (and generous) way:

Akin was under the impression that conception is less likely when a woman is under duress. Biologically speaking, it's a pretty good bet that female animals have evolved some response to this effect.

Whether this is true for humans, I don't know.
Any thoughts?

RKN said...

@Joe Milller

Reproductive biology is not my area of expertise, yet I'd be mildy surprised to hear that prepartum duress in lower primates could cause miscarriage. In any case, I seriously doubt Akin would ever cite an evolutionary argument as a basis for his supposed belief.

jimbino said...


You say:

"Most Americans, even most intelligent educated Americans, are ignorant about quite a lot of things, although which things they are ignorance about varies from person to person.

Judging by my observation of law professors, legal scholars of my age or older tend to have very limited knowledge of math or science, although there are, of course, some notable exceptions."

I know that patent attorneys have to have shown some sophistication in math, science or economics, but, of course, we never see a patent attorney appointed to SCOTUS or elected to POTUS or COTUS.

Why is it that we Amerikans demand bottom-of-barrel educational performance of our elected and appointed officials?

The last president who mastered a foreign language, Teddy Roosevelt, served over 100 years ago, and in the past century only Hoover and Carter showed any mastery of math and science.

We are ruled by dolts when it comes to STEM and language skills. Damn, Germany is led by a multi-lingual woman PhD physicist!

Joey said...


For clarity's sake, we aren't lower primates. I'm not sure whether you were talking about humans or not. Either way, I would hardly be surprised if duress in any primate raised rates of miscarriage.

And I wasn't trying to argue that Akin had read up on the literature, but if true, that information may be more widely known than you expect. Especially to the physician whom he had talked to.

RKN said...

Evidently I was unclear.

I didn't mean humans are lower primates. I meant that I'd be mildly surprised to learn that duress -- specifically I meant to say psychological duress -- caused miscarriage in lower primates. I understood your comment to mean that if such a thing were possible in animals other than (lower than) humans, then perhaps the feature was conserved by way of evolution in humans. Curious, I did a brief literature search but nothing relevant came up.

And even if Akin had heard of such evidence in lower primates, doesn't it strike you as wildly unlikely he would use an argument from evolution to support his claim, given he is a self avowed born again Christian who had at age 33 pursued a divinity degree through the Prebytirian church, and who is on record as having said there should be less separation between God and State?

Personally, I am willing to suspend incredulity for only so long.

Incidentally, I'd expect it to be as or more likely that natural selection, being its only concern is reproductive success, would have long ago weeded out genes that produced inferior females who miscarried at the first sign of psychological duress.

cpwegener said...

Mr. Friedman-
I think you are missing the point about the opposition to a woman's freedom to choose.
Anyone who is morally or religiously opposed to the early termination of a pregnancy, regardless of the circumstances of the pregnancy, is free to carry the fetus to full term.
What people are not free to do is use their no doubt sincere beliefs to force another person to carry that person's pregnancy to full term.
This is slavery and is forbidden.
The only means that those who oppose abortion are free to choose is to convince everyone that all pregnancies need to be carried to full term. Requiring it by coercion or law is clearly not allowed by the constitution.

Anonymous said...

David, I agree with you. I don't care for either Akin or Mourdock's politics but I think they got a raw deal from the media, who made them look callous about rape by intentionally misinterpreting their comments.

In Akin's case, I don't know where he got the idea that a woman's body could shut down a forcible rape. However, the attacks on him for using the term "legitimate rape" are unfounded, since there really is a distinction to be made between rape (coerced sex) and statutory rape, which really ought to be called something else since it lacks the very thing that makes rape wrong: coercion.

Here's something I notice about the Mourdock's comment about God's will and other comments like it. It's perfectly fine, perhaps even mandatory, to tell voters you believe in God and the Bible.

However, it's apparently not OK to extrapolate new facts based on those very beliefs. As you mentioned, believers wonder why an omniscient God allows suffering. One explanation is that God works in mysterious ways and that there really is a purpose behind that suffering.

It may seem strange to think God would allow a rape to happen in order to create new life, but what else are we to conclude about an omniscient God?

The only reason that not all believers are tarred as Mourdock was is that most believers do not think through the implications of their beliefs. Or if they do, they keep quiet.

Joey said...


Ok, that's what I figured you meant. Haha, I would imagine that Akin wouldn't have understood it in the context of evolution, but if duress (and it doesn't have to be only psychological: by "legitimate" he probably meant "forcible" or "violent") can cause miscarriage in other animals, it may cause it in humans as well. And if it does, he might have heard about it, especially if he's grappling with the ethics of abortion.

Whether this trait would be selected for doesn't really have a simple answer. In species with many reproductive years, aborting one fetus to preserve the mother's health is not a large cost. Especially when the mother would have to carry the foetus for many months. Anyway, all I'm saying is that it's not a totally outrageous thing to believe. And I just quickly looked through the literature with regard to humans: it seems to be inconclusive either way.

Joey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joey said...


I don't think it's that simple. It is also consistent to argue that killing a foetus is murder, just like killing an infant is.

You gotta agree that it's a difficult issue.

RKN said...

I used psychological as an adjective for duress, not rape. Presumably the kind of duress women undergo when becoming pregnant as a result of a violent asssult (which is what rape is) versus consensusal sex. Of course, there are other kinds of physiological duress, but those have other, unrelated causes.

Face it, Akin pulled this psuedo scientific claim out of his ass during the interview. If he really believed it was true, or if he could find someone -- anyone -- to offer a scientific basis for the claim, why did he recant it?

As for simple answers based in natural selection, it has been my experience you can explain almost any human phenotype as being the result of natural selection against reproductive success.

VangelV said...

The GOP lost because many voters saw them in simple terms that made them both more stupid and more evil than the Democrats. It did not help the GOP that their candidate made Obama look like the peace candidate and was seen as a man who had no principles. The best choice from the point of morality, logic, and intellect was Ron Paul but I am not sure that most Americans would have been ready to shed much of their mythology. That said, if he were the candidate the outcome would not have been worse since an Obama victory would not have made a difference. But the ideas that would have gotten out and been debated would have began to destroy the myths on which both the GOP and Democratic Party depend on.

Joey said...


It's by no means pseudoscientific. it may be false for all I know, but it's a legitimate question. Anyway, I'm taking the cautious position here when I say that "it doesn't really have a simple answer". I don't think you made a good case to justify disregarding the possibility that miscarriage could have evolved.

And I am not explaining the existence of a phenotype by saying that it reduces reproductive success. That is the opposite of natural selection. I am explaining how a phenotype that appears to reduce reproduction may actually increase reproductive success (summed over a lifetime).

All I'm saying is that my theory makes sense of what Akin said. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't think our discussion is going anywhere anymore, so I think I'll stop here.

RKN said...

Well, at least Akin recanted the claim when he realized there was no basis in fact to support it, unlike others who continue to try to defend it.

cpwegener said...

There is a huge gap between murder and not allowing a foetus to develop to full term. Roughly 30% of all pregnancies spontaniously miscarry.
Causing a miscarriage deliberatly, particularly in the first three months of the pregnancy, is in no way murder.
Further I would take the argument that abortion is morally repugnant more seriously if the people making the argument were not so cavalier about allowing thousands individuals who have been born to be killed in wars, jails or through the indiscriminate use of firearms which by God is sacred because of the second amndment.
You see there are a lot of difficult issues. Allowing woman to make life choices that improve their lives as well as the lives of the children they choose to carry to term and raise into succesful adults.

David Friedman said...

A couple of points:

On the evolutionary question. It's my understanding that miscarriages are often a response to a defective fetus--I think there is some discussion of the evidence for that in one of the chapters of The Adapted Mind, a book I found very interesting.

And it would make evolutionary sense for a woman's body to terminate a pregnancy if she wasn't going to have the resources to bring a child to reproductive age.

On the question of Akin, my assumption is that he had heard the claim from someone on his side and believed it, as most of us believe lots of claims that we haven't investigated but that fit into our beliefs. When challenged, he either discovered that it was wrong or still thought it was right but was persuaded that it was imprudent to say so.

RKN said...

Couple more points:

Yes, miscarriage in humans happens, and can be caused by a variety physiological problems, arising in the mother and/or the fetus. Agreed.

As for the evo argument, it might make sense for a woman's "body" to reject the pregnancy, in other circumstances one could argue it does not. Evo arguments quite malleable, as I've said.

But lack of resources was not the cause Akin was talking about. He didn't claim that the bodies of pregnant women that do not have access to adequate nutrition will spontaneously "shut down the pregnancy", he claimed the pregnancy would "shut down" due to the psychological duress induced by having been impregnated during rape.

There's no scientific evidence to support that claim. Supposing that it mightbe true, as one commenter here said (not you), at best makes the claim arbitrary, which does nothing to rescue Akin's claim or his stupidity.

Joey said...


"...unlike others who continue to try to defend it"
Cool it, dude. Whether it turns out to be true or not is immaterial. It is a reasonably hypothesis and I don't understand why you seem offended by it.

I thought David's implication (correct me if I'm wrong) was that the body may use duress to predict a future lack of resources. Duress could imply that that the conception didn't happen with a quid pro quo of guaranteed resources.

Anyway, if you've done the research and concluded that there's evidence against what I'm saying, fine. I don't have the time for a countercheck. But I think the fact that scientists have researched this question somewhat vindicates Akin from blame. It was wrong, but not outrageous or stupid.