Todd Akin and the Right's False Fact Machine

Todd Akin is in trouble for making a claim that is both false and offensive: that a biological mechanism causes it to be extremely unlikely for a woman to get pregnant if she is raped. The implication is that a pregnant woman seeking an abortion on the grounds that she was raped is likely lying.

If Akin knew he was wrong on the biology, he probably could have predicted that his remarks would cause a firestorm. The reason Akin walked into this mess is that he lives inside a right-wing bubble, where people believe in false but politically convenient "facts" about science and history.

Climate change isn't happening, or if it is, it's a natural process not impacted by humans. Abortion causes breast cancer. The earth is fewer than 10,000 years old. The founding fathers "worked tirelessly" to end slavery. President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and his Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery. America is currently experiencing high inflation. The gay rights movement is really an international pedophile conspiracy. Tax cuts raise revenue.

The claim that rape can't lead to pregnancy is just another of these false claims, periodically advanced in support of a conservative policy position. It's not that all conservatives, or even most of them, believe any given "fact" on this list. But each view is firmly held by some fraction of the conservative movement, reinforced by publications and email forwards within the conservative bubble. And in every case, elite conservatives wink and nod at the views while disavowing them personally.

It's a two-track strategy. For example, it is possible to argue that carbon regulation is a bad idea even if you believe that carbon-driven climate change is a real problem. Jim Manzi of the Manhattan Institute has advanced such a case. But it's a tougher sell than if you simply believe that carbon emissions don't affect global temperatures. One pitch is used for the elites and the other for the conservative masses.

Similarly, you don't have to believe "the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down" in order to oppose a rape exception to abortion bans. But it helps: Instead of having to argue that abortion is a greater evil than requiring rape victims to carry babies to term, you can claim that the trade-off barely exists.

Todd Akin's problem is that a view that's acceptable within his bubble is despicable to people who understand that, in fact, rapes can and do lead to pregnancy. And the conservative movement's problem is that a strategic decision to believe in falsehoods will cause its politicians to appear, and to be, stupid.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

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