Buzzfeed brings us one of the more astounding narrative implosions in recent memory, as we discover that Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, used to march on the wrong side of the dopey “War on Women” narrative that absolutely dominated the 2012 campaign season:
When he announced his candidacy for Senate, Hagel said that he opposed abortion except to protect the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest. Hagel decided he didn’t believe that exclusion for rape were necessary after studying the issue near the end of his campaign.
“I am pro-life with one exception — the life of the mother. I oppose taxpayer funded abortions. We must promote adoption and support the strengthening of American families. I will vote with and support the pro-life movement,” Hagel said in a piece of 1996 campaign literature, according to the Omaha World Herald.
Then Senate-candidate Hagel said that he “tightened” his position on abortion after he said he discovered that abortion in the case of rape and incest are “rare” according to multiple local press reports.
“As I looked at those numbers, if I want to prevent abortions, I don’t think those two exceptions are relevant,” Hagel said, according to the Omaha paper.
It seems almost comically unnecessary to remind the reader of how energetically Democrats campaigned against this position throughout 2012, denouncing anyone who held such views as unfit for public office. This was not a minor point, or some tempest in the teapot of a single news cycle. The example that first springs to mind might be Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, but in fairness Akin’s self-destruction had at least as much to do with his bizarre insistance that women could not become pregnant as a result of sexual assault.
But then we had Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate from Indiana, whose campaign ran aground when he said he was opposed to aborting children conceived through rape because the children were guilty of no crime, and their lives were also a “gift from God.” Mourdock was ruthlessly slandered as having somehow claimed that rape itself was a “gift from God,” or that the Almighty wanted certain women to be assaulted. In case you’ve forgotten how scurrilous this smear campaign was, here’s Adam Clark Estes of the Atlantic quoting Mourdock accurately… and then smearing him by twisting his words in the same paragraph:
During Tuesday night’s debate, Mourdock addressed the issue of abortion emotionally. The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake said he was choking up when he said, “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Just clip the phrases “gift from God” and “something that God intended to happen” in your mind, and remember that Mourdock is talking about rape. The words “gift” and “rape” do not often occur in the same sentence, especially in the final days of a Senate campaign.
And this didn’t stop with Mourdock. A full-bore effort to link his position on rape and abortion to presidential candidate Mitt Romney was undertaken, even though Romney disagreed with Mourdock, and immediately said so. The mainstream press was fully, almost universally, on board with this effort. Mourdock’s self-destruction was said to be a political nuclear blast so powerful that Romney must be annihilated by the shock wave. And much of the heat Mourdock took for his heartfelt position – which had to be disrespected, rather than simply disputed – was built up by the earlier Akin gaffe. It is not hard to find copious amounts of conventional wisdom from pundits to the effect that any Republican who ever so much as mentions abortion and rape is a fool who risks throwing away his career.
But Chuck Hagel says abortion for rape isn’t “relevant,” because rape pregnancies hardly ever happen, and Barack Obama taps him for Secretary of Defense? We’ve reached the point where top Democrats don’t even have to undertake the most cursory pretense of caring about whatever had them blazing with incandescent passion before the last election. No doubt Hagel would say he’s changed his mind about the whole awful business, and Obama would claim he didn’t know about Hagel’s previous positions, if they were asked. It would be a refreshing change if they were asked.