Editor’s Note: One of my favorite quotes is from journalist, Michael Kinsley, who said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” Never is this more apropos than during an election year. One person did write to the newspaper to refute this article, but I have the feeling she didn’t actually read it with any comprehension. I think the problem is that pro-life people are so convinced of their own rightness that they have a problem even considering that there might be another side.

Gaffes: Stumbling on the Truth


I promised myself I’d stop writing about Trump, but every time he opens his mouth, he seems to generate controversy. However, this piece isn’t really about The Donald; it’s about gaffes in general.

Trump appeared to put his foot in his mouth by pontificating about the need to punish women who terminate their pregnancies. Although he regularly shows women the same respect he shows to Mexicans, Muslims and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, even he must have thought he’d gone too far this time, because he tried, rather clumsily and illogically, to walk back his gaffe, and ended up calling these women “victims.”

In 1988, journalist Michael Kinsley defined the term “gaffe” as what happens when a politician accidentally tells the truth. In this case, Trump had stumbled on the unintended consequence of conservative doctrine on abortion, but his comments roiled the anti-abortion forces almost as much as they angered pro-choice advocates.

This is because, if you truly believe abortions should be outlawed, then you do need to punish the women who have them. You can’t just go after the doctor, who is, after all, merely carrying out the pregnant woman’s wishes. When you catch a Mafia Don ordering an assassination, you don’t just arrest the hit man.

Republicans insist that life begins at conception, so microscopic zygotes are the equivalent of children. Hence, abortion is murder, and the mothers who terminate their pregnancies can’t be victims — they’re killers, right along with their doctors. In addition, the husbands who pay for them, the nurses who assist with the procedures and even the receptionists who make the appointments are all accomplices and accessories to murder to varying degrees. A single abortion could easily create half a dozen felons.

And these crimes can’t be punished with fines or probation, or by suspending doctors’ licenses. This isn’t assault, second-degree murder or manslaughter; it’s first-degree murder — premeditated, with malice aforethought. The Old Testament and Talmudic law may consider a fetus to be different from a child, but we aren’t a tribe of ancient Hebrews wandering in the desert. This is, as the conservatives constantly remind us, a right-of-center Christian nation.  

Anyone who takes right-wing dogma seriously has to concede that women who have abortions must be punished appropriately — 25 years to life or, in those states where it’s legal, with the death penalty. Followers of Trump, Cruz or even the only adult in the group, the kinder, gentler John Kasich, need to own this reality, because it aligns with the logic of a pro-life stance in ways that principled conservatives can’t deny, but are usually reluctant to say out loud.

And finally, there can be no exceptions for rape or incest. If aborting an embryo produced by rape or incest is the same as killing any other child, then the 13-year-old girl raped by an abusive father must be compelled by the government to bear that child. This may sound like a gaffe, but this inconvenient truth was part of the GOP’s 2012 platform.

Conservatives’ attitudes toward rape and pregnancy are often befuddling. In 2012, Missouri Republican Todd Akin claimed that, in cases of “legitimate rape” (which is evidently different from whatever illegitimate rape is), “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” This gaffe helped Akin lose his Congressional seat, even though he’d been an outspoken opponent of women’s rights all along, and many of his GOP colleagues, including far-right Iowa Congressman Steve King, came to his defense.

In 1990, a GOP gubernatorial candidate in Texas, Clayton Williams, said of rape victims, “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” Of course, you don’t have to be a politician to come up with a gaffe like that — Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight had used that same quote a couple years earlier to explain how he dealt with stress. Because he was running for office at the time, Williams claimed it was just “a joke,” and apologized “if anyone’s offended.” Knight was less contrite, claiming he’d been “misinterpreted.”

But back to 2016. Based on her past performance, I had high hopes when Sarah Palin came out as a Trump spokesperson. Unfortunately, it’s hard to produce a gaffe when almost everything you say sounds like the ranting of a drunken meth head. To accidentally reveal an actual truth, she’d need to accidentally stumble into coherence, and precious few intelligible statements are coming out of Mrs. Palin’s mouth these days.

Trump’s abortion comments exposed conservative attitudes about women, as well as his own views, and, with better than half a year to go before election day, this is unlikely to be his last gaffe. He’s free to be a loose cannon, because the angry white men who comprise his base are so smitten with him they’ll view any hateful comment he makes as a sign of his candid and refreshing lack of political correctness.

Besides, women aren’t his natural constituency, any more than Muslims or Mexicans, so we can look forward to many more months of misogyny.  

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