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Todd Akin, Should He Stay Or Should He Go?


This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, a conversation on Internet romances. We'll talk about the culture of online dating, up next.

But first, we visit the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh look at the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists and commentators. Sitting in their chairs for a new do this week are Danielle Belton, editor-at-large of Clutch magazine online. She's also the founder of the pop culture and politics blog The Black Snob. She joins us from St. Louis. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor of P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. And Mary Kate Cary, she's a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. They both join us in Washington.

Welcome, ladies.

DANIELLE BELTON: Great to be here.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Oh, thanks for having us.

HURTADO: So let's begin with Republican Congressman Todd Akin. Members of the GOP called on him to drop out of the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, but Akin has vowed to stay in. He was favored to win that contest until he said this about access to abortion for rape victims.


REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

HURTADO: The clip went viral on Sunday. Akin issued an apology and said he misspoke. He even ran a new ad to say he was sorry. So, going to Mary Kate Cary, Mitt Romney called on Akin to quit the race. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan personally phoned Akin and asked him to step aside. So put it in context for us. How damaging is this comment - Akin's decision to stay in the race, too - to the national GOP?

MARY KATE CARY: There's two separate issues here. First is the absurdity of his sort of scientific take on women's bodies. And that, he has now admitted, is wrong 100 percent. There's a second issue here, which is whether he thinks there should be exceptions to abortion for rape, life of the mother, incest, things like that. That's a different question, because there are people who say - believe abortion is murder, murder is murder, no exceptions to that.

And that, if you look at the Gallup polls that they do every year on abortion - this year's numbers came out in May or June - 20 to 25 percent of the electorate believes that there should be no exceptions. Another 25 percent are at the other end. Abortion should be legal all the time, 24/7, on demand, no exceptions at that end.

Then, the great majority, 50 percent of the electorate, is in the middle, who believe that abortion is legal. It should remain legal. There should be some restrictions. That's now the mainstream view in America, and he is not in that mainstream.

HURTADO: So the question really isn't that he thinks that. It's that he said it on television.

CARY: Well, the...

HURTADO: He said what people would think in, maybe, private or to people who are like-minded. He said it.

CARY: Well, the original mistake - there are not people like-minded that women's bodies can somehow push a button and shut down or something. That is not acceptable. But now that he's staying in the race, he's turned it into an argument about no exceptions for rape, and that's what makes this GOP platform fight so salient today and tomorrow. That's where it goes to the top of the ticket. That's what's getting the traction, not his remarks that he disavowed about women's bodies. It's should there be an exception for rape, incest, life of the mother in the Republican platform.

HURTADO: So, Mary Kate, speaking about Mitt Romney and the Republican platform, as far as rape and when there is an exception is concerned, what are your thoughts?

CARY: The platform right now regarding abortion is that the Republican Party says they stand for the sanctity of human life in all situations, which is what they've been saying for years. The question is, what about exceptions? And there's no mention of exceptions. It's a very broad-brush answer. So when they were questioned about this in light of the Akin controversy, Bob McDonnell, who's the head of the platform committee, said we're leaving that decision up to the states.

So it's not that exceptions are excluded. It's just there's no mention of exceptions. But that's allowing the left to use that as an opening. I think, eventually, there will probably be language about exceptions, whether it's in this platform or the next. That's where the Republican Party's heading, I believe.

HURTADO: And, Bridget Johnson, we're going to talk about the Republican Party platform right now. It was just released yesterday. It still calls for banning abortion, without an exception for rape and incest. Romney and Ryan have been trying to focus on fiscal issues, but is it possible, given this controversy, Bridget?

JOHNSON: Well, it's very fortunate for the Democrats, because the war on women meme had sort of died down and the focus was on Paul Ryan's budget, the economy, etc. But now, it's reignited just in time for the Republican National Convention. And so it's excellent timing for the Democrats. You could see they were trotting out, you know, many of the prominent women in the caucus on news shows to say, you know, look. This is just an example of the radical GOP agenda.

Barbara Boxer called Akin the leader of the war on women and Paul Ryan his henchman. So this is very damaging at a bad time. And then you have the platform that came out and also hit on other social things like abstinence-only education, no civil unions, etc. So it's going to draw the focus back to a social place where the GOP campaign doesn't really want to be right now.

HURTADO: And away from fiscal issues.


HURTADO: Danielle Belton, you're in Missouri. You've got to share with us: What was your reaction, and what are you hearing on the street? What are people telling you?

BELTON: I honestly wasn't surprised by what Akin said, because he's said things like that in the past. What was fascinating was to see it go as far and wide as it did nationally, because, I mean, to be honest, I mean, he was leading the polls in Missouri. Missouri kind of looks kind of conservative right now. So I don't think it was necessarily all that of a controversial thing to say in Missouri. That's probably the reason why he doesn't want to get out of the race. He still thinks he can pull thing out with, you know, his constituency.

He said that to appeal directly to his constituency, and he's kind of hoping that if he can just paint this as, you know, the establishment Republicans and, you know, the media are trying to force me out of this race, he can, like, gin up enough local fervor to still, like - hopefully, he wants to bullet past McCaskill.

So a lot of the local reaction - like, people are embarrassed. It's kind of weird.

HURTADO: And that's Claire McCaskill, who is the Democratic incumbent.

JOHNSON: Yes, right.

BELTON: Yeah. So it's, like, it's a little awkward and embarrassing, because, you know, Missouri very rarely gets to the national stage. We don't necessarily want to be there when it's something like a legitimate rape and whether women can shut their bodies down, for which it's like, what?

But it's interesting, because it's really much more damaging to Romney and Ryan than it necessarily would be to Akin, if this was just about the local race.

HURTADO: Mary Kate, Akin was on the talk shows this morning discussing his decision to stay in the race, and he had this to say on "The Today Show."


AKIN: This is not about me. This is not about my ego. But it is about the voters of the state of Missouri. They've chosen me because of principles that I stand on, and putting principle over politics. I believe that they stand with me on a whole host of issues.

HURTADO: Is there a possibility that he can win, Mary Kate?

CARY: According to his own polling, he's still one point ahead after this controversy. The larger point here, too, is that to be pro-life is not to be anti-woman or to be out of the mainstream. The majority of Americans now identify themselves as pro-life, according to Gallup, the first time this year. Whether that vocal minority who believe in no exceptions, that's a little different.

HURTADO: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado, and you're listening to our Beauty Shop roundtable. We're joined by Danielle Belton, editor-at-large of Clutch magazine online, U.S. News and World Report columnist Mary Kate Cary and Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor at P.J. Media.

Since Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to be his vice president, there's been a lot of scrutiny about Ryan's past statements. One interesting tidbit is that, in a long interview in Milwaukee magazine back in 2005, Ryan mentioned that his college sweetheart was African-American. So the question, ladies, is if you think this says something significant about Paul Ryan. Danielle, we'll start with you. What do you think?

BELTON: No. Look, I mean, just because you date somebody, like, what does that even mean? Like, that's your personal, private life. I don't feel like it says all that much. I mean, President Obama used to date - you know, had white girlfriends. Like, does that mean anything? I mean, it's just part of life. If you live in a integrated society and you date in an integrated way, like, it's not all that shocking that, at some point, you know, someone might meet someone of a different race and befriend them or date them or even marry them.

To me, it's really more - if you're a politician - about what your voting record is, what things that you've said in the past, your actions, your actual core beliefs. Those are the things you need to focus on. I mean, I just - I don't care.

HURTADO: Bridget, let's talk a little bit about what Danielle just said. It's true. President Obama wrote, even, about dating white women in his memoir. Do you think interracial dating or any dating history at all is something journalists or voters need to look at when they're learning about the candidates and making their decisions?

JOHNSON: Well, I don't think it's substantial at all. You know, we're such a melting pot by this point. You know, I think it's to his credit that, you know, he's not trotting it out there as, you know, some sort of example that, you know, he's so racially open-minded. Like Danielle said, you look at their policies and, you know, Paul Ryan hasn't done anything, you know, questionable in civil rights. Some people who disagree with his budget would disagree with that. But, you know, it's not like Strom Thurmond, you know, going out and...


JOHNSON: ...and, you know, getting a black girlfriend. But it's something that's going to be of interest to people. For example, you know, every time, you know, I'm called on to talk about border issues, I'm not saying, you know, my best friend growing up was Latina and, you know, I hang out with her abuela. You know...

CARY: Right. And her dog is a Chihuahua.

JOHNSON: I have the key to their house.


HURTADO: And, by the way, that means grandmother, because Bridget is so down, she says abuela. Mary Kate, let's go to you. In that same interview, Paul Ryan spoke about a congressional civil rights pilgrimage he went on with Congressman John Lewis, and he called Lewis a hero and expressed admiration for the civil rights movement.

So, going back to an election where the GOP is struggling to connect with voters of color, should Ryan talk about this - continue to talk about this on the trail?

CARY: Oh, sure. I think, you know, if that's something he did and that's part of his experience, he should share that with people. What I like about him is he's in that Jack Kemp tradition of Republicanism. And I was a big fan of Jack Kemp's and went to his funeral, and I just think that same happy warrior, that upbeat, friendly attitude of going out and building bridges and getting people to cross that bridge with you, that's Jack Kemp.

HURTADO: Mary Kate, can you - yeah. Explain a little bit more who Jack Kemp is.

CARY: Jack Kemp was the congressman from New York for many years. He was the only other recent guy to be named to the vice presidency out of the House. And Paul Ryan interned for him and, I think, was a speechwriter - which, of course, I like, because I'm a speechwriter.


CARY: But Kemp represented sort of the idea of enterprise zones and outreach to the black community to get them empowered. He loved this empowerment agenda - was what he always talked about - of getting people out of a life of dependency, getting them into their own homes, starting their own businesses. And that was really his legacy to the Republican Party, was a great outreach to the black community. And Paul Ryan worked for him for three years, and I think that's a great - that's more important to me than his personal life.

HURTADO: And Jack Kemp was a sportsman, so let's move on to sports. After 80 years of exclusion, Augusta National Golf Club has its first female members. The private club hosts the Masters Tournament. It's been criticized for decades for being an old boys' club.

This week, two women became members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a businesswoman from South Carolina. Augusta released statements on behalf of the ladies. They read that the women are, quote, "honored to be in the club." They also used the word, quote, "fortunate." So Mary Kate Cary, we've spoken about this.


CARY: We have.

HURTADO: As a female golfer, what do you think?

CARY: I'm thrilled. I think it is about time. It makes the men look better than they were looking. And it's a great thing for the women, and I hope many more follow. I wrote about this for the last two or three years, that Condi Rice would be the perfect pick and...

HURTADO: I think they're reading.

CARY: Maybe they're reading. And the other thing I think we should think about, ladies, is as long as there are men's clubs that exclude women, we need to have a few women's clubs that exclude men. And you guys need to take up golf, and we could start the first national women's golf club and - so that the men don't get thrown off, we could call it the Beauty Shop.

HURTADO: The Beauty Shop.

CARY: I'm just going to the Beauty Shop, honey. And they won't know where we're going. Everybody in?

HURTADO: I don't know. Well, I'll tell you what. As long as I don't have to wear a green jacket, which leads me to Danielle Belton...

CARY: No green jacket.

HURTADO: ...who I don't think would be caught dead with a green jacket.

CARY: A green jacket.

HURTADO: Danielle, was it a good move for the ladies to accept membership and the fabled green jacket?

BELTON: I mean, you know, why not? I mean, it's nice. It's a nice gesture, the fact that, you know, it's a great way to be honored. I have to admit, though, like, I was completely jaded about the whole thing. I mean, you have Augusta National, like, finally accepting women, you know, the same year that Saudi Arabia finally sent two women to the Olympics. Like, that looks really, really bad. You know, it's like you get a lot of kudos when you do it, you know, 20, 30 years ago. You don't get kudos in 2012.

HURTADO: Bridget.

JOHNSON: You know, it's really tempting to tell them to just buzz off, but I think that the best revenge would be changing the culture from the inside...


JOHNSON: ...and eventually having more women members than men...

CARY: Right.

JOHNSON: ...and then beating them in their golf scores...

CARY: Right.

JOHNSON: ...etc. But I'm having...

CARY: I'm having a women's club, I think. Yeah.

HURTADO: And I also want to note that a lot of these women have been incredibly successful without having access to this...

CARY: True.

HURTADO: ...fabled old boys' club.

CARY: Despite it. Yeah.

HURTADO: Let's move on, speaking of the fabled Augusta National green jacket, to fashion and Chelsea Clinton, who graces the pages of Vogue magazine's September issue. In an interview, the former first daughter also said that she might consider a run for the top office someday. So, Danielle Belton, are you feeling Chelsea 2016?

BELTON: You know, if someone who has spent her whole entire life watching politics from the inside out, who's experienced everything that she's experienced - you know, impeachments, all sorts of investigations and scandals, affairs - and you still are like, you know what? Sign me up. I kind of want to - I'm like, more power to you. If she, like, wants to, like, go for that third Clinton term, I'm right behind her, like, go ahead, girl.

HURTADO: The beginning of a dynasty, perhaps. Mary Kate Cary, you've been a White House insider, so do you picture Chelsea Clinton there? You walked those halls, too.

CARY: I don't know. I've never met her. I've seen her on TV, and I've read this long takeout in Vogue magazine that is out. You know, when I worked for Haley Barbour, whenever Haley was going to a big political rally, he'd say, oh, I love to go out and slap the hogs. And I think she doesn't seem to me as the type who wants to - like her dad sort of does - likes to go out and slap the hogs. She didn't...

HURTADO: And that's...

CARY: ...come across that way in that article. I think she'd probably be better off at the Clinton Global Initiative. I think that she'd have a lot more effect on the world if she ran that when her dad retires. But...

HURTADO: Bridget, what do you think?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Because, you know, her parents, they both have, you know, their certain something-something. You know...

HURTADO: Right. I mean, her mom...

JOHNSON: ...her mom has that...

HURTADO: ...has got that chutzpa...

JOHNSON: ...and that gravitas.

...and Bill Clinton's the total people person, and I've never really seen anything like that in Chelsea Clinton. Of course, we haven't seen too much of her in that sort of arena yet. So we don't really know how she'd be out on the trail. But, you know, I like Mary's idea. I don't think she's actually jumping out right now as somebody who'd be...

CARY: Yeah. She doesn't seem like the type.

JOHNSON: ...a political animal. So...

CARY: She could turn into, though.

BELTON: I'm surprised she wants it.

HURTADO: If not, 2016, maybe 2020. We'll see.

CARY: Right.

HURTADO: We'll have to leave it there, ladies. Danielle Belton is The Black Snob. That's her pop culture and politics blog. She's also the editor-at-large of Clutch magazine online. She joined us from St. Louis.

Mary Kate Cary is a columnist with U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor of P.J. Media, the conservative libertarian commentary and news website. They both joined me in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Thank you all so much, ladies.

CARY: Great to be here.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BELTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.