Ashley Judd’s political adviser Jonathan Miller is in the Daily Beast today, dishing about how haters within the Democratic Party sunk the actress’s nascent Senate campaign in favor of Kentucky’s Secretary of the State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Miller writes that they “stand to profit from a Grimes campaign” or to “redress perceived ‘disses’” from Judd. But among the most back-stabbing maneuvers, he writes, came one from a guest at a private dinner for Judd supporters in Louisville, who anonymously told the Huffington Post that Judd had said, of her prospective opponent, “I’ve been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell.”
According to Miller, this “flippant comparison spread like Ebola” — itself a flippant comparison, probably, to communities affected by the fatal virus — leading the Daily Caller to dub Judd the Democratic Party’s Todd Akin, for the former Missouri representative whose campaign never recovered from his claim that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
“The problem is,” Miller writes. “It never happened. I was at that dinner and never heard her say anything remotely like that.”
It shouldn’t matter whether she said it or anything remotely like it, because the two “rape” remarks are otherwise incomparable. One implies that there is a category of rape women enjoy enough to get pregnant from, and therefore women who do get pregnant from rape are liars who do not deserve abortions. The other is a reminder of the speaker’s perseverance over childhood trauma and abuse in the face of a daunting political challenge. One reflects its speaker’s depressingly relevant legislative views. The other is factual.
But, hypothetically speaking, is it “flippant” to compare rape to politics? Serious question. I’m not sure. On the one hand, if it had been a male Republican, I probably would have been offended. On the other hand, it’s her own shitty childhood. Does John McCain never bring up his time as a POW in Vietnam because to compare anything to literal torture is inherently offensive? The survivors of such horrors might have a carte blanche for talking about them as far as I’m concerned.
“Note to Mitch McConnell,” conservative blogger Kathleen McKinley tweeted last week, after the Daily Caller. “Do NOT reference or reply in ANY way to Ashley Judd’s rape comments. Nothing. Not a word. Silence. Got it?” I understood where she was coming from. By the umpteenth rape gaffe of the 2012 election, I began to pity the GOP’s rape caucus, ignorantly piling on each other’s ignorance. Guys, it’s clearly not your area of expertise, so maybe just don’t say rape.
But, in a country where one in six women is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault, is it too much to ask that politicians be able to talk about rape fluently? Judd, regardless of what she did or did not say at that dinner, can. Miller wrote that “[Judd’s supposed] statement would have been completely inconsistent with the way I’ve heard Ashley discuss her horrifying experiences as the youthful victim of sexual assault — how they defined her in adulthood; how they propelled her to champion women’s empowerment across the globe.” The Daily Caller helpfully rounded up such moments in a post about Judd’s “biggest problem” — her “history of bizarre remarks” that the state’s Republican super-PACs will make sure Kentucky voters hear “over and over again on television and radio.” Remarks such as, fathers “giving away the bride” is “a common vestige of male dominion over a woman’s reproductive status.” Or Christianity “legitimizes and seals male power.” Or that mountaintop removal amounts to “environmental genocide and collapse,” a comparison she herself admitted was flippant.
The conservative media’s treatment of Judd’s so-called rape gaffe suggests that Michael Kinsley’s definition of the word has finally won out. Rather than embarrassing errors, these “gaffes” revealed something true about the candidate. Akin had never bothered to learn about women’s reproductive health before attempting to legislate it, while Judd was the survivor of a sexual assault that had shaped her environmental feminism and, probably, her politics. She might have only stood about an equal chance of winning as Akin, but that race would have been exciting to watch.