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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson

A Very Big Tent


Embattled Missouri Congressman Todd Akin and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both made lots of news over the last couple of days. Akin for his words suggesting that there is something called “legitimate” rape and Rice for the new green jacket she will soon wear as one of first two women admitted to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, home of the most prestigious tournament in golf.

The two events and individuals would seem to have very little in common unless you consider that the very conservative Congressman and the not-so-conservative first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State represent the far extremes of the modern Republican Party.

While national Republicans have been working furiously to get Akin to quit the Missouri Senate race where, until last weekend, any Republican was considered the prohibitive favorite over Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, Rice has been quietly taking bows – or is it practice swings – for having broken another barrier.

As of this writing Akin says he’s in the Missouri race to stay and in the process re-opening the line of attack the national GOP fears perhaps even more than Medicare – the GENDER GAP.

As Akin’s views on violence against women get aired over and over during the next few days this story will give legs to a real debate about the Republican platform plank on abortion, which has long been dictated by the most anti-abortion faction in the party. Akin’s position, if I understand it, that essentially here are no appropriate exemptions permitting abortion, including rape, incest and the life of the mother, will be measured against what the GOP ticket will say about its likely, and as we speak, evolving position. This is dangerous territory for a party and a ticket with an already 15% gender chasm.

Invoking the rule that there are no coincidences in politics, it should be noted that three weeks ago, as Mitt Romney vetted and decided on a vice presidential running mate, the story surfaced – fanned by the always helpful Matt Drudge – that Condi Rice was very much in the running, in fact the front runner, for the second spot on the ticket. Even Sarah Palin found a Rice vice presidency appealing. Of course, Rice never was in the running because her pro choice position on abortion would have sparked the greatest turmoil on the GOP convention floor since Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford contemplated a “co-presidency” in 1980.

Again, no coincidence, Rice was subsequently named one of the GOP convention speakers just days before the old boys as Augusta National decided to publicly say it was time to measure her for a green jacket.

Some sports writers – most of them never as cynical as political reporters – couldn’t help but comment on the curious timing of the Augusta National announcement about the membership for Rice and South Carolina banker Darla Moore. Why now, they asked? Was the announcement timed to head off more feminist protests well in advance of next year’s Masters? Or was something else at play among the magnolias?

After a decade of saying not only NO, but heck NO, the mysterious process of accepting new members at Augusta found the golf club’s chairman choosing a Monday morning – a time sure to guarantee maximum news coverage – and in the same news cycle with Todd Akin to make his historic announcement.

Give the old boys some credit for good timing. In one fell swoop they allowed Condi Rice to  be the first at yet something else and gave national prominence to Darla Moore, a self proclaimed political independent and very savvy business executive – Martha Stewart, someone who would know, has called her “a cutthroat killer” – who has feuded openly with South Carolina governor and Tea Party darling Nikki Haley.

A growing and successful national party would try and find a way to appeal to women like those who now have keys to Augusta. The appeal, it’s pretty clear, will not be on a road traveled by the Todd Akins of the party.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay wrote of the decision to finally allow two women into the most sacred shrine of golf in the United States: “They did the right thing, even if it took so long, Earth is rolling its eyes. Golf is slow and weird. But progress is progress.”

If the hide bound southern aristocrats who run the course that Bobby Jones built can change there surely must be hope for our politics. Here’s a bet that by this time next week – in advance of the GOP convention – Todd Akin will be but a footnote in Missouri political history. He will find it impossible, thanks to his ignorant views about women, to survive even in a party when many share his fundamental views about abortion.

It won’t be pretty, but progress is progress.

One guy missing from Tampa next week will be the last GOP president – George W. Bush. Say what you will about “W”, he found a way over eight years to keep the dysfunctional Republican family – the Akins and the Rices – under the same roof. Mitt Romney may not be so lucky, or so skillful.

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