How bad a day has it been for Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock? This bad:
Another week, another prominent regional candidate for national office giving an excruciatingly ill-conceived explanation of his stance on abortion in the case of rape or medical emergency. An evident and obvious solution would simply be to say "it's a life, period," but like stoned college freshmen, Mourdock and his ilk have chosen to justify themselves with scientific or theological hearsay. In the case of Todd Akin, and more recently Joe Walsh, they attempted to reverse the gains of the Enlightenment (reminding me of a friend who set autocorrect on a professor's computer to change "Enlightenment" to "liberal conspiracy").
Mourdock would turn the pages back well before St. Augustine (PDF), who may not have settled the issue of theodicy but is generally recognized to have made some progress. Here's how it started:
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that 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," Mourdock said.
On one hand Mourdock called any attempt to follow a grammatical or causual chain of logic "sick and twisted." On the other, he's regretful and humbled if people are sick and twisted ("humbled" is a more polite alternative to "no further comment"):
"If they came away with any impression other than that [God intended the pregnancy to happen, but not the rape] I truly regret it. I apologize if they came away. I've certainly been humbled by the fact that so many people think that somehow was an interpretation," Mourdock said. "I spoke from my heart. And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I would not apologize. I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it's a gift from god."
"I think that God can see beauty in every life," Mourdock said. "Certainly, I did not intend to suggest that God wants rape, that God pushes people to rape, that God wants to support or condone evil in any way."
"I believe God controls the universe. I don't think biology works simply in an uncontrolled fashion," Mourdock said. "For speaking from my heart … I cannot apologize. I would be less than faithful to my faith."
As Lee Atwater never had to say, once you start talking theodicy, you've lost.
And a Mourdock loss would be significant. The politician Mourdock is trying to replace is Richard Lugar, who represented one of the most guaranteed Republican pickups in the Senate; Democrats didn't even field a candidate against Lugar in 2006. Mike Pence will win the governorship; Mitt Romney will win the state. Mourdock is polling neck and neck with Joe Donnelly, before today's disaster. Conservatives next door are already writing his obituary. And it threatens the rickety electoral foundation that made a deeply conservative politician like Mourdock able to challenge Lugar in the first place:
"I don't think that Lugar would want to split the party," says Brian Vargus, a political scientist at Indiana University in Indianapolis. "The coalition between social and economic conservatives in Indiana is very, very fragile."
Donnelly is no liberal; he also self-describes as pro-life. Ideologically, it's a much less significant race than McCaskill/Akin. But Mourdock's debate and press conference have made the race a much more interesting test of how far the limits go.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune