During the huge Chick-fil-A debate a few weeks back, I encountered someone on the pro-boycott side claiming that women should boycott Chick-fil-A because the company doesn’t want female managers. Since I happen to have known a number of female managers with the company — including the general manager of the store nearest my house — I knew it wasn’t true. So I challenged him.
He pointed to a lawsuit by one female manager at a Georgia Chick-fil-A. She has been a manager for decades, but the lawsuit alleges the she was forced out as a store manager because the chauvinistic upper management had decided she needed to be home with her children. I pointed out to the guy that this was one woman who had made one unsupported allegation, with no proof. I also pointed out that the vast number of female managers in the company make it obvious that there’s something unusual about that particular case, so it’s unfair and dishonest to use that allegation to state something as fact with no evidence.
“Do you think they’re fair to us?” he replied. “Why should I care about the facts when they’re the ones who are wrong?”
That was a snapshot of much of what’s wrong with political debate in this country. Almost nobody cares about facts, honesty or fairness. The latest example is that of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, who claimed Sunday that a woman who is raped won’t get pregnant.
Akin is the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri. He’s challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, but I honestly don’t care about the politics of the situation right now. I only care about the facts. Here’s how the conversation unfolded during an interview on a local TV station in Missouri:
“If abortion could be considered in case of, say, a tubal pregnancy [which threatens the mother’s life], what about in the case of rape?” asked KTVI host Charles Jaco. “Should it be legal or not?”
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said, referring to a woman getting pregnant from being raped. “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, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” [Emphasis in italics is mine.]
(You can see the video clip of that exchange at the end of this article.)
Anybody with a rudimentary understanding of human biology knows that what Akin is saying is false. It’s convenient to his position. Maybe he’s heard some other person allege it at some point. So he asserts it as fact — instead of being intellectually honest about a difficult issue.
A 1996 study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimated that there are roughly 32,101 pregnancies that are the result of rape each year. The study said that approxiately 5 percent of rape victims get pregnant.
In other words, Akin is just flat-out making his facts up. He hasn’t heard this from doctors. He’s either repeating something without verification that someone else has said or he’s inventing it himself. Either way, he’s doing the same thing the anti-Chick-fil-A guy I quoted earlier did. They both had an absolute disregard for the truth. All they cared about was defending what they already believed, not about dealing with facts.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, Akin backpedaled from his line about “legitimate rape,” but he never explicitly acknowledged the error. He merely said that he had “misspoke” and then went back to his talking points.
I don’t want to get into the abortion debate here, because that’s not really the issue. The issue is intellectual honesty. It’s having respect for facts. It’s about telling the truth and even being willing to say “I don’t know” when you don’t have an answer.
This is what happens when people are more committed to destroying their ideological enemies and winning political debates than they are to the truth. If you’ve reached the point that you’re just making things up to win arguments — no matter what your position is — you’ve gotten yourself badly off-track somewhere along the way.
Facts matter. Truth matters. Honesty matters. We can disagree about a lot of things, but we can’t even have adult conversations if we can’t be honest.