I don’t know what it is about Republican candidates for the United States Senate in Missouri. Last time Democratic senator Claire McCaskill was up for reelection in 2012, the GOP nominee, Representative Todd Akin, self-destructed after a series of remarks suggesting that any woman wanting an abortion because she’s been raped is probably lying about it, because “legitimate rape” doesn’t produce pregnancy.
Akin won the Senate nomination that he subsequently threw away in a divided GOP field. So this time around Missouri Republicans have united early around the candidacy of State Attorney General Josh Hawley, a relative political newcomer who easily won his current position in 2016. In contrast to the aging Christian-right warhorse Akin, Hawley is 30-something and whip-smart, a Yale Law School grad who clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts. Yes, he’s rigidly conservative, as one would expect of a former president of the Yale chapter of the Federalist Society. But he wouldn’t say anything stupid about women, would he?
You wouldn’t think so. But excerpts from an audio tape have leaked of Hawley speaking to a conclave of Christian-right activists in December that’s more than a little out there, blaming the scourge of human trafficking on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Sexual freedom leads to sexual slavery, he explained.
“It ends in the slavery and exploitation of young women. It will destroy our families,” he said, per the Kansas City Star. “You know what I’m talking about, the 1960s, 1970s, it became commonplace in our culture among our cultural elites, Hollywood, and the media, to talk about, to denigrate the biblical truth about husband and wife, man and woman.”
As the Star laconically observed, this take on the causes of human trafficking is not terribly credible:
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, an expert on human trafficking who has advised law enforcement and testified in criminal cases across the country, said there is “absolutely no empirical evidence or research to suggest there was any uptick in human trafficking in the 1960s or 70s or that that’s when it started.”
But there will always be a political market for the proposition that if we had just kept the womenfolk under control and both genders under bonds of premarital celibacy, we wouldn’t be dealing with problems like human trafficking. It’s very much the point of view of the dominant class of men in the dystopian feminist classic The Handmaid’s Tale. If it seems unfair to tie Hawley to that strain of extremist thinking, one might consider the venue for his pithy remarks: a “Pastors and Pews” event sponsored by the Missouri Renewal Project, the local branch of famed Christian nationalist activist Dave Lane’s American Renewal Project, itself financed by the virulently anti-gay American Family Association. If you’ve forgotten about the extremely influential Lane, he last made news in arguing that CNN had “forfeited its right to broadcast” by featuring Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, “both homosexuals,” on its New Year’s Eve broadcast.
Hawley’s fellow headliners at the “Pastors and Pews” event were quite the rogues’ gallery of crazy people as well. There was the father of lies himself, pseudo-historian David Barton, the man responsible for propagating the myth that the Founders wanted an explicitly and exclusively Christian nation. There was another pseudo-historian, Bill Federer, who has argued that the “atheist homosexual gay agenda movement” is, incongruously, guiding America toward “Sharia law.” There was Laurence White, a Texas-based conservative Lutheran minister known for his blood-curdling jeremiads against any sort of compromise with “baby-killers,” i.e., supporters of legalized abortion, and his comparisons of abortion to the Holocaust. There was Bishop E.W. Jackson, veteran Virginia wing-nut politician and another Sharia law shouter, probably best known for his warnings that yoga can lead to Satanism.
In other words, Hawley is keeping some pretty strange company if he is indeed just a standard-brand conservative who wants to make sure “all women are treated with respect, equality, and dignity,” as his spokesperson put it in defending his remarks. You can be quite sure that his friends at “Pastors and Pews” think of “respect and dignity” for women as being co-extensive with the bonds of matrimony and the yoke of submission to a servant-leader husband. As for equality —we’re all equal as slaves to the Will of God as understood by the likes of Lane, Federer, White, & Co.
One suspects that the main difference between Todd Akin and Josh Hawley is the latter’s Ivy League polish, and perhaps the discretion he showed in keeping certain views and associations to himself — until that tape leaked of him doing the Lord’s secret work of fighting freedom.