While it has become a huge political debate, I was not surprised at all by Congressman Todd Akin’s remark about “legitimate rape.”

[The remark] has prompted a rare moment of bipartisan unity as Americans of all political stripes ask: What in hell is “legitimate rape?”

Not surprisingly Akin quickly issued a backtracking statement.

In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” he said. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

Hey look, we’ve all been there—meant one thing but said another. So what exactly did you mean, congressman, by “legitimate rape?” And when you said that the female body had a biological defense mechanism preventing rape-related pregnancy, what exactly were you trying to say?

Oh come on.

I have heard similar sentiments expressed before, and it reflects a view fairly common among hard core (especially single issue) anti-abortion people. They are not only philosophically against abortion in any and all circumstances, but they see two problems with a rape exception. One is that the fetus is not to blame and should not be killed because his father was a rapist. The other is the fear that any rape exception will be used as a loophole by lying women who would take advantage of it by claiming rape simply to obtain abortions.

I think the man was reflecting a garden-variety hard anti-abortion view. Perhaps the hard core anti-abortion people surround themselves only with like-minded folks and forget how they might sound to outsiders, but I think it is a lesson in politics. I know I’m repeating myself, but the more activists surround themselves only with other like-minded activists, the more out-of-touch with reality they sound to ordinary people.

…single-issue activists often associate with — and tend to exclusively surround themselves with — other like-minded, single-issue activists. The result is what many call an echo chamber — or “the choir.” But I think “echo chamber” and “choir” are less than accurate terms, because the implication is that people are simply getting together and agreeing with each other in groups. When group dynamics are factored into single issue fanaticism, a lot more happens than mere group agreement. Because people are naturally competitive, many activists want to prove to the group that they are not only devoted to the cause, but more devoted than the others. This leads to extreme hyperbole, and the taking of positions which normal people would consider laughable.

Thus, when a guy like Akin says something that would be utterly non-controversial and inconsequential among the customary choir he’s used to addressing, he is blindsided when it ends up in the hands of the wrong people, and it can of course become election fodder.

I expect we’ll see a lot more of this kind of thing unless conservative activists can learn to tone down the rhetoric a bit.

It goes without saying that this does not mean abandoning principles.

I mean, very few leftists have abandoned socialist principles…. but how many of them would ever actually admit to actually being socialists?