Saying It Ain't So, Joe? Okay, Maybe I Can Help

In which I do my best, for both our sakes, to assist a Tennessee state representative in walking back some remarks on the Todd Akin situation.



State Representative Joe Carr
TAMPA BAY —Although my reference to a conversation with state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Rutherford County) in Tuesdays’ dispatch from the Republican National Convention, “GOP Delegates Spend a Day Hunkered Down at Home Base,” was minimal, it got maximized in further attention paid it in the Nashville area.
And God knows where else. Most recently, it had turned up on NPR.

I had reported that Carr was one of three delegates who responded no to an impromptu audience poll by consultant Frank Luntz as to whether Missouri Senate candidate Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin should exit his race.

My next paragraph went as follows: “Carr would explain later on that he agreed with Akin that women did indeed possess certain biological means to close themselves off against pregnancy in cases of violent rape. He further thought that Republicans had no business telling a bona fide Republican primary winner what to do.”

I was not prepared for the attention that brief paragraph — an island, as it were, in an atmospheric account of a day at the RNC — would get. Much of my afternoon was spent fielding calls from media people in the Nashville and Murfreesboro areas.

In short, Carr was clearly getting the same sort of adverse attention that Akin had gotten after telling a local TV interviewer in Missouri that he thought women had biological ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”

And I have no doubt that he was submitted to the same sort of hotboxing from fellow Republicans concerned about being stigmatized by such a view.

There are several ways in which a politician in that kind of scrape can respond: (1) He can, like Akin, stand by the incriminating remark and damn the torpedoes; (2) He can say, “I was a little imprecise. What I meant to say was….”; (3) He can say, “Well, maybe I misspoke myself;” and walk it all back somewhat, or (4) He can claim to have been misquoted.

Rep. Carr chose the latter course, but then, as he, too was barraged by several different media — mostly in his Middle Tennessee bailiwick — he began to walk that back as well.

When Carr was in his full denial phase, he contended that I had not identified myself as a reporter. I am certain that I did. And specifically I told him I had observed him on the House Education Committee while in Nashville to cover legislation affecting the Memphis suburbs’ ability to vote on municipal school districts.

Carr responded to that by bragging, as he remembered, about how he had put Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash in his place. (Actually, I think he misremembered; I don’t think it was Cash, but somebody else from Memphis, who testified about the over-numerous school districts to be found in the state of Pennsylvania, that being the subject of Carr’s riposte. (“I told him, ‘Well, don’t the schools in Pennsylvania rank pretty high?’”)

Carr’s first answer to me, when I asked him why he had voted the way he did, was an assertive
“He won the primary, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but….,” I said, but, I asked, wasn’t he both embarrassing to other Republicans (I mean, everybody from Romney and Ryan on down was demanding he be gone) and, er, a little bit crazy?

At this point, Carr began explaining to me, in the patient manner of an adult to a child or a professor to a dull pupil, how there was very likely a scientific basis for presuming a woman’s physiological ability to prevent pregnancy from a forcible rape.

I’m giving him his due by saying he disapproved of Akin’s term “legitimate rape,” which had ignited much of the firestorm. I am also cutting him considerable slack with the term “very likely” in the preceding paragraph. In fact, I found myself in the position of arguing against the thesis of a biological shield against impregnation by rape.

Carr kept insisting on such a possibility to the point that I had to protest, “Look, I’m not invested in this issue.”

Now, he may well have been arguing the point in the scholastic how-many-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin manner rather than from the point of view of a true believer. But the point is, we found ourselves in a real back-and-forth. It became like one of those dorm debates over transubstantiation that certain kinds of earnest freshmen have in college.

Eventually, I backed off — as it is always wise to do when one is in the presence of someone propounding a thesis so vigorously. And we parted pleasantly.

My reference to the conversation in my Flyer post of Tuesday was really somewhat off-handed, I thought. I never dreamed that so much would be made of it.

Literally, I found myself being deluged by media inquiries about the matter. I wondered if it was on its way to becoming a baby version of the Akin affair. I sincerely hoped not.

As I told an NBC affiliate that wangled me a booth pass at the convention for the sake of having an interview done for their broadcast, “I’m sure he’s sorry he’s said it, and I’m right with him on that. I’m sorry he said it, too.”

I’d be happy to get the situation walked back to some relatively harmless middle point. And to that end, here is how I would be pleased to amend the brief paragraph from my Tuesday article quoted above:

“Carr would explain later on that he agreed with Akin that women might indeed possess certain biological means to close themselves off against pregnancy in cases of violent rape. He further thought that Republicans had no business telling a bona fide Republican primary winner what to do.”

“Might” instead of “did” — OK? And that’s the best I can do.


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