FLINT - Sometimes I think a mad scientist long ago invented a ray gun that induces temporary stupidity and he's been running around shooting people with it ever since.
What else explains otherwise intelligent people who park halfway over the line at the supermarket? Or who walk into door walls they've just closed? Or who start charcoal grills with gasoline?
Or people like, say, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who is this week's poster child for the need for us to hunt down and stop the inventor of the Stupid Ray before he strikes again?
If you missed it, Akin, who was being interviewed on TV about his stance that even rape victims should not be allowed to access abortions, said the following: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors (pregnancy after rape) is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. (And if a rape victim does become pregnant) I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
I mean, that's a stunningly stupid statement in more ways than I can count, one that you'd think could not possibly be made by a human being with a functioning brain stem much less someone who has risen high enough in life to hold public office. And yet it came spilling out of Akin nonetheless, as if he truly believed it. But how? Why? That's what I want to know.
The easy explanation is that Akin is simply a jerk whose opposition to abortion is so intense that he chooses to embrace even whacko ideas that seem to support it. But even zealots usually have their limits, which is why I think it must be the Stupid Ray.
You'll notice that once the ray's effects wore off, Akin began back-pedaling like an Olympic athlete in the reverse 100-meter dash.
He issued a statement saying, "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." (Although clearly the stupidity fog hadn't completely lifted. I'll bet rape victims everywhere were comforted by the "deep empathy" part, which came off as a paternal there-there pat. Thanks for that, Todd.)
He also wrote on Twitter that "all of us understand that rape can result in pregnancy and I have great empathy for all victims. I regret misspeaking."
By then too late it was too late. Women's groups were outraged. People were calling for him to resign and to end his Senate campaign. Best of all, the hashtag #legitimaterape arose on Twitter, allowing people worldwide to share in mocking Akin with comments like "My statement relied pretty heavily on my understanding that babies come from storks. Now I'm hearing different?" and "New rule: If you don't understand how pregnancy works, you're forever banned from legislating it."
Akin's campaign and probably his political career are over, and rightly so. But once the furor dies down, we should all remember that we, too, have probably been nailed with the Stupid Ray a time or two, including me.
The other week, for instance, my wife said, "Do I look fat in this?" and my response was a chipper "Sure!" which immediately caused a 20 degree drop in the room temperature.
I wanted to explain that I wasn't really listening to her at the time because I was absorbed in a game on my phone. But that would have gotten me in an equal amount of trouble, so I mentioned my Stupid Ray theory, and I think she bought it.
Please don't blow it for me.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.