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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

A Tale of Two Legislators

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Roger Rivard is reminding us what a full-blown firestorm looks like; complete with multiple news stories, an internet auto-da-fe, editorial denunciations, panicky political allies, rejected apologies, and the almost certain immolation of his political career. All of this over a comment he made 10 months ago, ostensibly quoting advice he had received from his father.

Politicians are, of course, frequently inartful and occasionally blundering, and it is seldom fatal. But Rivard’s inartful blunder was saying that “some girls rape easy.”  He sought to explain that it was advice his father gave him: 'If you're going to go down that road, you may have consensual sex that night and then the next morning it may be rape.' So the way he said it was, 'Just remember, Roger, some girls, they rape so easy. It may be rape the next morning.'”

Since the remark was made last December, Rivard can be forgiven for not ever having heard of Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate who threw himself on the minefield by his use of the term “legitimate rape.” His fellow Republicans fell over themselves fleeing any remote association with Akin, thus probably ending Akin’s chances of winning and perhaps the GOP’s chance of winning control of the U.S. Senate.

When critics dug up Rivard’s quote, he got the full-Akin treatment. Despite the vintage of Rivard’s rape remark, the Journal-Sentinel reported his comment noting that he was “drawing heat.” 

Rivard compounded his error by trying to explain the source, context, and intent of the remark. Had he understood the rules of politics in 2012, he would have immediately gone sack cloth and ashes. Even so, it probably wouldn’t have saved him, since Todd Akin had walked this way before.

Both Governor Scott Walker and VP nominee Paul Ryan immediately distanced themselves from the obscure freshman legislator.

Given the magnitude of the conflagration exploding around Rivard, they likely had no choice, unless they wanted to spend the next week explaining their support for him. A quick Google search for “Rivard and rape” yields 143,000 hits, including headlines with variations of Salon’s “Roger Rivard: Rape Apologist.”

The media demanded his misogynist head on a pike and would not be denied.

State Rep. Robin Vos, likely the next assembly Speaker wavered momentarily,  but quickly got with the program condemning Rivard’s comments as “unacceptable and embarrassing” and revoking his support. His spokesman went so far as to pull the party’s financial support.   

Despite Rivard’s apologies, editorials predictably joined the piling on, with the JS editorial board declaring that “Rivard's comments have generated a firestorm of justified criticism.” And lest the season’s political narrative be missed, the paper made the Akin connection explicit:

“Rivard's comments are similar to those made by U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin in August when he commented on "legitimate rape" and abortion.”

Within a few days, Rivard was toast.


None of this is to offer the slightest defense of Rivard or his remarks. But since politics is all about context, it’s useful to recall how the media/political world dealt with another outbreak of insensitivity and misogyny by a Wisconsin legislator last year.

During the debate over the Walker collective bargaining reforms, a Democrat legislator named Gordon Hintz pointed his finger at a female colleague and shouted, “You are f*cking dead!”  This was about the same time that Hintz was busted for sexual misconduct at an Appleton massage parlor as part of a prostitution investigation.

In the JS, I was able to find a column by friend and token righty columnist Patrick McIlheran, who noted that I had tried to shed some light on Hintz’s behavior:

“Hintz was reported, first by WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes, as having shouted, “You are … dead!” at Litjens, with a vulgarity inserted, after the Assembly voted to move the budget-repair bill on toward a final vote. Litjens was hesitant at first to discuss the matter — she brought it up to Republican leaders, and news leaked out from there — but she was confirming it by Monday afternoon.

“Hintz “walked right up and said what he said. ‘You are F-ing dead.’ Said the whole thing,” she told me — he didn't leave out anything between the F and the -ing.

“Hintz’s office did not respond to phone and e-mail messages. It would be the second low point lately for Hintz, who was ticketed in connection with a prostitution investigation last month.”

Otherwise, the story generated a mild and exceedingly short blog post which quoted  Michelle Litjens (R-Oshkosh) saying that she was “trying to look ahead after an ugly incident last week involving Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh).”

And that was pretty much it.

The following is the list of Democratic legislators, politicians, and feminist groups that withdrew their support from and/or condemned Hintz.

1. (crickets)

2. (crickets)

3. (crickets)

4. (crickets)

5. (crickets)

6. (crickets)

He is expected to be re-elected easily next month.


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