Whittaker Chambers said that "the great failing of American conservatives is they do not retrieve their wounded."
He had it right, as Todd Akin can testify.
In an interview that aired last Sunday, Akin, the Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri, was asked whether he opposed abortions for women who had been raped. Akin's reply:
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. ... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down ... .
"But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
As no rape is "legitimate," this was a colossal gaffe.
Yet anyone reading his statement knows what Akin meant. He was saying that in an actual rape -- from what doctors have told him -- the likelihood of pregnancy is rare. But if a pregnancy did occur, the punishment should be imposed on the rapist not the unborn child.
This was the moral position of those extremists John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. Of more interest, then, was the Republican reaction.
Howls for Akin to get out of the race came from pundits, talk show hosts, members of the Senate and the GOP's monied elite that is raising hundreds of millions in hope of a sweep of both houses of Congress and the White House in November. Akin is henceforth not to get a dime.
Even Paul Ryan, whose position on abortion appears identical to that of Akin, called and urged him to drop out.
Who came to Akin's defense? The Family Research Council. As President Nixon once told me, "Count your friends when you're down."
What does this hysteria over one egregious gaffe reveal?
A deep-seated fear, a gnawing anxiety among Republicans that the positions they have held and hold on social and moral issues, and even on economics and foreign policy, no longer command the support of a majority of their countrymen.
Consider. While the three amigos -- John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham -- are all for intervention in Syria, the Republican Party has fallen largely silent.
Where are the Republican and neocon hawks of yesteryear now that Barack Obama is pulling out of Afghanistan, when the expected result of a U.S. withdrawal is a Taliban takeover and massacre of many of those Afghans foolish enough to have cast their lot with the Americans?
Any Republicans demanding we stay the course in Afghanistan?