I was not intending to break my scribble silence with two cents about a Republican candidate in Missouri running for U.S. Senate about whom I know positively nothing. After the essential recall of the Wisconsin recalls, the wind in my sails for explicit political scribbling has flagged off. But sometimes, even for a young curmudgeon, the bait is too irresistible, the bad taste and foot-in-mouth buffoonery such a spectacular eclat, that one risks ignorance by ignoring it.
Enter the court jester du jour, Todd Akin. I was out of state when this latest gaffe debacle/ Freudian slip hit the press over the weekend. Because I am old-fashioned enough, I treat email like regular mail in this sense: when I am away from home, I will deal with it all upon my return. No smart phone, no tweets, no iPads or tablets. Not even a quick dose of reality with a shot of espresso at an internet cafe or a lackadaisical saunter at some public library. But I do read the paper and listen to the radio, so I had heard all about what Todd Akin said — and then later said what he meant and should have said instead. I knew I would be coming home to countless emails about this as if I had had my head in the sand. I counted no fewer than sixteen such emails just with the name “Todd Akin” in the subject line, not counting less specific ones with the buzzwords of “rape” or “legitimate.” One-liners like “Unreal!” and “Dangerous and Wrong,” “Repulsive” and something else connoting the next cannon fire from the war on women. I understand the motivation behind these attention-grabbing headlines, and I agree with their outrage. I do not agree, however, with their conclusion that Todd Akin should step down. What he said was both stupid and despicable, of course. I am in no position, however, to distinguish what comes out of his mouth from what lies deep within his heart. Neither is Chris Hedges, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, or even Barrack Obama (at least his email-sending staff). The question isn’t whether his comments, which were in a response to a question posed to him about abortion, make him unfit for political candidacy — guess what? we have no such litmus tests for that in a democracy; anyone [with money] can run. The question is whether a deep-seated belief or misspoken faux pas (if you care to accept that) makes someone running for public office ineligible or unfit to hold such a position. My hunch simply is that Todd Akin is an idiot pandering to the religious right-to-lifers, as so many men — who will never have to face the gross reality of pregnancy or probably being sexually assaulted — tend to do, now that it has somehow become germane and unquestioned that power-seeking politicians have become ad hoc obstetricians and selective theologians, wannabe gynecologists who shudder at and cannot even bring themselves to say aloud the very word “vagina.” But let the people of Missouri decide who is and is not fit for representing them in Washington, not twitter-happy activists and the bloviating blogosphere (present company excluded).
Decry what Akin said, decry what he may stand for (or against), but take away his right to run for office based on something he said, and we find ourselves making a rather nasty precedent that will surely bite us back in the butt. Living in a pluralistic democracy (at least for the sake of argument) presupposes that we put up with shit we don’t like, maybe even can’t stand. But to argue that someone should resign after an absolutely callous remark is a bit hysterical. And it sends a message that the PC rank and file of the word police is vigilantly attuned to every whisper and wasted breath. It’s patronizing and sets a worrisome precedent. I don’t think Todd Akin should quit the campaign trail; the man spoke his mind, no matter how unethical and factually retarded his comments were. In so doing he gave his would-be constituents a candid opportunity to ascertain what he believes. Let Missouri decide what it wants. And let reason, not partisan electioneering, rule the day. National Republicans were instantaneous and all but unanimous in throwing the man under the bus, not for what he said, but for the actuarial concern that he will blow their chances to oust incumbent Claire McCaskill. No doubt Democrats are gloating in the ignominious agony and harangue of this horse’s ass, Senator McCaskill in particular. To be sure, he deserves it. But if all politics becomes a stage on which a vaudeville hook whisks us away each time we say something stupid, no politician will ever speak their mind, the deficit of which sincerity we lament all too much as it is. We are bombarded with watered down banalities and focus group-vetted talking points spouted out ad nauseum without needing to enable this generation of generalizations any further. Let politicians speak their own take on the truth, and let the people vote accordingly.