As of this writing, conservative House member Todd Akin, who is challenging Claire McCaskill for a Senate seat in Missouri, is still refusing to leave the race despite clarion calls from numerous GOP leaders from Mitt Romney on down asking Akin to do so. Akin’s stubbornness is destructive on many levels.
Akin is obviously not a team player. In the business world, which includes the business of politics, when a boss asks a team player to do something, he or she does it, whether that person agrees with the boss or not. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the de facto leader of the GOP. With respect to the Republican Party’s hierarchy, Romney, at least from an ethical point of view, has boss-like authority over Akin. Unfortunately for Romney and the GOP, Romney’s authority over Akin is only persuasive. Romney can’t force Akin to do anything.
According to an August 20, 2012 Washington Post story , Akin still enjoys a slight lead over McCaskill, whose seat was considered particularly vulnerable until Akin made his “legitimate rape” comments. But his comments are a game-changer. These ill-chosen utterances can be heard in their entirety in the video accompanying the story.
Akin may be under the delusion that he can still win, but his colleagues know better. Romney, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and other GOP members calling for Akin to quit, understand that those poll numbers will quickly turn against Akin and that his fiery downfall will threaten to engulf both Romney and every GOP candidate for national office. Party funding has already been cut from Akin’s campaign.
Akin’s refusal to face reality is reminiscent of Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s clinging to office for weeks after revelations surfaced about his posting of online images of his erect penis, and Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s riding out his term after being arrested for propositioning an undercover cop in a public restroom.
Although Weiner and Craig engaged in repulsive behavior—illegal, in Craig’s case—and Akin merely chose offensive words, all three cases involve men hell-bent on staying in or attaining high office despite having self-inflicted, mortal political wounds. In all three cases, one man hijacks the national conversation and threatens to bring down an entire political party with him. All three are examples of the selfish pursuit of power at all costs.
Weiner, Craig, Akin and their ilk believe they can survive anything Bill Clinton-style. Fortunately for America, none of them are Bill Clinton.
Words can be as hurtful as behavior, and, in some cases, more so. Rape and abortion are two exceptionally incendiary issues in America. The astounding obtuseness of Akin’s word choice indicates that he didn’t think very carefully about rape. When a speaker doesn’t think carefully about an issue, it suggests that he believes it is unimportant. And if Akin doesn’t think rape is very important, he probably doesn’t think women are very important either. This line of thought is supported by Akin’s subsequent comment that even if a woman is raped, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The scientific dubiousness of that statement aside, it suggests that if only a small number of women who are raped get pregnant, it’s no big deal. But it’s a huge deal. Rape is an extraordinary crime of violence whose victims are overwhelmingly female. Many women consider it worse than death. One rape that results in pregnancy is one too many. Wake up, Congressman Akin. This is serious business.
To his credit, Akin has repeatedly apologized for his “legitimate rape” comment. But the pain he has inflicted upon countless rape victims remains.
In the heat of a major political campaign, people make mistakes. There are mistakes, and then there are catastrophic blunders whose damage is irreparable. Akin’s gaffe is of the latter variety because it’s in the nature of a Freudian slip, an unintentional verbal hiccup that candidly reveals the inner workings of a person’s mind.
With his comments, Akin, a staunch anti-choice foe, has re-opened the Pandora’s box of the abortion issue. People on both sides of it need to grow up. Abortion can be debated from now until the end of time with no winner emerging. It is a complex area involving religious opinion, medical ethics, psychology, and practical human experience. Complex problems require complex solutions.
The solution, which is necessarily imperfect, lies somewhere between the pro-choice and pro-life positions. Mitt Romney’s vacillation between the two poles indicates that Romney has been wrestling with this bear for some time. Romney’s current position, that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape, incest, and serious threats to the health or life of the mother, is shared by most mainstream conservatives. Akin’s belief—that rape is not a sufficient reason for performing an abortion—is extreme. The GOP would do well to vote down a proposed party platform supporting an across-the-board ban on abortion.
A woman’s decision to abort a child is an extremely personal and heart-wrenching one. It should never be made lightly, and her reason or reasons for making that decision should be compelling. Not wanting to deal with physical discomfort doesn’t cut it. If a woman has, according to compelling, generally accepted medical evidence, a good chance of dying or suffering permanent, serious disability if she brings a baby to term, most reasonable people would say that she should be allowed to have an abortion. In addition, carrying the child of a rapist or incest perpetrator can cause serious psychological and physical injuries in a woman that, in some cases, may be life-threatening. This is something that most people across the political spectrum can agree upon.
Moving out of the conservative comfort zone, there are other good reasons to allow a woman to make the choice. These include situations where medical evidence indicates that the fetus is unlikely to survive long outside the womb due to serious injury or deformity, or, that if brought to term, would have such a poor quality of life that a reasonable mother could determine that this is a life not worth living.
Of course, a woman can decide to bring a child to term, even though she knows she’ll probably die in the process, or that the baby will probably die after a short time, or have an extremely poor quality of life. Or, she may not. That’s what choice is all about.
Additional good reasons are minority and mental incapacity, which are subsets of rape. And disability should include emotional as well as physical injury. For example, if an emotionally unstable woman, though capable of consent, is likely to suffer even more serious, permanent psychological harm by bringing a child to term, she should be allowed to decide whether she should have an abortion.
I’m sure there are other exigent circumstances I haven’t thought of, but I’m confident there are a very modest number of them that crackerjack legislators can expertly turn into good law, if they have the courage and intellectual honesty to do so. If the next president and Congress really want to resolve this problem, they should develop federal legislation along these lines. Close cases would have to be decided by the courts.
Conservatives have long been proponents of requiring mandatory counseling for any woman contemplating abortion in order to discuss alternatives with her. I’d go farther than that. Any woman who has been diagnosed as being pregnant should undergo mandatory counseling. The counseling must present information with sensitivity, and in an unbiased manner.
Pregnancy is the most important event in most women’s lives. It profoundly impacts their physical and psychological health, for better and for worse. A pregnant woman’s physical health is regularly monitored by a physician. Her emotional health merits equal attention. The mind and body are intricately and intimately interconnected. It’s high time that we stop pretending that mental health is a separate and inferior entity.
Mandatory counseling, during and after pregnancy, could very well prevent mass murders of the Susan Smith variety. At the very least, it would help identify serious issues that threaten the well-being of mother and child.
Neither side would be terribly happy with such a system. But it makes sense. And it could work. All that needs to happen is for some powerful and not-so-powerful folks to grow up.
Will our leaders find the courage to chart such a middle course anytime soon? Unlikely. Hard-liners who control both parties will probably continue to make like the Hatfields and McCoys. Most likely, crazies on the right will continue to harass pregnant women at clinics, and, once in a while, kill doctors who perform abortions. Similarly, crazies on the left will probably try to shoot more people working at pro-life organizations.
Still, one can hope that this old, tired, vicious cycle will be broken in the not-too-distant future.
All that said, now is not the time to have this conversation. The nation faces far more urgent and serious problems. These pressing matters are being held hostage by one small-minded, selfish congressman who doesn’t know how to choose his words properly in an interview.
When someone says something breathtakingly stupid in a job interview, he or she doesn’t get hired. When someone running for high office says something breathtakingly stupid, that person deserves to lose. It’s that simple.
Sure, there’s a double standard. Democrats seem to be able to get away with saying anything. Joe “Chains” Biden should have been packed off to the funny farm a long time ago. President Obama can talk about “a typical white person” all he wants. When Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House, she repeatedly railed against “unpatriotic” Republicans. But being able to get away with such nonsense doesn’t justify it.
With all their faults, the Republicans have something that the Democrats seem to lack: shame. When one of their own shames them, Republicans do everything they can to get rid of that person in a hurry. With shame comes humility, something in short supply among too many of today’s leaders.
With 8.3 percent unemployment, miniscule GDP growth, and a 16 trillion debt, the nation is heading off a fiscal cliff. Iran is about to get nuclear weapons, Afghanistan is imploding, and 2012 Europe is looking more like the Europe of 1848 every day. And we have a president who doesn’t have a clue.
Do we really want to spend all our time arguing about a selfish, silly congressman?
America has better things to do, and her survival depends upon doing them. Rep. Akin, if you don’t quit, prepare to be pushed out, so we can all move on.