Like many people, I have a number of thoughts and questions related to the blowup over GOP Rep. Todd Akin’s outrageous remarks recently about rape and abortion and women. Let me first say that if I was a Missouri voter, I would likely vote for a third-party candidate or write in someone else in November.
A throng of Republican leaders have called on Akin to resign his nomination so he can be replaced. As of Tuesday evening, Akin has refused. Why should he resign? Did he do something illegal or unethical? His cardinal sin to most of the Republicans calling on him to drop his bid was that he was honest and stupid and said out loud what he believes, thus endangering the GOP’s prospects of picking up the Missouri Senate seat. So the pursuit of political power is paramount in this equation.
But where were these same Republican leaders in 2008 when Sarah Palin created the same scenario with her outrageous comments? I didn’t see any of them asking John McCain to drop her from the ticket. There were no calls for her to be replaced on the ballot.
If Republicans believe Akin is unqualified to hold the Republican nomination by virtue of his statements, then by logic, he is unqualified to be a senator. So should we expect them to endorse or work on behalf of incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill’s campaign? Will they take the money they had committed to Akin and run ads against him to ensure he doesn’t win? Or should they take this money and give it to a rape-crisis center or a pregnancy support group to demonstrate they really care about this issue?
Make no mistake, the calls for Akin’s resignation by many Republican leaders likely had nothing to do with the substance of his remarks — keep in mind, the Republican platform has a call for a ban on abortion even in cases of rape. They had nothing to do with the fact that Akin has long held out-of-the-mainstream positions on many issues and made numerous extremely conservative statements. Akin’s mistake was that by opening his mouth with crazy talk — as my nine-year old daughter says — made it much harder for Republicans to win a sure Senate seat pickup with him on the ballot.
This pursuit of political power is not limited to the Republican Party. Democrats do it day in and day out as well. Winning and holding power becomes the primary reason for many of the decisions that political leaders make. As I have mentioned before, this country has become nearly paralyzed with polarization and divisiveness. This win-at-all-costs attitude has created an environment in which both sides make patently false statements to gain advantage. And the pursuit of the truth is the major casualty in all of this.
The situation is why politicians have such a difficult time admitting mistakes. It is why our leaders have not been brutally honest with voters about the sacrifices needed to fix the fiscal crisis we face. It is why leaders don’t tell citizens that we need to learn to live with less and live simpler lives in which retail therapy won’t fix what ails us. It is why a poverty of the soul has taken over many people regardless of how much money they have. All of these things would require a potential loss of political advantage. They could entail losing power.
We need candidates who put the interests of their country before the interests of their party. And we need a presidential candidate who’s the leader of the country first, not the leader of his party. Someone who trusts the voters to make the right decision in the end, if given the truth and told what it will take to fix what ails us.
My feeling is that Akin should stay on the ballot. He got there through the process that has been created and was basically honest about his deeply-held views, however outrageous they are. I trust the voters to make the right call when it comes to whether he should serve as Missouri’s United States senator.
But let’s have a discussion about how we fix the dysfunction in Washington and in our politics, putting pursuit of power to the side and starting with the idea truth might be the best way to begin the process. Those of us in the media have a huge role in the discovery of the truth and holding both sides accountable; many times we have failed to fulfill that role on behalf of voters. Leaders don’t just hold public office — we are each leaders in what we say and do every day. Changing our own conversations, both small and large, might be a good way to start.