Thursday, August 23, 2012
Todd Akin looks to be with us for a little while longer (he says he's waiting to see if there's an unexpected surge of support that can carry him through a statewide race with no money and no support from two of the three legs of the conservative stool) so while he lingers it would do well to examine what his campaign says, not about him, but about the Republican Party.
Remember that Akin won the primary, in part, because Democrats ran a million dollars worth of ads attacking Akin's primary opponents and propping up Akin because the MO left correctly concluded that Akin would self-combust and be readily defeated. This, of course, leads to a number of questions, among which are:
1. who are these thick-headed Republican primary voters who view, or hear, a Democrat ad attacking a Republican and then vote based on said ad?
And, more important:
2. WHY AREN'T REPUBLICANS DOING THE SAME SORT OF THING IN DEMOCRAT PRIMARIES?????
It's been forgotten now, but California's 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary featured LA mayor Richard Riordan, who was widely viewed as presenting the greatest threat to the incumbent Gray Davis. Riordan was running against a couple relative unknowns: the conservative Bill Simon and another guy whose name escapes me. The Gray Davis campaign famously ran ads attacking Riordan and drove his negatives through the roof. This was no underground campaign either. California Dems were up front about what they were doing, and California Republicans were up front in whining about it all the way to the end when Bill Simon won the primary and then lost the general by something like 20 points. The same questions occurred to me back then:
1. Democrats are running ads intended to influence the outcome of the Republican primary. They are being quite open in saying they wanted Simon or the other guy to face them in the general, not Riordan. And, by some magical process, Republican voters acted on those ads and delivered to Gray Davis his chosen opponent. Why?
And more important:
2. WHY HAVEN'T REPUBLICANS DONE THE SAME SORT OF THING????
Still, now we have Akin as the official Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri, a state that has been trending red, but still has enough swing voters to make Akin's uninformed views about "shutting that whole thing down" (as I said yesterday, "WTF??????") a killer for his electoral prospects. Akin says he's going to see if it looks like he can survive the next few weeks, but in the meantime GOP leaders are groaning at the thought of all of the ads Claire McCaskill will be running in October. I guess it hasn't occurred to the GOP brain trust that MAYBE THEY SHOULD BE THE ONES RUNNING ANTI-AKIN ADS, AND SHOULD START RUNNING THEM YESTERDAY!!!! I thought we were the guys with the "noise machines" and the corporate money and all that. Would it be too hard to ask some shadowy PAC to start running McCaskill style ads that utterly destroy what's left of the Akin candidacy? I don't think so.
Akin has made it clear he will leave only if he sees absolutely no prospect for winning. Given his mule-headedness and his demonstrable slow wit, his numbers will need to be south of 10% before he will grasp that the jig is up. If Democrats can create the Akin Senate campaign, shouldn't Republicans be the ones to destroy it?
Finally, and a little more seriously, let's discuss what got Akin in trouble: abortion. I have no doubt that Akin is sincere in his pro-life views, but let's get real. When he starting rambling about some quack medical theory that women can shut off the fallopian tubes while being raped, he wasn't just displaying his ignorance and credulity, he was also avoiding the vexing question of whether there should be an exception for rape. In other words, Mr. Pro-Life Social Con was trying to have it both ways on the issue that supposedly animates his candidacy and inspired his constituents to vote for him. Way to defend the unborn, a**hole!
I'm no social conservative, but I am pro-life and even believe that rape and incest are not good reasons for an abortion for the simple reason that, regardless of the circumstances of the conception, you are still dealing with an innocent and defenseless life. Why abort a life when that life can be born and given a chance to live? To me, the issue of abortion is just that simple and easy to understand. It's liberals who try to make it needlessly complex with all their talk of "choice" and trimesters and privacy and everything else. And it's thick-headed Republicans like Todd Akin who become fumble-tongued when they try to thread the abortion needle like a Democrat, rather than stick to first principles. Akin can point to all of the pro-life votes he has cast, but he has done the pro-life cause no favors because he can't sit in front of a camera and defend life. His 97% ACU rating hasn't stopped a single abortion. All it's done is given him cover.
If we want to avoid more Akin moments, we need to change the way we talk about abortion. Democrats prefer to treat the issue legalistically, with a little "choice" rhetoric thrown in. This lets them discuss the issue dispassionately even while they support horror shows like late-term and partial-birth abortions, not to mention Barack Obama's post-birth abortions. We shouldn't let them set the debate on those terms. The pro-life cause succeeds when it forces voters to confront the realities of abortion, not the legal niceties. Remember how overwrought liberals got over partial-birth abortion? For you older folks, remember The Silent Scream? Abortion should be an emotional issue, not a legal one. That doesn't mean a lot of hysterics and Randall Terry-style barricades. Look at how Ron and Rand Paul discuss abortion. Both of them are deeply pro-life, but I'll bet many of their hipster followers have no idea, and if they did have an idea, they would likely find the Pauls' arguments persuasive, not repellant.
Todd Akin ruined his chances to run for Senate because he couldn't do the one thing expected of any conservative politician: answer a question about abortion. But, Akin is the latest in the long line of GOP pols who have treated abortion as a tripwire, rather than as a simple issue whose basic tenets are easily stated and impossible to refute: namely that life begins at conception and that a defenseless life is not one that can be taken lightly.