'I must have meant to say something else. I wonder what.'

Friday, August 24, 2012

For most politicians, any publicity is good publicity -- as long as you get the name right.

By the time you read this, Todd Akin will either still be the Republican candidate running against incumbent Claire McCaskill for one of Missouri's U.S. Senate seats, or he will be a has-been. All because of the publicity he generated during an interview last week.

Let's look at it from both sides. Until Akin sought the GOP nomination in a much-ballyhooed primary, few Missourians outside his district in Congress, where he has served six terms, knew who Akin was. He won the Senate primary, in part, because supporters of McCaskill spent gobs of money painting him as the most conservative of all conservatives. This appealed to some Republican voters, and it served McCaskill's purposes, because Akin was widely regarded as the most beatable in the November general election.

Strange politics, yes. But what do you expect these days?

Akin is opposed to abortions. All abortions. His staunch stand has made him the darling of many conservatives and religious purists. In an interview he was asked if he would support abortion for rape victims. His answer was like lighting a keg of gunpowder.

Now Akin is widely known by voters all over Missouri. Heck, he made front-page headlines from Seattle to Boston. His remarks in response to the interview question became the lead story of TV and radio news programs.

In short, Todd Akin had arrived.

Like so many political candidates with severe cases of foot-in-mouth disease, Akin responded to criticism by simply stating that he made a mistake. Surely, he said, Missourians understand that folks make mistakes and kindheartedly accept the apologies that follow.

Well, yes. Missourians are a forgiving lot. That would be the only explanation for dozens of successful elections by other candidates in the state who have pulled their brogans from between their teeth.

But was Akin's stupid remark, about women who are raped, a mistake?

Surely the interview question was not the first time Akin had ever pondered, even for an instant, the ramifications of rape. Surely he knows enough about biology to understand that his answer was both malicious and goofy.

Akin's "apology" was hollow. It lacked any expression of understanding that what he said needed to be replaced by the candidate's own words demonstrating even the vaguest comprehension of what he had done.

If Akin hangs on to his questionable candidacy -- which he won fair and square, according to McCaskill -- he will have sent a message that screwball statements are just fine as long as you are prepared to follow up with a "Sorry, I made a mistake" news release.

Sometimes candidates need to face up to their failures and weaknesses. But Akin's comments have led many hearers to wonder if he has the brainpower to know how damaging his remarks were.

Now he wants to join the Club of 100. Will the state that elected a dead candidate to the U.S. Senate now become the state that elects someone who is brain-dead, someone who said women who are raped don't need abortion because they don't get pregnant?

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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