Friday, August 24

Being Quotable: Akin To Politics

"The interesting thing here is that this is an individual who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology but somehow missed science class." — President Obama 

That is the most recent quotable from President Obama, shared during a fundraiser in New York City. Expect more of them. The President and his campaign team believe that running against select members of the Republican Party is easier than their opponents. It also distracts from real issues.

The outrageous quote from Senate challenger and Congressman Todd Akin won't last as long as the President would like. It's flash in the pan, especially since most members of the GOP (along with the Romney/Ryan campaign) readily denounced it and asked Akin to step aside. After Akin apologized, he says he won't step down despite his high profile quote being published everywhere.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Rep. Akin said.

With one poorly thought-out quote (and questionable science sourcing), Akin proved that proverbial campaign killing silver bullets may exist, provided they are self-inflicted. Rasmussen noted he dropped in the polls to 38-48 percent of the vote, down from leading 47-44 percent. The reversal is so strong that even his opponent, Claire McCaskill, has said that the Republican leadership should leave him alone and let him run. She sees a win ahead. She's not alone.

As Rasmussen pointed out: most Missouri Republicans want Akin to quit the race while most Missouri Democrats want him to stay. Without any doubt, Akin is still hurting himself while continuing his apology tour too. He might be apologizing without proper explanation, but it's for the wrong thing.

Breaking down the Akin blunder from a communication perspective. 

People really focused in on the word "legitimate" as the catalyst for the crunch. It's also the word Akin has taken to in framing an apology. There is no such thing as a "legitimate" rape, he has said.

But the real problem with his statements was something else (beyond demonstrating an almost unforgivable lack of empathy). It's this idea that women can prevent themselves from becoming pregnant. It was such an odd statement that I had to look it up.

The Los Angeles Times believes it comes from a book published in 1971. Mostly, it notes that the trauma associated with rape makes pregnancy less likely. There are other unrelated fertility studies that can be misused to bolster the concept beyond trauma. But none of it is as conscious as one could infer from Akin's quote. Likewise, even if people assume the occurrence is rape, then exceptions still exist.

The reality is that while the GOP party is seen as largely pro life, the majority of its members fall somewhere along a very broad spectrum (much like Democrats do along pro choice) of what that means. So there is no question Akin bungled it. After all, abortion is a hard enough topic to address without picking up on the even harder and more extreme issues that revolve around it.

Akin would have been better off considering former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's position, a carefully weighed opinion that separates his personal belief from what is politically manageable. Akin makes it unmanageable because before you start addressing exceptions, you have to reach an agreement on more basic principles, e.g., when does life begin. Until that question is answered in the political conscience of the U.S., it's nearly impossible to discuss fringe issues.

In a nutshell, the Akin's personal position is that life begins at conception and therefore, any new life ought to be protected regardless of circumstance. That is what he meant. It's an extreme pro life position, because it also extends the psychological and physical damage (which is horrendous enough) from a single event to a minimum 9-month ordeal.

I get that he brought it up because he wanted to paint himself as someone who doesn't run from his convictions. But he omits another fact. It's unlikely, if not impossible, to think one congressman or future senator could readily enforce such a belief. Even if he could muster enough bipartisan support to make this into a law, it would still face legal challenges from laws like Roe v. Wade.

The dilemma of dangerous issues. 

Having previously worked in politics, I know discussing pro life/pro choice issues is difficult for candidates. It forces them to take a position, even though most people haven't made up their minds across every nuance. Why would they? Most people cannot muster an authentic soul-searching response until they face the choice.

In some of the less usual circumstances that surround abortion, none of us really knows what we would do or could do. On this issue, many people also experience an opinion shift as they are confronted by those experiences. Yet, there are many voters who demand an answer (with some being single issue on this point) despite the fact it is a personal issue and always subject to change.

The law on the other hand is less subject to change. Most proposed laws are pinned to funding and time. Generally, the debate around funding is a question of whether it is fair to use taxpayer money to fund projects they are morally opposed to or whether limiting any such funds unfairly limits choice to those who cannot afford to make such a choice on their own.

All of this is important to consider before making any communication observations, especially because it underpins what Akin says he wants to do but never did. He said he wanted to have adult discussion.

Should Akin drop out of the race? It depends on who you are.

At the end of the day, Akin bungled it more than he realizes. He chose a topic that requires empathy and demonstrated none of it because empathy isn't exclusive to one party but all parties.

Does that mean he should step aside? Given the race is under 90 days away, there is time for him to recover even without party support (short of his party organizing a write-in candidate that might split the ticket). His electability is up to the people of Missouri and their priorities. Someone on the outside can only guess whether his personal position and careless comment outweighs whatever else he is running on.

If he wanted to pursue a long-shot recovery, it seems to me that he would need to demonstrate he learned something about being human (beyond semantics), demonstrate he can have adult conversations about abortion (arguing a fringe position is not a discussion), look into the science that made his argument sound so ignorant (unless it's a conscious choice, it doesn't count), and learn how to address the issue and then shift away from it toward issues that are important to the people of Missouri (which he hasn't really done) so it's not all about him.

That and, even if he has lost the support of his party, he ought not whine about it. He needs to accept their rebuke and find his funding elsewhere. Like it or not, some people share his views.

Naturally, his party would be better off without him for the short term and maybe the long term as Akin will likely remain the poster child for ... what? Politicians who confuse 'having values' with 'wanting to legislate values.' Sigh. Maybe we'll learn that no one can really legislate 'values' in either direction one day. I somehow doubt it.

At the same time, it seems that some Democrats are relishing what Akin said too much. It may or may not be a campaign killer for him, but it's still a pretty thin case to act like he's a rule and not an exception. If they keep pursuing the easy potshots, it only solidifies their overemphasis on vilification.
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