Any time a politician uses the word “rape,” he’s getting himself into trouble. The same rule applies to talking about Nazis. Not much good can come from it unless you’re teaching a class on history or criminology.
But in the case of Congressman Todd Akin, that’s just the beginning. He has three more fundamental problems.
Earlier this month, Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, got himself into trouble when he told a reporter that pregnancy from rape is rare and that, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
His first problem is that he made a false claim about how women’s bodies work. Akin says he based that claim on the theories of an Ohio doctor, but those theories have been debunked. Similarly, last summer Michele Bachmann contended that doctors say the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation, even though she had no evidence to back up her claim.
Second, what Akin said is offensive, absurd, wrong, hurtful, and — most importantly — just plain nutty. It’s a flat-out weird thing to say. Lots of people say goofy things all the time, but we try not to put those people in public office.
Akin argues that politicians shouldn’t be punished for misspeaking. Fair enough. Every politician has had a gaffe or three. But that’s not what Akin did. He didn’t mess up one word in one sentence on one day. He revealed a bizarre, indefensible belief.
But the real problem for Akin is that by staying in the race, he’s ensuring the re-election of a pro-choice Democrat, Senator Claire McCaskill. And that makes him a hypocrite.
Akin now has two options: He can either drop out and by doing so prove that he does in fact believe that the principles he holds dear are more important than his political career, or he can stubbornly hang around in a futile attempt to clear his name.
For the time being, Akin is taking cover from the storm, hiding under the notion that party leaders shouldn’t be allowed to dictate his departure. He argues that only the voters can do that. He’s certainly correct, and they certainly will do that for him in a few short months.
Make no mistake, there are lots of voters, me included, who don’t like it when the smart guys in Washington tell candidates what to do. But again, that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is which party will control the United States Senate after the November elections. Akin has to decide what he values most — the principles he has fought for all these years, or his ego.
Akin’s campaign bio says he’s an engineer. That’s good. As conservatives, we believe that there are many fruitful things to do with one’s life other than serving in public office. It’s time for Akin to prove that, and exit stage right.
Curt Anderson is a partner at OnMessage Inc., a Republican media and polling firm. He was an aide in the Reagan White House and co-wrote Gov. Bobby Jindal’s book “Leadership in Crisis.”