Why Todd Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ gaffe might not match George Allen’s ‘macaca’ moment

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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The comparisons are already being made …

Earlier today, political analyst and University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato tweeted this:

Perhaps Sabato will be correct, in the sense that this gaffe could potentially cost Akin (and the GOP) a senate seat. But the situation is quite different from “macaca” for a variety of reasons:

1. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who infamously said “macaca,” had been “accused in the past of insensitivity on race issues …” Some people already feared Allen might be a closet racist — and so the “macaca” line just reinforced it. Akin’s words might reinforce a negative narrative about Republicans — but do they reinforce preexisting fears or concerns about him?

2. There was no Akin victim. When George Allen pointed at a young campaign “tracker” and called him “macaca” — which many took as a racial slur — there was a victim. A young man who was being mocked. What is more, the grainy quality of the hand-held “macaca” video made it more fun to watch (and for networks to play). It satisfied a sort of voyeuristic desire; we were seeing something we weren’t intended to see. Conversely, Akin’s gaffe occurred in a TV studio (boring) — and it’s not like he was talking to a specific rape victim, or even to a woman. You might think this is irrelevant, but from an optics standpoint, it matters greatly.

3. Larry Sabato notes that is a national story, and indeed it is. But a national story probably hurts much less in Missouri than it did in Virginia. When the Washington Post relentlessly covered “macaca” during the fall of 2006, those national stories were read by thousands of voters in population-heavy Northern Virginia (which also shares the Washington, DC TV media market). My guess is the national impact won’t matter quite as much in Missouri. It’s also worth noting that Allen’s gaffe also occurred in 2006, a very bad Republican year. What is more — unlike this year — there was no presidential race to overshadow it (it’s unclear whether or not that factor will help or hurt Akin, as Democrats will try to tie him to the ticket.)

In any event, while it is unclear whether or not Akin can survive, the “macaca” analogy is probably flawed.

Matt K. Lewis