Akin’s ‘family campaign’ model deserves some blame

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Earlier today, Rush Limbaugh blamed Rep. Todd Akin’s misinformed comments on epistemic closure. “I know what happens to people who only talk to people who agree with them,” Limbaugh said. “If you never have your thoughts or your facts challenged, you live in an echo chamber.”

This is a truism. Conservatives who only socialize with fellow conservatives — who only watch Fox News — tend to be woefully unprepared to take on opposing viewpoints (the same principle is true for liberals, as well.)

It’s dangerous to live in a bubble — or be surrounded by “yes” men. No matter how important you are, you always want someone around to challenge your ideas — to tell you “the emperor has no clothes on.”

That’s why I think it was a major problem that Akin’s family ran his campaign. There are at least two reasons this is generally a bad idea. First is nepotism — meaning the family member didn’t get the job based solely on skill or expertise. There are a lot of skilled campaign managers in America. Was Akin’s wife or son really the best qualified? (I realize the fact that Akin had done this in prior campaigns — and that it had worked! — reinforced his belief that this was a good idea. It wasn’t. The U.S. senate is the big leagues.)

Qualifications aside, the problem with family is that they tend to love you. They might even revere and respect you. That’s good in a son or daughter or wife, but not in a campaign manager or adviser.

What you want is someone who is a little bit dispassionate — someone who can say: “Hey, I heard what you said during that interview taping. It was dumb. My candidate in ’04 said something similar. We need to clean this up.” (There are exceptions to the “no family member’s” rule, of course, such as Robert F. Kennedy).

Better yet — candidates don’t usually get busted the first time they say something stupid. How much do you want to bet Akin said something similar somewhere else? — at a small speech or even in a private conversation? Staffers who overhear such things ought to correct them before the candidate says it on TV.

This is not to say Akin’s problems are all due to turning his career into a family business. But it is to say that things might have gone better — he might have responded quicker or differently — if he had a few wise old pros around him.

UPDATE: Speaking of family insulation, a reader emails to remind me that Richard Nixon’s family urged him not to resign.

Matt K. Lewis