On Aug. 7 I voted for Todd Akin to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in the Missouri primary, even though I didn't expect him to win. On Aug. 8 I was surprised. Last Monday, Aug. 20, I smacked my head on my desk after hearing what he said on a St. Louis TV news show. "There goes Missouri," I thought. And the damage could be even greater.
As expected, it didn't take long for the opposition outrage machine to crank up the hand wringing and finger pointing. From the Republican side I've been collecting adjectives: ill-conceived, poorly stated, unfortunate, bizarre, stupid, repugnant, ignorant. Altogether it's an impressive collection, adding up to an almost unanimous chorus from the GOP leadership and pundit gallery: "Time to say good-bye," Todd.
He's a good man. Though I don't know him, I've known of him for years: a homeschool pioneer in the state, father of exceptional children, devoted husband, respected elder in the church. Perhaps not such an adept politician.
I can't guess his reasons for staying in the race, but I can evaluate spectacular bad judgment in the original interview. Abortion is a calcified issue-one of those deeply personal subjects that individuals "just know" and politicians exploit. When minds are already made up, words don't help-often they hurt. What changes hearts is subtle: a friendship, a personal experience, a gradual softening. A hard word like "rape" crashes in with an ugly, discordant tone and distracts from the real ugliness of 50 million dead babies. Which is exactly why pro-abortion groups employ it as a weapon in their arsenal. Candidate Akin should have seen it coming, and turned aside the hard word with a soft answer.
But we have to play with the hand we're dealt. These are interesting times, and with two more months to go, this election cycle will certainly hold more surprises-such as the possibility, widely speculated upon, that Democrats will overplay the ace inadvertently passed to them. Announced plans for their convention next week imply they'll cast themselves as abortion champions: a case of tin-earitis as pronounced as Todd Akin's. Polls indicate that Americans are becoming more pro-life, but even if they weren't, abortion is not on their minds this year. The "Republican-war-on-women" theme plays well in activist circles but not in Peoria, where voters are concerned about the shrinking middle class.
Mood matters: In 2006, Sen. George Allen lost an election on the strength of a word. Todd Akin could lose one on the strength of a sentence, but I don't think the damage will spread. The American people are uneasily eyeing a cliff up ahead, not running from a phantom. Everybody take a deep breath. God knows all about this, and He's still in control.