Ever since his interview with KTVI-TV was posted on YouTube last Sunday, Todd Akin has become the poster child of every left-leaning email in my Inbox. The latest barrage of emails marvel ominously at his incomprehensible lead over his Democratic opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, in the most recent opinion polls. The clear implication is that, without your financial support, Akin will win, in spite of his incomprehensible comments about “legitimate rape.”
The left-leaning blogosphere would do well to dig a tad deeper into these latest numbers and ask themselves whether opening our wallets up just a little bit wider is really the best response to Todd Akin’s lingering popularity.
Todd Akin’s defense of “legitimate rape” – you know, as distinguished from its opposite, “illegitimate rape” – plays well as a Democratic issue (or so the wisdom goes) only in contested and solidly Democratic districts. Hey, it’s a good fund-raising issue; and so Democrats are understandably milking his comments for everything its worth. Will it help the Democrats retain this important seat? Maybe, although the latest polling data does not look promising.
Which raises the inevitable question: are voters in Missouri really so hostile to women – even women who have been the victims of rape – as these polling numbers suggest?
No. They are not. What these polling numbers really tell us is that Missourians do not want women to receive abortions in their state and certainly do not want public funds used to help defray the cost for performing this procedure. Akins remarks have not changed their view on this subject. And this means that no matter how much money the Democrats pour into this race, Missourians will still vote for what they perceive to be the pro-life candidate. (Yes, undecided voters might shift to McCaskill over Akins’ remarks; but, the latest polling data suggests that this, by itself, is insufficient.)
If I were advising McCaskill’s campaign, I would not let this issue go; but nor would I advise that she build her campaign on it. Instead, I would identify and push hard on the many, many public programs from which Missourians benefit – not just highways, bridges, and small-business tax relief, but the piles upon piles of publicly funded programs that assist farmers, from publically-funded research that promotes soil enrichment, to meteorological programs that help farmers deal with quickly-shifting weather conditions, to draught relief assistance, which is specially important in today’s climate-change induced conditions now plaguing Midwestern planters. I would push hard on these public programs because absent a vigorous defense of the public sphere, abortion or no abortion, McCaskill’s campaign is dead in the water.
I would next focus on all of the ways that Missourians – not only the elderly, but young and old, veterans and emergency assistance workers such as firemen and women, policemen and women, and teachers – benefit from publically-funded medical assistance and insurance. We are all beneficiaries of res publica, our common or shared wealth, a fact that republicans (whose very name comes from this term) appear to have forgotten.
Notwithstanding his party affiliation, Todd Akins is a fierce opponent of res publica; he is what I call an anti-republican Republican. Senator McCaskill needs to force Akins back into this small corner. There Akins can be appreciated for what he truly is: a sworn enemy of firefighters, police officers, nurses, and teachers; an undying enemy of the elderly and retired, of orphans, farmers, and emergency response personnel. Akins’ one and only true friends are the filthy rich, who will let everyday Missourians go to hell so long as they can enjoy huge tax breaks and privileges.
Win on this issue and Akins does not have a chance. The tragedy is, Democrats such as Senator McCaskill no longer know whether they are as fully in favor of res publica as campaigning on this issue would require them to be. She has ceded this – the only genuinely sacred ground of any true republic, to her opponent. And, having ceded this ground, she has no higher ground to which she can retreat and regroup. Which is why, even after this bombshell, Akins is still narrowly ahead 44-43%.
So, what lessons might this disturbing polling data hold for the rest of the nation in the remaining three months? First, Democrats need to push hard on the ways that we all benefit from public funding. They need to cast their opponents as the enemies of res publica, the common wealth; a characterization that will stick because this is exactly how Republicans cast themselves. Second, Democrats need to clearly point out, by name and occupation, all of the enemies of their Republican opponents: teachers, firefighters, ambulance drivers, paramedics, nurses, farmers, police officers, small business owners, workers (both organized and not-yet organized), and minorities of all stripes and colors. Third, they need to mount a seasoned defense of republican institutions and values, institutions and values that form the heart and soul of our commonwealth, our res publica; because, for reasons that are not altogether clear, Democrats for the past nine election cycles have been all too willing to cede this ground to their opponents.
The consequences of such back-peddling are now clear: a man who defends “legitimate rape” need no longer fear his political undoing so long as he maintains his opposition to public institutions and public values. Now that is scary.