The New York Times has a big story today about the resurgence of Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is almost neck-and-neck with his Senator Claire McCaskill, coming within the margin of error in recent polls. He has been forgiven by many in the party establishment, even earning the ultimate blessing from the GOP senatorial committee: cash. He has been campaigning hard across the state, introducing himself to constituents and trying to prove that he’s not the crazy zealot he’s been made out to be. There’s just one problem with Akin’s redemption campaign and the New York Times‘ coverage of it. Todd Akin’s comments weren’t “gaffes” or “misinterpretations by the press.” They were his beliefs. They just weren’t very popular.
I was pretty shocked to see the NYT headline, “Famous for Gaffes, a Missouri Candidate Learns to Watch His Words.” The obvious problem here is that Akin’s comments showed a real part of who he is, a part that he attempts to hide from voters when campaigning but should still be worth talking about. The trouble with all of this “gaffe” coverage in the campaign is that we’ve begun to label every unpopular statement as a gaffe. That’s just not true.
A gaffe was when Mitt Romney first announced his running mate and introduced everyone to the next “President of the United States Paul Ryan.” Mitt meant to say “Vice President,” but since he’s been campaigning for President for eight years, it was probably just natural to say. The audience chuckled and Mitt corrected himself. That was a gaffe. It was an obvious mistake.
Todd Akin’s comments were consistent with his beliefs about abortion. He was trying to explain why there was no need for a rape exemption for abortion by simply saying that pregnancy from rape doesn’t happen. He statement was false, but it was really based on the teachings of a doctor and this doctor supports the Akin campaign and came to his defense after the “legitimate rape” comments were made. Akin even quoted the doctor, John Wilkie, in interviews after the media firestorm to support his viewpoint.
Some could say that it was the usage of the word “legitimate” that made the comments a gaffe. After all, there’s no such thing as an illegitimate rape and therefore no need to clarify them as such. At first, Akin said that he meant to say “forcible rape.” That is the word that Akin and Paul Ryan tried to inject into legislation to redefine rape and exclude statutory and date rape from programs that allow insurance to cover abortions for rape victims.
However, after that announcement, Akin went back and said that he really did mean to say “legitimate rape.” He said that he was referring to “false claims of rape” made by women. He was backtracking to say that some women were faking it, and just claiming to be raped. Coincidentally, he also expressed concerns over criminalizing marital rape, saying that women would use rape to attack men during nasty divorces.
Todd Akin has proven that he doesn’t want women to be able to make their own reproductive choices, no matter what situation led up to that moment. He’s shown that he doesn’t respect rape victims. His statement was not a mistake. It showed what the real Todd Akin looked like. The problem is that this man’s views aren’t shared by the majority of people in this country. For the New York Times to act like Akin’s numerous statements about rape and abortion are just some silly mistakes covers up the serious issue that this politician holds very extreme views on women and their reproductive rights.