The Silly Season
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Things usually start to get really silly in American politics after Labor Day, but it seems that this year Republican Representative Todd Akin from Missouri following on the heels of Vice-President Joe Biden last week appears to have gotten a jump start. Last week, Biden, in speaking to an audience in Danville, Virginia (which included a number of African-Americans) attacked Romney for wanting to deregulate the banking industry, and suggested that Romney was: “…going to put you all back in chains.”
The Vice-President has been attacked by a number of Republicans for insulting Blacks with this pejorative reference, but the fact is it will probably not cost Obama any votes. No one ever accused Biden of possessing a very strong control of his mouth, neither for the content that flows out nor for the length of his comments. On the other hand, his long standing record in support of civil rights will stand him in fine stead against some of his critics who have been attacking his racially insensitive remark.
On the other hand, Congressman Todd Akin not only damaged himself–perhaps fatally– in his Senate race against the Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill–whom he was leading–but may end up damaging the national ticket as well. Aikin’s remark about rape was so outrageous and insulting to women that his modest attempt to extricate himself from his mis-speak has not yet been received well either. While the Romney-Ryan team have sought to distance themselves from Akin, it is not entirely clear whether they have done a convincing job—at least not yet. It also may just stick regardless of how hard they try.
The reason Akin’s slur may be very damaging because President Obama was already doing well among women, in most age groups, racial minorities, main-line religious groups, and geographic regions; although he was trailing among older White women, Evangelicals, and Tea Partyers. The Romney strategy in trying to carry the swing states is predicated on the idea that he will succeed in picking off more independent voters than will Obama. Just as he thought he could do with Latinos (where he is trailing abysmally by almost 80-20%) so too the campaign believed it could sway women—especially independent women in these battleground contests. By suggesting women have a biological mechanism which can enable them to repel a rape, Akin is placing himself at the top of the class of recent silly season leaders. Now Akin and the national ticket will need to fight this stigma which undoubtedly will be used by the Democrats in their efforts to paint it on all other Tea-Party candidates.