Missouri Senate nominee Todd Akin has headlined most newspapers and websites over the past 72 hours because of his absurd claim that women who were subject to "legitimate rape" couldn't get pregnant as a result. Right-leaning blogs and the Romney campaign, likewise, have tried to make something of Vice President Joe Biden's equally absurd comment that Romney's support for economic deregulation would put Americans "back in chains." (So far, the media hasn't bitten.)
Personally, I agree with the overwhelming majority of issue positions that Akin has expressed and disagree with as many of Biden's. I'm also willing to argue until my face turns blue that the mainstream media tilt coverage of almost all issues towards the political left and the Democratic Party. That said, I don't think that Biden's comments and Akin's deserve the same level of prominence. The reason is simple: Biden's comments don't tell voters anything they don't already know whereas Akin's comment and his subsequent actions do.
Of course, both comments were reprehensible. Although the absurd formulation of "legitimate rape" certainly made Akin's comment more offensive than Biden's, the vice president's attack was nasty and untrue. Romney's economic policies would give Americans more economic freedom by cutting taxes and regulation which is obviously the opposite of putting people in chains.
That said, while Biden's comment was silly and perhaps race-baiting it didn't reveal much about him that wasn't already well known: he's an old man and an ineloquent speaker picked for the vice presidency so as not to overshadow the charismatic, great-on-the-stump Obama. Furthermore, Obama has run a consistently nasty campaign trying to paint the bland technocratic Romney as a Mr. Burns clone with Falangist tendencies. Biden probably had no intention of inflaming racial passions and, even if he did, every poll indicates that Obama will take over 90 percent of the African-American vote anyway. Thus, everything the comment potentially "revealed" -- that Biden is prone to gaffes, is running a nasty campaign, and may stoop low to turn out key group -- is already well known.
Akin's comment, on the other hand, was quite revealing. First, it shone some light on his campaign and a decision to run on largely irrelevant issues. In the midst of the slowest economy in a half century, Akin's own campaign website highlights his pro-life and pro-gun credentials as his top issues while giving second and third billing to repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting spending. While I'm also anti-abortion (with exceptions for rape, incest and bona fide threats to the mother's life), and share Akin's views on gun rights, health care, and spending, he seems obsessed with the first two issues. His campaign website contains no specifics for spending cuts and no particular plan to replace President Obama's disastrous health care bill with something better. It offers no concrete ideas for creating jobs or deregulating the economy. If abortion -- an insoluble issue -- is to be the top issue, then a candidate's positions on it should get disproportionate weight. Second, Akin's refusal to drop out before the deadline revealed that the nominee is a self-centered individual who is involved in politics for his own beliefs rather than a desire to serve the public. Given how disastrous the comment was for his standing in the polls and the great tidal wave of high profile Republicans asking him to drop out -- many of whom, one can be sure, offered him significant financial incentives to do so -- any public servant who cared more about his principles and party than his or her own political career would have heeded the calls to leave the race. Akin's words and actions reveal that, even if he didn't believe what he said about rape, he's certainly a nasty piece of work.
So yes, both Biden and Akin said stupid things. But Akin's comment, rightly, is a bigger news story.
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