08/24/2012 06:04 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2012

Reflection on Misspeaking and Lip-Service Apologies

It was impossible to miss the latest scandal in the "war on women." Republican Congressman Todd Akin's comment that victims of "legitimate rape" can somehow prevent themselves from being impregnated by "shutting that whole thing down" were not only moronic, they furthered the toxic divisiveness that has become the 2012 presidential campaign. Yet it was more than just the comments that is bothersome. What irks me is the fact that once he was called out for what he said, Akin issued a so-called apology, claiming that he "misspoke" and actually has deep sympathy for rape victims. That is a bunch of bunk.

"Misspeaking" refers to fumbling for the right word. It is accidental, a slip-up. It is not when someone who clearly believes what he or she is saying tries to make nice by claiming they didn't really mean what they very obviously said. There is no doubt that Akin meant that certain rape victims are less legitimate than others, and that at some level he actually believes victims can "control" what happens during and after a rape -- a horrific social problem that is all about the perpetrator's control, not at all the victims. What really happened was he thought he would slither out of his predicament by claiming his remarks were off-the-cuff and then issuing a half-hearted apology.

Of course Akin is far being the first politicians to "misspeak," or to later claim "I'm sorry if I offended anyone." Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan allegedly "misspoke" when in April 2012 he accused the Pentagon of lying about the military budget. When news broke that Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney had been a school bully, verbally harassing a peer and even forcibly holding him down and cutting his hair, Romney replied, "Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that."

"IF I offended you"? "IF anybody was hurt by that..."? Seriously. If you have to add that word at the beginning of the sentence, you already KNOW that you offended at least someone, in all likelihood, lots of people. The mainstream media contributes to the problem, in that it often refers to these moments as "gaffes," denouncing them as laughable. They are not. Bullying is not a "gaffe." Telling women who have been sexually violated that they are not "legitimate" is not a "gaffe." Surely the problem is not confined to Republicans, although it does seem that they have a particularly difficult time speaking the truth and accepting responsibility for their statements. Nor is the problem confined to politicians, although my focus here is on the political realm because it matters deeply.

This is not just semantics. Our words matter, and when we choose to share our positions on specific issues we should at least have the gumption to back them up. Or, if we legitimately believe we erred, we should then issue a genuine, legitimate apology that might actually move towards some type of reconciliation. As the satire news source The Onion explains, what politicians like Akin are really telling us with their pathetic attempts to recover from their verbal diarrhea is that they are not capable of organizing their thoughts and speaking clearly. What a shame, as we expect at least this from our public school students. Garbage language like "misspeak" and lip-service apologies demonstrate a lack of civility and respect for the intelligence of the people who are listening or reading your words. We should demand better from our politicians.