Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Will Todd Akin cause political winds to change?
The clock ticks as I write this, watched in an anxious way as we see if Todd Akin bows out by 5 p.m. It's like seeing if the mega-computer can be disarmed in time in "War Games." That was Matthew Broderick at his best, wasn't it? Ally Sheedy too?
It's 1:37 p.m. and cable news is fixated in its predictable way. Akin is the Senate hopeful in Missouri who said things that would make smoke come out of women's ears. I'm not surprised a conservative Republican would say these things. These are things I don't even wish to quote.
What all Republicans realize is that Akin came forward like a bear with boxing gloves and stepped over a line - leaped really - with the words he chose. His fundamental ideas would bring no objection from conservative Republicans or even many mainstream ones.
Let's remember the mainstream in America has shifted to the right. It's a long way from Nelson Rockefeller or even Gerald Ford. The question I'm weighing now is: Is this the tipping point?
It's hard sometimes to conjure up a crystal ball image of where political sentiment is heading. We can feel certain at a given time, that a particular ideology is dug in and has momentum. I can remember the Democrats flexing their muscles in the 1970s. Republicans seemed marginalized in many cases. It was as if we didn't want to give up on the Great Society.
We seemed unapologetic about depending on the government or government guarantees of certain things. We had mixed feelings about unions. Your average person on the street would say teachers unions were bad, but would shrug and in the next breath say "nothing can be done about it." Today people can speak openly about proposals trimming teacher seniority etc. and not have Howitzers pointed at them. Teachers still have unions but I think they've been forced into more accountability. That's good: Unions can accomplish laudable things but they shouldn't be a fortress in which sullen and ossified people are holed up.
Ted Kennedy was to the left of Jimmy Carter. I remember many people in academia gravitating to Jerry Brown when he wasn't bald. They liked Mo Udall too. Had the term existed then, they would have branded President Carter a DINO - "Democrat in name only."
Kennedy's insurgency vs. Carter in 1980 came up just shy, leaving the Democrats less than unified vs. Ronald Reagan. The conventional wisdom today is that Reagan's election in 1980 was absolutely necessary. History so often oversimplifies. We probably needed a dose of genuine conservatism in 1980. We needed a steady leader who was practical, realistic and inclined toward conservative economic principles. Reagan had the proper qualities. But could "the Gipper" have survived the kind of primary season we have today?
In 2012 the people pulling the strings among Republicans aren't just economically conservative. They have a full menu of so-called "conservative" stances on social issues. These are not meat and potatoes issues. These people fail to acknowledge the real world in which all perceived ideals cannot be affirmed. This isn't a fairy tale world in which everyone home schools their kids, women are submissive, abortions are banned and voting is treated as a privilege rather than a right.
My atomic clock tells me it's 2:01 and Todd Akin hasn't yet withdrawn from his race. The tide of conservatism that has seemed to progress so far, so often defying logic, may be about to retreat. We'll see after 5 p.m. when Neanderthal Mr. Akin with his cloak of ignorance and chutzpah may well be "alive." It's his right to stay in the race. His race may then become a referendum on whether the prevailing Republicans of today, those who ruled in the primary process, can continue crowing. And if they can, then maybe I for one am ready to throw in the towel.
The wild card is the women. Women who may have been inclined to join the hard-edged Republican element might say "wait a minute." Perhaps Akin will have given them the sudden jolt that prompts them, perhaps overnight, to come out of their trance. Women represent half the population lest you underestimate their clout. Akin's comments could register on such a highly sensitive, personal level, there will be no acceptable adjustments his compatriots can make.
There is an absolutely pained tone to the way Republicans are voicing objections to Akin's provocative comments, "provocative" being one of the tamer adjectives I could apply. Republicans are a crowd that really likes to stick together. They like to sing off the same page. So often they successfully cover for each other. That knee-jerk habit is so often evident, it's a yawner.
This time with Akin it's different and it's like seeing an animal out of its element. It won't adapt. Republicans usually don't use blunt or coarse language to articulate their most regressive ideas. They try to dance lightly around those ideas while continuing to adhere to them. Todd Akin stripped the veneer away in just a few seconds.
Can you imagine the alarm bells in the minds of Republican party leaders in the hours immediately following? The late-night or early-morning phone calls? "Houston, we have a problem."
Now it's breath-holding time for people on the right to see if they can keep some reasonable cohesion even when they should disown one of their own. Mitt Romney failed his leadership test, when all he could bring himself to say was he "disagreed" with Akin. He sharpened his comments a little later. But it was all too darn "poll tested."
Reagan would take the bull by the horns. He knew when to moderate - to inject reason. He didn't wear blinders. He knew when to assert pure conservatism and when to back off on the more edgy conservative stuff - the fringe issues. He wanted America to be happy.
If Romney were to just share that same ideal, he might have a ticket in to power.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org