Somewhere on the spectrum between the salt of the earth and the scum of humanity, you’ll find former three-term Missouri Congressman Todd Akin. As for where he rests on that spectrum, well, that all depends on whom you ask and what they heard.
When I first sat down with Todd (he prefers not to be called “Congressman”) in September of last year, I expected to meet a bumbling, washed-up, used-car-salesman-turned-politician–a man caught saying something stupid in front of a crowd of what he assumed were loyal supporters–which is exactly the imagery the media, and even the Republican Party, spent a lot of money to craft. But, to my surprise, the carefully constructed inhuman monster I had seen on every major news network and comedy skit for weeks on end was not the Todd Akin that I met at a coffee shop in St. Louis, Missouri.
In fact, this meeting changed the way I looked at politics forever.
In case you were asleep for Todd Akin’s very quick, hard fall from relevance, it happened as a result of two simple words, which he claims were taken out of context. “I used the words ‘legitimate rape,’ which was an actual law enforcement term in Missouri,” he said. “It’s not saying that rapes are legitimate; it’s whether the act that was committed was actually rape or not. They took that and said that I claimed rapes were okay, that rapes were legitimate. Well that doesn’t even pass the sniff test.”
The comment handed Akin his first election loss in twenty-four years of holding elected office, catapulting him to the front of news cycles internationally and cementing his position as the scapegoat for a Republican Party that experienced embarrassing losses in 2012.
“They (Republicans) called all of my campaign team and also my district and federal offices — my employees as a Congressman — and told them all that if they didn’t quit working for me that they wouldn’t be hired by any Republican again,” he said. “They contacted our vendors and told them the same thing — ‘we don’t want you working on Akin’s account. We’ll remember this when you want to get your next contract with a Republican.’ They did it to my contributor base. They called the guy that was setting (a fundraiser) up and he cancelled. I called my big donors and they wouldn’t even talk to me because the party leadership had all told them to blackball me.”
This, if we’re having a moment of honesty here, would be the moment in most political careers where frustration with systemic unfairness and misrepresentation with little hope for clarification might drive one to do things they’d not care to admit in public. But surprisingly, Akin seemed relatively uninterested in the idea when I asked him if and how he planned on trying to resurrect his character from the pits of media debauchery. “One of the problems is that you can’t,” he said. “You don’t have enough money to compensate for probably millions of dollars worth of negative advertising being done against you.”
Whether you like him or not, it’s very obvious when speaking to Akin that there’s really very little he’s afraid of.
Akin, who takes every depressing ”I’m-sorry-you-got-dumped-on-by-everyone” comment in stride and endures the ridicule and mockery with resolve and strength, is not an angry or bitter man waiting to exact his revenge on a Republican Party that quite literally ruined every chance he had to earn a decent wage again. “Think about it,” he said, “if you’re not going to be a Congressman anymore, what sort of jobs are typically available to you? They tend to be public relation kinds of things, where they want the name of the Congressman to show some credibility for their organization or help them with PR. But who’s going to hire me after that?”
“In this kind of a race, there were many days, particularly when you’re tired at night, and just feeling like… ‘I’m completely over my head’ and I’d just cry out to the Lord and say ‘Lord, you have to take the burden, it’s too heavy for me.’ And then I’d find peace and I’d go to sleep and sleep peacefully. Even so, I found I was waking up early in the morning with all kinds of thoughts and just going and going and going.”
In our 24-hour news cycles, we forget that politicians we criticize and demonize for differences in opinion are men, and imperfect men at that. I’m as guilty of this as much as anyone else. We assume that politicians retire and ride off into the sunset, which sometimes is true.
But more often than not, we forget that people often still have to bear the weight of their own failures–or, in Todd Akin’s case, the weight of the political failure that was then compounded by the country’s collective destruction of his character. Ask yourself, despite your political leanings, if you’re comfortable with the fairness of this politician’s outcome. I’d be willing to bet that every person reading this article has, at some point, said something in public they wish they hadn’t, or even had something they said taken out of context. But for most readers, I bet that mistake didn’t keep you from ever being able to work again.
The point of this piece was not to discuss what Todd Akin said or did not say, nor is the point to attack or defend his words or political beliefs. The point, my friends, is to take a good, long, introspective look at the savage monsters we’ve allowed our political system to create. We have become quick to criticize and condemn imperfect men, quick to draw unfair conclusions in situations in which we have no context, and quick to spew every prefabricated talking point at the drop of a tinfoil hat. I’m guilty, and so are you. Americans have become political harlots who get in bed with every rumor or bit of juicy gossip, refusing to cross-examine anything we hear, treating it as if it couldn’t possibly be inaccurate because it came from [Insert Pundit Here]’s mouth. And, as supposedly free-thinking Americans, it’s a damn shame.
I won’t sit here and tell you that he did everything right, and neither will he. But what happened to Todd Akin is a perfect example of why is it so hard to get good people to run for office.
Maybe one day we’ll all realize that we’re doing it wrong.
Todd’s Book, Firing Back, will be released in July.