I have to admit it: Todd Akin's tenacity is intriguing!
Granted, what I call "tenacity" many leaders in the GOP are calling bone-headedness, or intransigence, or outright folly.
And maybe, to varying degrees, we're all correct.
Yet even though standing up to some of the biggest names in the Republican Party may sound courageous to those of us who like mavericks, listening for what's missing in Akin's bluster reveals more than just righteous rhetoric. Isn't it more self-righteous, and betraying a distinct lack of love?
We know Akin likes to call a spade a spade. We know his approach to dealing with rape. But as the media has been delving in to Akin's past, another embarrassingly insensitive comment he's made about cancer and Obamacare has surfaced. And it certainly doesn't sound like something voiced by somebody with a Presbyterian theology degree.
Cancer Treatment for the Price of a Car?
In a debate earlier this year during Missouri's primary race for the Senate seat currently held by Claire McCaskill, Akin was asked the following question:
"Congressman Akin, what should happen to a 28 year old who can afford health insurance, chooses not to buy it, and then is diagnosed with cancer?"
Akin's response rambled for a bit before he wrapped it up with an entirely unsympathetic solution:
"I think that the thing you have to do is people have to start being held accountable for their decisions," he stated, not sounding unreasonable. But then he suddenly sounded unreasonable: "if somebody's not buying insurance, then they're going to have to be selling their car, or whatever it is to try to help cover that."
Wow. Sell their car? Really? And that will put a dent in the price of cancer care these days?
Let's think about this for a minute. Should we hold people accountable for not purchasing health insurance when they can afford to do so? How do we do that? Can we simply use one's bad financial decisions as sufficient reason to deny lifesaving care if they need it? Indeed, even as we contemplate this scenario, it's not the availability of care we're talking about, but it's high cost. Depending on the cancer and the type of care it requires, private insurance may or may not cover most costs anyway, and even if it covers 80% of the cost, the remaining 20% can still be a huge amount.
Akin's answer reflects none of this complexity. He even misses the main fallacy of Obamacare, the bad policy to which his answer is supposed to be superior.
Let's review, class, why Obamacare doesn't cure what ails healthcare in the United States. The reason Obamacare should be overturned is because it does not control costs, and indeed, adds even more costs in terms of new bureaucratic layers of management and administration. One of the reasons both Republicans and Democrats can usually agree that something with our healthcare system needs to be fixed is that many times, private insurance can still leave patients with staggering medical expenses. If Akin would have hammered that point home, what he then should have said about personal responsibility would be easier to hear.
Sure, bluntness has its place in our national discourse, but not necessarily when we're discussing complex socioeconomic dilemmas to a media machine that thrives on sound bites.
And what should he have said about personal responsibility? After all, he's not entirely wrong about pointing out the role being responsible plays in healthcare.
How about something like this:
"People who can afford to be proactive and minimize their exposure to certain risks generally do so. Most of the people who do not have private health insurance are people who can't afford it, but would pay for it if they could. So let's not make this situation sound more prevalent than it is. And let's realize this means that cost - not accessibility - is the healthcare crisis we're talking about.
"Let's also not forget that many employers are increasing premiums, copays, and deductibles for health insurance, thereby raising the cost of that insurance.
"If people have access to healthcare plans that help lower their costs, can afford those plans, yet choose to decline that access and spend their money frivolously, have they committed a mortal sin? Murderers get life in prison; people who make other foolish decisions with their money may end up in prison; but we feel entitled to deny care because somebody thinks they're entitled to it?
"Yes, we as a society still value life highly enough to provide the cancer care those people may need. Perhaps, however, that patient could be expected to repay a portion of the cost of that care, or be required to waive their rights to sue for any medical malpractice, or face some other penalty. Requiring everyone to purchase health insurance really only affects the people who likely can't afford any health insurance already, and is unfair to those who may choose to pay for care outside of our country's borders.
"All Americans need to understand that while healthcare is not a right, it is a hallmark of civilized societies to provide care for its people. Americans also need to understand that, contrary to popular opinion, we don't have the right to live however we desire, ignoring prudence, and assuming risks that we then expect others to cover at no cost to ourselves."
Wouldn't that be a far more loving, measured, and reasonable response to the question about health insurance? Doesn't it come across as more palatable than telling a cancer patient to sell their mode of transportation? By comparison, doesn't Akin's "solution" lack any measure of compassion? The charity he should have modeled as a professing evangelical could have been leavened with some fatherly discipline about responsibility, yes, but all that Akin spoke was discipline, and it wasn't even very fatherly.
It's this lack of sympathetic yet balanced concern that permeates Akin's comments about rape, and frightens many liberals and conservatives alike when it comes to women's issues in general. This lack of love is also reflected in his adamant stance against the hierarchy in his own party that want him to recuse himself from his Senate race. How much allegiance does he owe his party? And how should he show it - or not?
Apparently, GOP support for his campaign was razor-thin even before his comments this past Sunday. Steve Law, head of American Crossroads, Karl Rove's super-PAC, told CNN that some of Akin's past comments about civil rights laws, food programs for children, and student loans could also "be used against him," insinuating that enough ammunition already existed for liberals to spin even before Akin's comments about rape.
Frankly, shouldn't something like how and how much the federal government spends on nutritional programs for schoolchildren be legitimate fare for a political discussion? To hear Akin explain his thoughts in detail is, at least for me, a lot less threatening than the sound bites he throws out for his opponents to then toy with. For example, he's not against civil rights laws, but he's concerned about abuses to the voting system that some liberals defend with those laws. He's not against poor people who benefit from school lunch programs; he's simply convinced states can use the money for those programs more efficiently than the federal government. And it's not the loans students get from the government that bother him as much as the waste he suspects is inherent in having the federal government administer such loans.
See? Not everything he believes is as wacky as the female reproductive system discerning between different types of sex.
Waging as desperate a campaign as he waged to get the Republican nomination, and supposedly as experienced as he is as a multi-term congressmember now running against an incumbent senator, Akin should be fully aware that what he says really matters. I agree with him that abortion in the case of rape is wrong, that Obamacare needs to be overturned, that some minority groups have hidden behind voting rights laws while committing voter fraud, that waste and fraud likely permeate federal child nutrition programs, and that our system for funding student loans needs to be examined. But is it wise of him to expect to win a Senate seat during a presidential election year with such a lack of empathy for the people involved with these issues when his own party is expecting so much from him, and his rival party is pulling out all of their firepower against him?
Missing - at the very least - Charity
Maybe his tenacity will serve him well, and he'll manage to pull out a win this November. After all, he's not trying to win over the entire American populace; only voters in a smallish southern state who might not take kindly to a bunch of politicos from Washington telling them how to behave. And if, come October, he polls well, you can be sure national Republican groups will somehow find reasons to overcome their current repugnance of him, and pour their money into his coffers.
His "legitimate rape" fiasco may still be too much to overcome. And I don't blame constituents of his who've wondered aloud to news reporters how many other crazy things he privately believes. I'm not even sure of his theology. During a radio interview with Mike Huckabee yesterday, Akin claimed that the iconic phrase from our Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of happiness," is a Biblical concept.
He rhapsodized, “it’s also appropriate to recognize a creator God, whose blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the very source of American freedom. And that part of the message, I feel, is missing."
Part of the message is missing, indeed.