Just when you thought that the sophistication of the Republican election effort of 2012 had reached its nadir, after the sheer lunatic spectacle of the party’s presidential primary fight (think Herman Cain, Birtherism, Rick Perry, and Vulture Capitalism), along comes Missouri Congressman Todd Akin to show that there are still depths of derangement yet to plumb. In case you missed it, Akin made a fool of himself, and elicited a collective cringe from most of America, by mangling the basics of the female reproductive system, while simultaneously and inexplicably somehow managing to make rape seem an issue of “legitimacy.”
While Akin’s statement was indisputably reprehensible and patently moronic and offensive, I am hoping we can choose to use it as a wake up call to force us -- all of us -- to re-evaluate what it is we need to address in the waning months of this election season. America is, after all, in a state of economic and fiscal crisis, along with much of the rest of the West. We also find ourselves in a moment of significant geopolitical change across the world. China is ascendant, the Middle East is transforming, Europe is in crisis, Russia is retrenching, and al-Qa’ida is adapting. Our finances are in trouble, our infrastructure is aging, our entitlement programs are quickly becoming unsustainable, and our overall economy is sputtering along.
Despite all of these challenges, we are bombarded on a daily basis with "news" along the lines of Mitt Romney’s dog's roof ride, Obama’s suspected Muslim identity, the ability of the female body to fight off rape-induced pregnancy, the danger posed to society of gay marriage, Obama’s alleged birth in Kenya, Congressmen skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee, and Mitt Romney's indirect responsibility for the death of a woman by taking away her health care. Really? Are these the important issues of the day? Granted, some of these inane vignettes point to larger, more important arguments (over reproductive rights, say, or the right to universal health care), but surely we can find a better way to engage in debates over these issues.
We also need more in-depth discussion and debate over some of our most pressing challenges. In a perfect world, we would be inundated with national-level politicians and aspiring officeholders addressing not just with bromides and platitudes, but with specific proposals and ideas, the way forward in dealing with Syria and its civil war, and all of the states of the post-Arab Spring Middle East; Entitlement reform (Medicare and Social Security), and how we reform these programs to preserve them; medium and long-term deficit reduction and America’s long-term fiscal health, including tax reform, and how we continue to invest in infrastructure, innovation and education; Iran and the dangers of its nuclear program; and the future of the global war against al-Qa’ida and its offshoots.
These issues are critical to America’s future, and frankly, to our ability to preserve our preeminent status as the world’s most powerful nation. We have to get these things right, or in the not-too-distant future, we will be relegated to a second-rate power that has lost its global influence, and that is left with nothing better to do than discuss the same types of issues that are currently distracting us in this key election year. That would be a pitiful end to our role as the global power and exemplar of republican democracy.