Todd Akin, The Media, And The Weeding Out Process

Recently Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican Congressman who is the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, sat down for an interview with a TV journalist.  During the course of questioning about his views on abortion, Akin — an ardent “pro-life” politician — made some creepy, disturbing comments about “legitimate” rape and his apparent belief that the female body can somehow “shut down” pregnancies that would otherwise result from such a rape.

Akin’s weird, benighted comments provoked a firestorm of criticism from people across the political spectrum.  It was heartening to see that both presidential candidates harshly criticized Akin’s statements, as did countless Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, and liberals.  And now there is, quite appropriately, enormous pressure on Akin to immediately withdraw from the race.

I mention this strange incident not to add my voice to the chorus of people condemning Akin’s views — although I’m happy to do so — but rather to make a broader point:  Akin’s situation demonstrates, yet again, why we should insist that our political candidates regularly sit down and answer questions from the press.  I’m sure Akin’s campaign ads, and carefully planned appearances, and speeches all depict him as a thoughtful, reasonable person well-suited to serving in the Senate.  It was only when he sat down for an interview, and had to give an honest response to an unscripted question, that his real views were exposed.  As a result, the media performed a real public service in weeding out someone who virtually everyone agrees is not fit for public office.

When politicians control the message, we don’t really learn much about who they are or what they believe.  I’m proud that the news media played a key role in giving us a more accurate picture of Todd Akin, and I wish that it had more of an opportunity to regularly play that role with everyone, from presidential candidates on down, who runs for public office.  And when candidates dodge the press, as so many of them do, we voters should hold them accountable for doing so.

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Learning From Those First Jobs

Most of us remember our first jobs. Whether it was working at a pizza joint or a grocery store, a lifeguard station or a clothing outlet, flipping burgers or mopping floors or stocking shelves, there were many common experiences.

We remember our parents encouraging us to find work for the summer.  We remember applying for positions and getting hired.  We remember our bosses and co-workers, and getting our first paychecks, and how good it felt to have some extra money in our pockets.

Along the way, we learned some valuable lessons.  We learned that being on time was important, unless you wanted the manager to chew you out.  We learned that, whatever our parents said, the world didn’t revolve around us, and our bosses and co-workers didn’t think we were anything special.  We learned to listen, take instruction, bite our tongues now and then, and do the work as we were told.  We learned what makes a good boss and what makes a bad boss, and that lazy co-workers who always wanted you to cover for them were a pain in the posterior, that our co-workers who didn’t live in our neighborhood or go to our schools were nice people, and that a kind word from an appreciative customer could be a beautiful thing.

All of these are reasons why I fear that our never-ending recession will have lasting consequences — for there are many teenagers and young adults who have been unable to land that first job and learn those valuable life lessons that have served the rest of us so well.  Instead of working at those first jobs, they’ve been sitting at home, listening to their parents tell them how great they are and that it isn’t their fault that no jobs are available.  When they finally do get that first job — whenever that might be — how well equipped will they be to succeed, without those memorable first job experiences to fall back on?