Todd Akin: A Dumb, Stupid, and Guilty Scapegoat
“Can a scapegoat be guilty?”
That’s one of the most frequently asked questions we receive at the Raven Foundation. And it’s one of the more difficult questions to answer because of the emotions underneath the surface.
For example, take Republican Senate nominee from Missouri Todd Akin. His statement last Sunday about rape, pregnancy, and the female body is the latest in our national political scandals. Akin stated:
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
Republicans and Democrats all agree – 100% – that Akin is an idiot. And I have no shame in admitting that I think he’s an idiot, too. His statement was full of ignorance and it was emotionally painful to all who have experienced the trauma of rape. “Legitimate” rape?!? Please, just shut up.
So, Akin is an idiot. And he knows he’s in trouble, so he tried to apologize. But I’m not buying the apology. As this Slate.com article shows, he has a history, going back to 1991, of making these kinds of stupid comments.
He’s guilty. But he’s also a scapegoat. For two reasons.
The first reason was given by (surprise!) liberal commentator Rachel Maddow during an interview with late night talk show host David Letterman. Granted, Maddow is a staunch liberal and may be defending Akin in the hopes that his egregious error will help his Democratic opponent win. I don’t know about Letterman’s political leanings – but together they make a reasonable argument that Akin is being scapegoated – and why scapegoating him is actually hurting our country. Here’s the video, but I’ll point out the highlights below:
Letterman: Should this guy Todd Akin, should he stay in the race, should he not get out of the race? … The leader of his party said, “No. He should stay out.” I say, let the guy stay in. We can handle idiots. I mean, that’s my position … If you had to leave every time you said something dumb, what does that mean, really?
Maddow: Well, that would mean that we are not the country that I think we are, because a lot of people say stuff all the time and they stay…
Without using the word, Letterman and Maddow explain how Akin is our nation’s current scapegoat. Letterman nearly provides the definition of scapegoating when he states, “If you had to leave every time you said something dumb, what does that mean, really?” That means you are being scapegoated, as Maddow affirms, “Well, that would mean that we are not the country that I think we are, because a lot of people say [dumb] stuff all the time and they stay…”
Notice that neither defends Akin’s comments – they agree he’s guilty of being an idiot and that what he said was dumb. And yet they actually identify with him. In effect, Letterman and Maddow state that people say dumb things all the time. We all have a little of Todd Akin within us. Letterman and Maddow admit that even they are not a whole lot different than the man our country has turned against.
But there is a second reason that Akin is a scapegoat. By definition, scapegoats unite people who are experiencing hostility and conflict. Many claim that this election season is one of the most hostile on record. It seems that statement is made every election year, but it points to the hostility among Democrats and Republicans. What can bring us together? A scapegoat.
And so liberals can celebrate in a joyous, blessed union of hatred with conservatives as we all unite against Akin. Liberals can even unite in agreement with Ann Coutler, who recently dehumanized Akin by calling him “swine.”
While discussing Akins comments, Maddow stated that if a politician was forced to leave every time they said something dumb, “that would mean that we are not the country that I think we are.” But maybe this is the country that we are. Maybe we are a country that thrives on scapegoating. A country where guilt and innocence don’t matter. Where all that matters is having someone to hate.
And that’s how a scapegoat can be guilty. In fact, there is no better scapegoat than a guilty scapegoat. The problem, according to Letterman and Maddow, is that we all find ourselves in positions of guilt. We all say dumb things and so we all run the risk of becoming the next scapegoat.
Maddow is implicitly calling us to be different. To be a nation that is more gracious towards our enemies, political and otherwise. Which brings the question: Can the United States become a blessed union of grace?
I doubt it. But if there is any hope, it will emerge from the bottom up. The spirit of grace is always grassroots. It starts emerges when families, neighborhoods, churches, and businesses refuse to unite in hostility against a scapegoat and instead unite in grace, forgiveness, and the hope for reconciliation.