Now that the bigfeet in the national political media have discovered Todd Akin, longtime Akinmaniacs are bereft.
For nearly a quarter of a century, we had him mostly to ourselves. He was that little barbecue joint that nobody else had discovered. He was a secret fishing hole we didn't have to share. We never knew what he would say next, but whatever it was, we knew that there was a good chance it would be ridiculous.
There was never anything as outrageous as the magical women-don't-often-get-pregnant-during-“legitimate-rape” claim that now has him in hot water. But if he started talking about Sunday blue laws or the evils of sex education or the dangers of the state licenses for day care centers or any of the other social issues that came before the Missouri Legislature in the 1990s, Todd would safely go off the deep end and only the Akinmaniacs would notice.
He was kept pretty well bottled-up during his 12 years in the Missouri House. In those days, Democrats still controlled the House and moderation wasn't yet a sin within the GOP. Todd's views were so extreme that most mainstream Republicans rolled their eyes when he got up to talk.
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He didn't care. He was a man on a mission.
Todd had come to politics after working briefly for IBM and then for Laclede Steel, founded by his great-grandfather in 1911. In 1984, he'd attended divinity school, emerging with the idea that God had a special plan for the United States and that he was supposed to be part of it.
In 2000, when Republican Jim Talent decided to run for governor, people giggled when Akin filed for Talent's 2nd Congressional District seat. Four other Republicans wanted it, none of them wacky.
Then it rained. Some of Todd's supporters saw the hand of God at work.
More than three-quarters of an inch of rain fell on primary day, Aug. 8, 2000. Turnout was 17 percent; only 57,621 people voted in the GOP congressional primary. Akin got 26 percent of the vote, beating former St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary, the runner-up, by 56 votes.
Akin knew something that none of the other candidates had yet figured out. West St. Louis County and St. Charles County had become chock-a-block with evangelical churches, many of whose congregants were home-schoolers. Todd and Lulli Akin home-schooled their six kids. Lulli Akin was a home-school activist and organizer. Home-schoolers had a network. Home-schoolers were not afraid of a little rain.
The 2nd District was — and still is — solidly Republican, so Todd won the general election by 14 points over Democratic state Sen. Ted House of St. Charles. Off he went to Washington. He brought home earmarks. He voted to raise the debt ceiling. He voted for off-budget wars. He voted to expand Medicare to include prescription drugs.
Todd's big issue was the Pledge of Allegiance. The only bill he ever passed was the Protect the Pledge Act, which in its various incarnations would have (a) made darned sure nobody ever took the phrase “under God” out of it and (b) forbade any court from mucking around with the pledge. The House eventually passed it. The Senate didn't.
Akin did diligent work on the Armed Services Committee, where seniority eventually brought him chairmanship of a Navy subcommittee. Todd was an Army veteran, but he liked the Navy. Three of his sons had attended the Naval Academy — home schooling worked! — and became Marine officers. And because all Missouri politicians pledge allegiance to Boeing, he especially liked aircraft carriers because St. Louis-built F/A-18 Super Hornets fly off their decks.
It was on social issues that Todd really shined. He voted against the school lunch program. He voted against the school breakfast program. He called the morning-after pill a “form of abortion.” He voted against funding autism research (evil vaccines!). He voted against the minimum wage. He called student loans “a stage-three cancer of socialism.” He questioned the need for the Voting Rights Act. He said “the heart of liberalism is really a hatred for God.”
From time to time, somebody in the national press would notice him, but the voters in the 2nd District returned him to office time and again. Meanwhile, the rest of the Republican Party was moving his way on social issues and Akin was moving their way on spending issues. So when he announced he would run for the Senate, nobody blinked an eye.
God help us, Todd Akin had become the norm.
Until Sunday, when KTVI-Channel 2 aired the interview during which he'd unburdened himself to the estimable C.D. Jaco on the subject of rape and pregnancy. Jaco, a confirmed Akinmaniac, didn't press him on the issue, admitting that after years of interviewing Akin, he might have been “inoculated to odd things that might have been said.”
But Democrats pounced, followed by nervous Republicans. The U.S. Senate is a lot bigger deal than the Missouri House. Now every pundit in America has discovered our little barbecue joint. Rats.
Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.