I have discovered a much more reassuring way of thinking about Todd Akin’s alarmingly ongoing Senate campaign in Missouri against incumbent Claire McCaskill (D).
It is a masterpiece of performance art.
This is not how serious candidates behave. A real candidate, struggling after remarks suggesting total ignorance of science, of the basics of female anatomy and of the distinction between things you say out loud and things you simply wonder to yourself at 3 a.m., when you are too tired to Google them, would not just wander around comparing his opponent to a dog, as Akin did this weekend. And his senior campaign advisers certainly would never double down by joking that “if Claire McCaskill were a dog, she’d be a bull[crap]su.”
What is this? Surely it’s art. He’s been denounced from every quarter, even his own party. And he still keeps running. And the funds have started trickling back.
What is going on?
Surely people just want to support this as a high-concept installation of some kind.
When your opponent says that her strategy is just to keep you talking, it’s worse than embarrassing. It’s — improbable.
For years, I believed that such a candidate could not exist.
I knew that what the Obama campaign had been saying about Mitt Romney was certainly a caricature. You could tell as much when he showed up at the first debate. A demented, severely conservative, out-of-touch, robot plutocrat? Too many adjectives to hold together under scrutiny.
That’s why Akin came as such a surprise. The Man Who Does Not Know Basic Anatomy Yet Wants To Control What You Do With Your Body was just a straw man, a scarecrow invented for the purpose of filling liberal coffers, surely? The oblivious man who keeps on saying rude, ill-advised things, even in the heat of a balance-changing race — surely this was some kind of strange joke! This was an inartful caricature, a scribble, a falsehood. This was the extreme argument that was taken to ludicrous extremes, the bumbling bogeyman who might be lurking under the bed or beneath the examination table. It’s an exaggerated grotesque, and serious candidates do not run Senate campaigns like that.
Then Todd Akin did.
First it was alarming, then it was amusing. But I didn’t believe the joke would run for so long.
He’s gone so far past the realm of self-parody that you can‘t even see him from there. Surely he jests. Surely he realizes how this sounds.
Surely this is performance art.
As we get closer and closer to the election, Akin is going to start really going out on limbs. He’s going to start blowing bubbles and croaking during debates. He’s going to become a video installation. He’s going to paint his entire body blue and insist on responding to questions in interpretive dance — except for the distinct possibility that that would be a more effective strategy than opening his mouth.
If this is performance art, it’s brilliant.
If not, I don’t know what it is. But brilliant is hardly the word.