The Democrats, especially President Barack Obama, are probably quite pleased that Missouri Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin stuck his foot so far into his mouth this week that you can see the outline of his toes through the back of his pants.
As long as the public, the press corps, and the Republicans are talking about things like "legitimate rape" they don't have time to talk about how the nation's unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for nearly 43 straight months.
As long as they're talking about Akin there's less time to talk about how, under Barack Obama, more Americans are on food stamps than ever before. Or to talk about the "real" unemployment rate being closer to 13 or 14 percent once people who have given up looking for a job because things are so dismal are factored in. Or to talk about the explosion of the national debt, now greater than one year's U.S. gross domestic product. Or that the economic recovery is the weakest of any since the end of the World War II. Or to talk about how Obama has gutted welfare reform by softening the work requirement to a point where it is meaningless or how he has, time and again, failed to keep the promises he made to the American people.
The Akin affair is a distraction that has changed the national conversation, moving the spotlight off Obama and the economy. This works to the Democrats' benefit now, but it won't always be that way. And the whole business might eventually boomerang on the president himself.
Shortly after his ill-chosen statements became national news, national GOP leaders started calling publicly on Akin to reconsider his nomination. As the Missouri congressman dug in his heels, the calls for him to quit the race became louder and stronger—with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney fully out in front of the pack of those calling on him to do so.
This was a politically risky thing for Romney to do. Akin has strong support from Christian conservatives, a group that has been reluctant to throw the full weight of its support behind the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Calling on Akin to drop out, even though it might cost the GOP a seat in the U.S. Senate—perhaps even the majority—puts the former governor in an uneasy position, which may prove costly in the end. If the race is as close as advertised, disaffected Christian conservative voters could determine who wins and who loses.
Nonetheless, as the new nominal leader of the party, Romney did what he believed was the right thing to do, regardless of the political consequences.
There's a word for that. It's called "leadership," something that has been sorely lacking from President Obama as the campaign has progressed. His "hands off" approach to everything that his campaign and his supporters have been doing—despite the fact that he's "Barack Obama and (he's) approved this message"—stands in stark contrast to the leadership Romney has shown in dealing with Akin's explosive comments.
Look at the record. Obama campaign officials accuse Romney of being a criminal, suggest he "may have committed a felony," and the president is silent. A "super PAC" supporting the president runs a television spot strongly hinting that Romney was responsible for a woman's death from cancer and the president is silent. When those ads are connected to officials of the president's own re-election effort, the official White House response is to "deny, deny, deny" while the president is silent. The Senate's lead Democrat—a man from the president's own party—accuses Romney of being a tax cheat from the floor of the world's greatest deliberative body and again, the president is silent.
The contrast is stark, sharp, and obvious. When confronted by difficult political choices not of his own making, Romney took a leadership role in calling for Akin to quit the race. When faced with the smears and slanders perpetrated by his team and his supporters, Obama doesn't rebuke them. He doesn't call them out. He doesn't solemnly pronounce his disgust with the negativity of the race. No, Obama says nothing, which should say a lot to the American people about the character of the men who want to occupy the White House for the next four years.