Inflammatory idiocy on the local, global political stage

Inflammatory idiocy on the local, global political stage

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” — Mark Twain

Two incidents this weekend — one close to home and one halfway across the world — struck me as essentially redefining a level of idiocy displayed by government leaders.

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., the recently nominated GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, made national headlines for stating, in an interview with Charles Jaco on KTVI, Channel 2, that in cases of a “legitimate rape”— his term, not ours — “a woman’s body has ways of shutting the whole thing down.”  While Akin later apologized after lamely saying he “misspoke,” the fact that he even uttered an oxymoron so devoid of intellectual sense makes me want to roll out a new term, the “oxy-idiot.”

It must be stated clearly that the Jewish Light has a longstanding policy not to endorse or oppose candidates for public office, but we also have another longstanding policy of either praising or denouncing statements or actions by office-holders in either of the major parties. Akin’s statement as a sitting U.S. Congressman from Missouri is an insult to all citizens of the Show-Me State, and we would be remiss if we did not denounce it.  To their credit, GOP Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan immediately denounced Akin’s original comments and stressed that they do not share those egregious sentiments. President Barack Obama has also properly denounced Akin’s statement.

The very same weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed the idiotic extent of his increasingly authoritarian, iron-fisted rule of post-Communist Russia.  In what could only described as a return to the old Stalinist “show trials” model, a Russian court sentenced members of a Russian punk rock band calling itself “Pussy Riot” to two years in prison. The defendants, whose antics would not have attracted much attention if the Russian regime had just let them have their fun, are now international human rights icons.  Their offense:  staging a brief protest song and dance routine on the pulpit of a Russian Orthodox Church, calling on the Virgin Mary to chase Putin away.

To be sure, the young punk rockers acted disrespectfully towards the members and clergy of the church, and at the most should have received a charge of simple trespass, for which a just “punishment” would have included a free concert for a needy neighborhood in Russia.  The fact that the Russian punkers chose a “raunchy” name like “Pussy Riot” should hardly shock any nation in the world nearly 50 years after Ian Fleming named one of his James Bond “girls” Pussy Galore.  To say that Putin can’t take a joke is an ultimate redundancy.  

As a result of Putin’s idiotic overreaction, the members of the girls group have become human rights heroes, uniting people as diverse as Russian Chess Champion and human rights advocate Gary Kasparov, Paul McCartney and Madonna, the latter of whom defiantly had the name of the band stenciled on her back during a Moscow concert.  When Sinead O’Connor appeared on “Saturday Night Live” 20 years ago and tore in half a photograph of Pope John Paul II, she was criticized for her disrespect and for crossing a line.  But she was not thrown in jail for five months and put on trial for her actions.

From a “Jewish” point of view, defenders of Akin and Putin can stress that Akin has a good record of support for Israel, and Putin has treated the Jews of Russia with respect and protection.  But those facts do not obscure the seriousness of their latest offenses against common sense and plain decency.

And so, let’s offer a genuine Bronx Cheer to Rep. Akin and President Putin, two political leaders thousands of miles apart who have shown a new level of idiocy among elected officials.

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.