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ignorance and arrogance hamper debate

St. Louis, Missouri, in August can be singularly unpleasant.

St. Louis, Missouri, in August can be singularly unpleasant. The high humidity characteristic of this city on the western bank of the Mississippi River, coupled with the heat when I arrived there four weeks ago, rapidly brought back memories of the discomfort during my time at St. Louis University four decades earlier.

My hostess’ air-conditioned car served as a welcome rolling haven as we headed to her home in west-central St. Louis proper from the downtown bus depot.

Kitty Quinn, a nutritionist by training, had gathered a few friends from my university days for a haute cuisine, definitely junk-food free, meal. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn political. The librarian and high school Spanish teacher who had joined Kitty and me immediately launched into a critique of the controversial remarks of a St. Louis county member of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Representative Todd Akin, a staunch abortion opponent, running as the Republican candidate in the race for a U.S. Senate seat, had outraged these women and many potential voters. In a television interview just days before, Akin declaimed that it was extremely rare for women to get pregnant from what he termed “legitimate rape.”

His stunning ignorance of biology and blindingly ideological defence of the Republican platform’s anti-abortion stance, which holds no exceptions for rape or incest, saw a previous 10 per cent lead in the polls over his Democratic rival and current senator, Claire McCaskill, all but evaporate in days.

Though prodded by the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, to “exit the Senate race,” Akin has doggedly refused to yield. His decision certainly energized the ladies around the dinner table that night to work for the Democratic cause in what a Reuters release last month characterized as “a race widely viewed as a barometer of whether Republicans can gain the four seats they need to ensure control of the U.S. Senate.”

In 2008, Missouri narrowly went Republican with the Democrats holding both major cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, but losing everywhere else. Independent voters, especially women, may well be the key to electoral success in 2012. Rep. Akin’s position reflects, as the Reuter’s release noted, “the party’s move to the right in the past decade” making the task of winning over middle-of-the-road independents that much harder.

Michael Sandel, the renowned Harvard professor, states in his book Justice, What’s The Right Thing to Do? that “The purpose of politics is nothing less than to enable people to develop their distinctive human capacities and virtues - to deliberate about the common good, to acquire practical judgment, to share in self-government, to care for the fate of the community as a whole.” How far have we strayed from that goal? Two and a half millennia earlier, Aristotle in Book III of The Politics wrote, “Any polis which is truly so called, and is not merely one in name, must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness.”

As we enter into our own local electoral season here, we can only hope that informed debate will guide our decisions and not the often ignorant and arrogant cant we are witnessing in the U.S. elections.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact