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Unpacking the Anger I Feel for My Now-Former Senator Claire McCaskill

claire mccaskill, interview, democrati, women

I am very angry at Claire McCaskill.

I moved from Los Angeles to Kansas City, Missouri just over a year ago, and the recent midterm elections were my first major political event in my new state. There were a few campaigns I really cared about, but McCaskill’s re-election was where I put the majority of my efforts. I donated, I made phone calls, I canvassed. While McCaskill’s stances on pretty much every single issue are certainly more centrist than mine, her voting record on women’s reproductive rights has always been strong (far stronger than the language she uses around the subject) and in a red state like Missouri, she’s basically a dream candidate over someone like her opposition, Republican Josh Hawley.

And then, just days before the election, in what had become a neck-and-neck race with Hawley, McCaskill went on Fox News and insisted that she wasn’t “one of those crazy Democrats”–a statement also put forth in one of her campaign ads. What exactly is a “crazy Democrat”? Well, she cited Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders by name, but she also used as an example, people who “walk into restaurants and scream in elected officials’ faces.”

We’ve been seeing a wave of American who feel brave enough to confront their elected officials in public settings. What Claire, like most Republicans, don’t acknowledge about these situations is that they are not about politics as usual. The people who confront Ted Cruz in a restaurant or Jeff Flake in an elevator are doing so over extreme issues–the horrific treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers, or the appointment of an alleged abuser to the supreme court. (And most often, these are the politicians who refuse to engage with their constituents in designated forums like Town Halls.) And Claire McCaskill threw them under the bus–not fellow politicians, but Democratic voters.

“I am not someone who thinks we should ever be uncivil,” she said, pushing the false narrative that Democrats’ reactions to Republicans’ atrocious acts are more to blame for the division between parties that those acts themselves.

McCaskill was in a tight race, and rather than engage with voters who feel alienated by the Democratic party–young voters, POC, etc–she went begging for Fox News votes, selling out regular Americans in the process.

I was disheartened, but I was still going to vote for her. Sure, I longed for a Beto or an Ocasio-Cortez–someone I could be excited to vote for, rather than just an opponent I was motivated to vote against. But the alternative was Hawley, a duplicitous, opportunistic slimeball, and voting for McCaskill was a practical choice at a time when we needed to be making practical choices for our net good.

McCaskill didn’t win, which was a huge blow. But while many of us were upset with Claire for pandering to Fox News viewers, she was apparently upset with us for abandoning moderates.

“This demand for purity, this looking down your nose at people who want to compromise, is a recipe for disaster for the Democrats,” she said Thursday in an interview with NPR. “Will we ever get to a majority in the Senate again, much less to 60, if we do not have some moderates in our party?” Considering she was about as moderate as a person can be, and she wasn’t re-elected, in an election when young progressives swept the House … Maybe we will.

But no quote from Claire McCaskill has ever made me more angry than this one:

“I think I can really help other women understand that really difficult balance you have to have as a woman of being strong and opinionated, but very careful that you don’t go too far over the line so that you’re in the ‘B-word’ territory,” she told NPR (via Business Insider).

“That’s a really hard balance, and a lot of that has to do with being willing to be self-effacing and have a sense of humor,” she added, saying that it’s “awful” women are held to such a double standard, but that she’s “just being realistic.”

Yes, women are held to a double standard, but we should be encouraging young women, all women, and good men to combat that hypocrisy, not to lean into it. More and more strong women are being elected to public office, and what kind of advice is it to start retreating, to play by the old rules forced on us for so long? These patriarchal systems, like Republicans, keep moving the goal posts whenever women or progressives gain ground. People like McCaskill insist on meeting them on their own perpetually unfair terms. The rest of us think we can be smarter and stronger than that.

I admit I’m new to this state. But I don’t know anyone who expected “purity” from Claire McCaskill. We knew she was on our side, even if she used language that felt deliberately tepid so as not to alienate anti-abortion voters. But based on these recent post-election interviews, maybe we were wrong.

It was disappointing when she lost re-election, but it’s even more disappointing in watching her go out in a blaze of backwards-thinking blame-game awfulness.

(image: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.