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Wanna see how Senator McCaskill’s doing as she tries to dance the red state/blue state tango?  If so, take a look at Joan McCarter’s reportage on DailyKos. Hint: it has to do with spending and jobs creation, specifically why McCaskill thinks we have to worry about the former and don’t dare discuss the latter, and it involves statements like:

Setting realistic expectations is one thing. Shooting your own party in the foot is quite another, and it sure seems like in trying to do the former, Sen. Claire McCaskill achieves the latter.

After you read McCarter’s piece, also consider the fact that McCaskill is touting her co-sponsorship of a “Democratic” Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) – or, as I call it, BBA Lite, since it is a little milder than the drop-dead dumb BBA proposals put forward by the GOP:

The amendment supported by McCaskill requires balanced budgets to begin in five years, aims to protect entitlements, and  allows congress to opt-out in times of war.

Additionally, the Democrat’s version prevents congress from passing tax cuts for individuals earning more than $1 million a year unless the country maintains a surplus, a provision that could face opposition from Republicans.

McCaskill may attempt to cut out the really ugly parts, but a BBA is still a very bad idea all by itself, as commentators from the left, along with a few honest, half-way intelligent folks from the right, agree. It’s not just a bad idea, though, it’s the lazy politician’s way to build rigidity into a system that requires flexibility, all just so that they can avoid having to do what we elect them to do – govern.

But the worst of it is the rhetorical trope McCaskill uses to justify this particular walk on the red side. She dredges up the incessant and dishonest GOP metaphor that misleadingly compares family and government finances, and declares “Congress ought to do what families in Missouri do every day: live within their means.” Actually, even though governments are very different types of entities than families, families themselves do take out mortgages to buy houses, and secure loans to send their children to college and make large purchases. Even in Missouri. Responsibly managed debt gives us greater flexibility and the option is absolutely essential for the government as well.

I am sure that McCaskill thinks that she is cleverly stealing GOP thunder, cutting the rug out from under the other guys by calling for a BBA that doesn’t exactly go after the same targets and then calling them out when they object. I am sure she thinks that using their own language makes it all just that much more insidious.

Unfortunately, all McCaskill’s really doing, besides trying to save her backside in a conservative state, is helping to legitimate right wing positions. If even Democrats talk the GOP talk and refuse to question the basis of GOP claims about the need to cut spending, even as we are potentially sliding into another recession, the dialogue will go no further. We will continue to talk about spending when we should be talking about jobs. It would take courage to try to change the terms of discourse, to go on the offensive in order to throw the GOP steam-roller off-track and, sadly, courage so often seems to fall victim to a misguided, purely political pragmatism.

I do believe that the best way to insure that we eventually arrive in progressive Nirvana is to vote as left as you can given your options, and in Missouri right now, the only option, the putative “left” political establishment, is staking out territory on the center-right side of the room. Since I don’t foresee a primary challenge to Senator McCaskill, I’ll continue to support her, but I do wish she wouldn’t go out of her way to make it so hard, especially since I’m not sure it’s going to do her much good in the long run. She won’t win the Tea Partiers, and, in the meanwhile, she sure has pissed off lots of progressives. I  hope those legendary independents the “moderate” Democrats all claim to be courting are worth it.

Addendum: Guess who else thinks that a balanced budget amendment is a bad idea?  As per Steve Benen, none other than Standard & Poors. Hear that Claire?

* Edited slight for clarity.