At her Hillsboro town meeting, Claire McCaskill got most of the teapartiers to sit, heel and beg pretty much on cue — with lots of rough edges to be sure, but she did a great job of handling a difficult bunch of people. However, as I argued in an earlier post, she did so by legitimizing a lot the looney tunes on display. Reveling in her “mom’s voice”, she also ended up privileging the rowdies and disadvantaging those folks who really wanted to talk about the realities of health care reform. Mom gave the spoiled brats all the attention they wanted and sent the good children home to bed without dinner.
So what should she have done? Maybe take a few pointers from Barney Frank. Take a look at Frank’s response to the crazy contingent below; he treats those who act in good faith with respect, but when an audience member brings up a particularly virulent strain of the crazy, he calls her on it — hard:
The lesson for McCaskill? When you pretend to respect beliefs that you know to be pure, ugly bunk you are condescending in the worst way. Nor did McCaskill fool her right-wing babies long-term –just do a google search on “McCaskill+condescending” and see what you get. Most importantly, condescension does not equal persuasion. As Matthew Yglesias observes about Frank’s blunt takedown of his Nazi-fearing constituent:
Voters … are human beings, equipped with our species’ excellent ability to read the emotional states of other human beings. If they see a politician acting defensive about his “side” in an argument, they conclude that this critics are probably on to something. If they see a politicians acting outraged and hitting back fearlessly, they’re likely to conclude that he has nothing to apologize for.