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Earlier today I wrote some unflattering words about Claire McCaskill. And while I stand by them, I do understand some of the pressures that she has to withstand. Nothing exemplifies the difficulties of toeing a straight line in today’s political world better than Michael Tomasky’s analysis of Alan Simpson’s harsh words about the president’s supposed role in the current political impasse in Washington:

Simpson knows he can walk this edge and still be taken Very Seriously because he knows how the conversation in Washington is set up. Democrats who won’t discuss entitlements are not “serious.” But Republicans who won’t discuss taxes are . . . just being Republicans. All the terms of the debate enable blackmail by the GOP: If no one expects you to behave like a reasonable person, then you simply don’t have to-and all the pressure to behave responsibly is transferred to those on the other side. It does not resemble Earth logic, but very little about Washington does.

My sympathy for McCaskill is, then, similar to the sympathy I have for any individual who, after repeated beatings, finds themselves unable to stand straight. I’m not exonerating her for her rush to adopt GOP-speak and think. I may have bought a reggae CD once just because it was titled “Dancing on John Wayne’s Grave,” but, in my heart of hearts, I admired the the clarity of purpose and personal integrity the archetypal John Wayne character projected. I would like my politicians to project the same clarity and integrity – but I also know that it’s a complicated old world.