Last night Rachel Maddow enthused about Claire McCaskill as a presidential candidate if Hillary Clinton decided not to run. It’s likely that Maddow was taking what she believes to be a pragmatic stance that credits the general nattering about how the United States has become a “center right” nation:
… if I had to pick one Democrat who I thought could definitely win a race for president, it would be you. That’s in part because you’re considerably more conservative than I am, but I think you could win if you ever wanted to run. Anyway, I’ll just leave it there.
Maddow clearly thinks McCaskill is a woman of intelligence and integrity, and I get the feeling that she regards what she calls McCaskill’s conservatism as relative. I’m not sure. I’m as pragmatic as the next person. I not only voted for McCaskill, but made phone calls for her campaign. She was the candidate my Democratic party gave me and she was that much better than the alternative – both times. But I still can’t see where Maddow derives her sunny view of McCaskill’s hypothetical presidential prospects.
I can see McCaskill’s attractive points. She’s relatively smart, keeps her head down when it’s politic to do so, and knows when to raise her colors so as to attract the attention of apolitical Missouri centrists who like to think that governing is all a matter of “common sense.” She’s really good at looking for the path of least resistance, even if she just as often fails to find it.
But do I think she could manage to get elected president? I can’t help remembering that it took an opponent like Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin to send her back to congress a second time. I’m not sure she’ll make it in
2016 next time barring the type of miracle that a popular Democratic presidential candidate’s coattails might bring off. So, in case you haven’t guessed, the answer is emphatically no.
And the reason why is that while the opposition serves up hard-core rot-gut, McCaskill seems to be constitutionally incapable of giving us a shot of the hard stuff more than every now and then. In today’s political climate, watered-down spirits won’t cut it even when we’re getting it from a tough bar-tender. She has too obviously capitulated to the pressure of what her chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton, has dubbed the rightwing noise machine, the volume of which was ratcheted up considerably with the election of our first African-American president. That is not what leaders do.
McCaskill often takes up worthy issues, financial oversight, for instance, and she occasionally stands up for a risky issue like abortion rights, but she just as often stops short of going all the way if it involves anything controversial – witness the way she temporized in her approach to rape in the military where she carefully avoided antagonizing the knee-jerk supporters of military authority. She preaches about fiscal responsibility, campaigned against earmarks and supported purchases of more of the outdated EA-18G Growler aircraft than the Pentagon wanted in order to satisfy its Missouri-based manufacturers. Good for Missouri, bad for the spending she’s been so hot to cap, and just a little hypocritical for somebody who campaigned vociferously against stacking up pork back home.
There’s nothing too unusual in such a record; it fits the general profile of regional politicians. But there’s nothing there that suggests leader of the free world either. Political pragmatism is acceptable only when it serves a coherent political vision. I’m not sure what McCaskill’s vision actually is apart from not making waves and fussing about some admittedly not unimportant details, but details nonetheless.
So, sorry, Rachel Maddow. I’ll vote to send McCaskill back to the Senate in
2016 2018 as long as there’s not a better alternative, but would I vote for her in a presidential primary? Would many other Missourians? I hope we never have to find out.
*Edited slightly for clarity.