Claire De Lune?

clair de lunea very pale blue color…

Let me begin by showing you this headline over a Huffington Post story posted on Sunday evening:

Sen. Claire McCaskill Distances Herself From Obama, Senate Democrats

That characterization of McCaskill’s appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation wasn’t a totally accurate one, as you can see by this exchange with the program’s host:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me talk a little bit about what [Romney] said on immigration. He said what the Republicans have been saying up on the Hill, the President taking unilateral action on immigration is a poke in the eye like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Are you comfortable with the President taking unilateral action?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: You know I’m not crazy about it. But let me say this, I’ll tell what you a poke in the eye is. A poke in the eye is for the United States Senate almost a year and a half ago passing by a two-thirds majority and a comprehensive immigration bill with Republicans voting for it from places mccaskill on face the nationlike Tennessee and South Carolina that just got re-elected by double digits. And Speaker Boehner has refused to debate one of the most complicated and difficult problems facing our country. They won’t take our bill up. All he has to do next week if he doesn’t want the President to act is take up the Senate bill, amend it, change it, put up your own bill. Let’s get back to doing our work instead of just blaming the President for everything.

I actually don’t see much distance between her and Obama, at least in that statement. I would venture to say that President Obama isn’t exactly “crazy” about the idea of unilateral action either, but he understands the reality of the politics facing him, especially given the fact that next year’s Congress will be even more reactionary than the present one.

But there is some awful truth to the other part of the claim about McCaskill made in that HuffPo headline. Clearly she is distancing herself from some Senate Democrats (many suspect she is going to run for Missouri governor in two years). She was one of only six Democratic senators not to vote for Harry Reid as their leader next year. But even more troubling for me is that she is distancing herself from those Senate Democrats who actually stand for something, who actually stand for what should be important Democratic values. McCaskill made it clear she preferred more “moderate” voices over clearly liberal ones:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this: Elizabeth Warren, the fiery populist from Massachusetts has now been part of the– voted in as part of the leadership in the Senate. How do you feel about that? It’s another woman in leadership. But is this going to leave the impression that the party is moving to the left when a lot of people think the only way that you can get anything done is if both parties move toward the center?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I think that the leadership team, hopefully, may expand even more with more moderates in it. And by the way the same day that Elizabeth Warren was selected, so was Jon Tester, a flat top farmer from Montana who is about as salt of earth as you can get, and who is a moderate through and through and so his voice is going to be in that room along with Elizabeth Warren’s.

“Moderate through and through,” she said. She admires that. During her campaign in 2012 she emphasized just how moderate she was.  No, she actually bragged about it. Who could forget this commercial:

I have been mostly supportive of Claire McCaskill over the years. I’ve even knocked on doors for her. I know what politics is like here in half-Democrat, half-Republican Missouri. I understand the need for compromise (which she appropriately embraced on Face the Nation). And I wish her luck should she decide to run for governor in 2016. But I confess there is something about that whole moderate thing that just bothers the hell out of me.

Last year McCaskill became an honorary co-chair of Third Way,” a group of “Democrats and Independents” who “believe that America is best led from the center” and who are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” They say,

Third Way’s role in these debates is to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity – forces that serve only to preserve the status quo.

That sounds nice to a lot of people. I know it does. But think about it. What it actually means is that this group of Democrats, presumably including Claire McCaskill (she said on Sunday that she hopes “to be somebody who is driving people to the center”), actually think there is an equal amount of blame to go around for the polarization and ideological rigidity we have seen, especially over the last four years. But there most certainly isn’t an equal amount of blame. Even Claire McCaskill at one time recognized the reality of the situation.

In 2012 McCaskill said that “the far right-wing base of the Republican Party” wanted candidates who believe “we need to turn out the lights on the federal government and go home.” She was absolutely right about that. But no one could say the same thing about the liberal base of the Democratic Party. They actually want candidates who want to govern. It’s what they send them to Washington to do because they actually believe in government. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is a democratic socialist, actually compromises with Republicans, for God’s sake.

So any Democratic group that says it exists “to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity” has it wrong from the start. And one suspects that something else is cooking, and it doesn’t smell much like working class populism to me.

But there’s more to it than that. As I noted earlier, the Wall Street-backed group of so-called moderate Democrats in Third Way claim they are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” That highly suggests they think the visions of the Elizabeth Warrens out there are as extreme and disturbing as the visions of the Ted Cruzes, that the economic populism championed by the senator from Massachusetts is as bad for the country as the know-nothing Tea Party extremism advanced by the senator from Texas.

And if that is what Claire McCaskill believes, she should say so.

-CINCpt_07-18-2014_Enquirer_1_A009~~2014~07~17~IMG_0210_sherrod_brown.j_1_1_.jpgOne Democratic Senator (and one of my favorites) who isn’t afraid to speak up in defense of working class populism is Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Last week in The New York Times he said,

Too many Democrats are too close to Wall Street. Too many Democrats support trade agreements that outsource jobs, and too many Democrats are too willing to cut Social Security — and that’s why we lose elections.

I don’t know if Brown is completely right about why Democrats lose elections. But if the Democratic Party, in the name of “moderation” or “centrism” gets even chummier with fat cats on Wall Street, if the party helps make it even more profitable for American companies to outsource jobs, and if party leadership agrees to additional cuts to social programs, then I will know that the Third Way moderates have won the battle for the soul of my party—and the forces of reaction and regression will make life even harder for the poor and for the working-class, often, we all should be ashamed to admit, the same people.


[Sherrod Brown photo: AP]


  1. For us old piano players, Claire de Lune is a piece by Claude Debussey.
    It may be played in any color.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ansonburlingame

     /  November 18, 2014


    Working class populism. Or is it poor AND working class populism? Or are most workers actually poor and therefore working class populism means an inclusive group including the poor (that don’t work). Not knowing for sure, I suppose if you add them all up you find about, yep, 47% of all Americans. Hmmm?

    As well that 47% is growing according to most pundits with wages continuing to stagnate or drop for working people. Let’s suppose that the real number of the combined and decling middle class, blue collar workers and poor is at about the 75% level in America. The other 25% is the “upper” middle class, and the 10% really rich people. In such a democracy you win, hands down.

    Now go pick your “governors” and pick them out of your 75%. Just assume that no self-respecting 25 percenter would be willing to join your “governors” but choose instead to fight any and all policies coming out of your group using minority rights to protest, block some legislation, etc.

    What I have suggested is one party government for America with pure democracy prevailing to allow the “masses” to govern in America.

    My view of such government in America would be one of almost total absorption with domestic issues to level American society, a bell curve with no one in the previous top 25% or bottom 25%. Squeeze that bell curve of wealth from each end such that it looks like a tall “box curve”, with every one in the same box, economically, all 320 Million of us.

    Anyone that moves to the left, out of the box, gets money thrown at them to pull them back in, no effort demanded from such people. Anyone trying to move to the right, out of the box, gets their heads cut off, a la the French Revolution, or they are stripped of any wealth beyond that line and forced, kicking and screaming, back into the box.

    All that happens in just America, with your 75 percenters governing. Russia, China and the Muslim world governs as they see fit, force being used against their populations as Russia, China and the Muslim world so desires.

    Where in such a world would liberty prevail? Sure we would have liberty in America, as long as everyone stayed in the same box!!

    Of course what I write about is where should the boundaries of liberty be set. Creating a “box” is not the dream envisioned by our Founders, in my view, and it certainly is not the form of a society in which I would want to live. I like the “natural” shape of a bell curve with individuals within that curve free to move wherever they are willing to work hard enough to live.



    • Anson,

      Man. After I read your comment I had to go back and read the piece I wrote to try to figure out how you managed to pull a Romney and slam a significant portion of the population as essentially moochers.

      In any case, the piece was mostly about McCaskill’s misplaced affection for moderates, who seem to me to be people who want to move further to the right than it is necessary to go. Democrats are compromisers by nature because we want government to work and it won’t work without compromise. But we should begin the compromise process by adhering to our economic justice principles and not begin at some point in the direction of, say, Rush Limbaugh.

      Oh, and about this statement you made:

      Of course what I write about is where should the boundaries of liberty be set. Creating a “box” is not the dream envisioned by our Founders, in my view, and it certainly is not the form of a society in which I would want to live.

      Then I guess you would have been profoundly uncomfortable in the society that the Founders actually created so long ago. You know, the one in which the only people allowed to vote were white men with property. That was quite a box, I’ll say. But, fortunately, we have come a long way since then. And we have come a long way largely because of liberal-minded people, who have expanded those “boundaries of liberty” you mentioned to include everyone the Founders left out.

      Box, indeed.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. ansonburlingame

     /  November 19, 2014


    Yes, I went beyond the point of your blog. Claire is a Democrat trying to remain elected in a right of center State. She talks the talk of moderation but votes the liberal way. Reid protected her for four years, not forcing her to vote against House bills that would have driven many in MO nuts. Simple blog on an obvious issue.

    But I continue to try to absorb your end game, what America would look like if your policies were all enacted in today’s America. While a “box” is not entirely accurate, you sure do call for drastic measures against the top 25% (or 10%, or …….) to bring the bottom 25% up to some “better” point.

    You are correct that the Founders put all non-property owners, all women and all blacks in a very restricted box in 1787. But those people had a choice to get out of the box. (except most slaves until 1863). They could just pick up and move away from all the stuffed shirt, white men. just like Daniel Boone. He wanted more liberty, packed up and went to KY (later MO) to enhance his own liberty. Millions more followed to settle America all the way to the Pacific Coast over the next 100 plus years. They could literally move out of the box.

    Can’t do that now. I don’t care what you call the shape of the socio-economic bell curve in America if you get your way. But it will be a much tighter distribution of 320 million souls today. To me that is achieved by moving the boundaries of liberty into a closer, more narrow confine for all Americans.

    I don’t like that idea.



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