Editorial: Missouri deserves Claire McCaskill
Much about this year's U.S. Senate race in Missouri is grim and depressing. The anger. The vitriol. The snide and snarky outsiders who mock Missourians as yahoos and don't remember that we used to do much better than this.
The incumbent, Claire McCaskill of Kirkwood, 59, comes out of the great tradition of the modern Missouri Democratic Party, of senators like Harry Truman, Stuart Symington and Thomas Eagleton, of governors like Warren Hearnes and Mel Carnahan. Socially liberal for the most part, but unpredictable and cussedly stubborn.
Republicans were rare birds in most of those years, but beginning in 1968, they began a comeback. Led by the young John C. Danforth, they began fielding conservative, but intellectually curious candidates who could work across the aisle and had a sound understanding of policy issues. Senators like Mr. Danforth, Christopher S. Bond, John Ashcroft and James M. Talent were of that tradition, as is Missouri's current GOP senator, Roy Blunt, as much as he sometimes tries to disguise it.
This year's GOP challenger, Todd Akin of Wildwood, 65, comes out of the new incarnation of the Missouri Republican Party, the one based on peddling simplistic solutions to fearful “values voters.” Indeed, he was one of its pioneers. His upset victory in the 2000 primary race for the U.S. House seat from St. Louis' western suburbs, signaled that the party was changing.
What makes this race so depressing is that voters seeking an open-minded senator who will allow his or her beliefs to be guided by logic, common sense and intellectual honesty really have only one choice. That is Claire McCaskill. The Republicans have abdicated.
Ms. McCaskill would be the better choice even if Mr. Akin had worked in a rape crisis center. Even before his revelatory slip of the tongue on Aug. 19 about “legitimate rape” disclosed his bizarre beliefs about reproductive biology, the gulf between these two candidates was so vast as to suggest they come from different planets. On Planet Claire, beliefs are tempered by facts. On Planet Todd, beliefs rule.
On Planet Todd, women who are raped have a natural defense against pregnancy. Man-made global warming is “highly suspect.” Every tax takes away a measure of freedom; presumably even the taxes that pay the soldiers who protect our freedoms.
On Planet Todd, the Pilgrims came to America to escape socialism, never mind “the general good of the colony” clause in the Mayflower Compact. Federal support for scientific research should be limited to “pure research,” such as why stars don't cast more light than they do. The school-lunch program fosters a culture of dependency.
Mr. Akin has difficulty discussing the fine points of public policy — he knows what he knows and that's all there is to it. He is pleasant enough when some of the differences between his beliefs and ... well ... facts are pointed out. “That's not the way I see it,” he will say, or, “I have a different view.”
He appears to have only the vaguest idea of what's contained in some of the bills he's voted for. He sat on Rep. Paul Ryan's, R-Wis., budget committee and twice voted for the same $700 billion in changes to Medicare spending that Mr. Akin now criticizes President Barack Obama for proposing.
You ask him about the so-called “fiscal cliff” that looms at year's end, when a perfect storm of economic catastrophe awaits, and he says he's not up to speed on the details of economic policy.
Ms. McCaskill, who has served in the Senate since 2007, has a firm grasp of policy detail. She can, and will at the drop of a hat, go into specific detail about cost overruns on Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction contracts. Her hearings on those contracts have saved the nation millions, if not billions, of dollars.
She proudly boasts of her family's rural roots in Houston, Mo., and her down-the-middle ranking on The National Journal's conservative-to-liberal voting spectrum. She sided with the state's business interests on cap-and-trade proposals and to limit the EPA's ability to regulate pollutants. She supports the Keystone Pipeline. She has been a fierce opponent of earmarks since entering the Senate. She voted for pay-go legislation to limit congressional spending.
But she is pro-choice. And she voted for the Affordable Care Act. She believes the government has an obligation to the poor. She was an early, and active, supporter of Barack Obama's presidential candidacy. Any one of those four facts would be enough to disqualify her in the eyes of many Missouri voters.
In the real world, politics is not binary. Politics and public policy are complicated, requiring careful thought and deliberation, an open mind, a keen intellect and a willingness to do what is in the public's interest, even if it's not your political interest.
Ms. McCaskill said she knew that voting for the Affordable Care Act would not be popular in Missouri. “I knew when I cast that vote it was a vote I could go home over,” she said. She voted for it anyway.
Now, when voters ask her about it, she says, “I try to ask them what they don't like about it. Typically it's the mandate. And then I explain how the mandate and pre-existing conditions are linked. ... All of these Republicans have gotten away saying, `Oh we're not going to change pre-existing condition,' and nobody is saying to them, `Well, how do you do that? Who in their right mind is going to buy insurance until they get sick?' If you know you can get it after you get sick, why would you ever buy it until you're sick?”
“It is a great example of where the details of the legislation were complicated ... `Big government, bad government, don't trust them' — That is a message that is simple, it's pithy, it's going to multiply like weeds in August.”
And so it has, weeds fertilized by millions of dollars in attack ads funded by plutocrats who are betting that Missouri's voters will be satisfied with the sort of simplistic answers that Mr. Akin is peddling.
He said Sept. 21 in a candidate debate in Kansas City, “This is a choice: Are we going to have more freedom or more Washington, D.C.?”
Down deep, Missourians know it's far more complicated than that. Missourians know they deserve better. Missouri deserves Claire McCaskill.