(This posting is months later than it should have been. I made a mistake by waiting so long. But I may not be the only to have made the mistake of waiting too long.)
It is early in the year. For several months, members of our various Progressive groups here in St. Louis have been going to Claire McCaskill’s campaign office wanting to volunteer to work on her campaign…but first needing to find out where she stands on Progressive issues, the War, jobs, healthcare, freedom from being spied on… And each time, we have been told that there are no answers about where she stands on any issue except stem cell.
Now several groups start getting together to plan a large gathering. We can fill up Central Reform Congregation’s large room with 500-600 long time political activists ready to work long hours pounding the pavement and dialing the phones for Claire, and bring more of our friends to help…if only she will meet with us and let us know that she will be there for us, that she is listening to us, that she feels our issues and concerns.
But no Claire…her schedulers tell us that she just can’t fit us in. How disconcerting that just a few weeks later, she can find time in her busy schedule to meet with a mere handful of Washington University Campus Democrats to ask for their support and help. Well, I’ve been going to Campus Democrats meetings for years since finding they had excellent leadership, and discovering that they managed to put on some of the best candidate debates of the 2004 3rd District congressional campaign. And so I managed to alert the League of Pissed Off Voters (here a sort of grad student version of Campus Dems), and we come out to finally give some Progressives a chance to see Claire in person.
I can see why Claire went there, Campus Dems is an easy crowd where most any Democrat will be given support and it is unlikely anyone will ask embarassing questions about the differences between Progressives and Neo-Liberals, of the differences between corporate DLC Dems and the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”. Well, since there are nearly as many LPOVs as undergrads, we get in a few decent questions and hear that Claire still wants to “keep the military option open”, wants civil unions but not gay marriage, sees single payer as good but not yet realistic…
And I manage to get in my question:
Claire, for years the Republicans have won elections by running to their base while the Dems have lost the Presidency, both Houses of Congress, most governorships and many state houses by running away from their base and to the middle. Now, because of Republican bungling, you have an unparalleled opportunity to both keep your own base and put wedges into the Republican base. In areas like the War, oursourcing jobs, medical care and Medicaid, the Patriot Act and internal spying, Community-Supported Agriculture helping both small farmers and suburban consumers, the FCC and media monolopies, and any number of other areas, both the Left and Right are finding areas of agreement, and are coming together to work against corporate interests and for small businesses and small farmers, and for those who have to work for a living.
Claire, you have had a reputation as a fighter, a bulldog, and you can win if you stop trying to say as little as possible on the issues, if you stop trying to run toward the vanishing middle. But to do it you have to have the courage to fight the hardest fight a politician needs to fight: Claire, can you fight against your consultants and handlers, and fight to start speaking out forthrightly on those issues where you can find support from both sides, even when your handlers tell you to be quiet?
And Claire responded:
Every day, I fight that fight every day.
But did she win that fight? I kept looking on her website every day to see if she started speaking out on any issue except stem cell..and didn’t see any change. Then I looked weekly, then monthly… Then, like many of my fellow Progressives, I looked for a candidate to help whose Progressive credentials were clear and unquestioned (and we are blessed with many of them this season). Many of us pretty much gave up on Claire, assuming she would never hear us, never reach out to us. We figured that like Kerry, like Jeanne Carnahan, and so many other Democrats, Claire must have decided to run again toward that vanishing middle.