Guest Commentary

Say thanks to Claire McCaskill, a true giant of Show-Me politics

Outgoing U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
Outgoing U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill AP

There are many responses to the results of the Nov. 6 election in the Missouri U.S. Senate race. The most appropriate one, regardless of one’s political perspective? Thank you, Claire McCaskill.

My wife Mary and I have known Sen. McCaskill for 36 years and we consider her a friend. I have worked with McCaskill on issues in Jefferson City, Jackson County and in Washington, D.C. I’ve talked with her one-on-one, in small groups and witnessed her in public settings with hundreds of people. It’s the same McCaskill in every situation: honest with no political filter, engaging with everyone, forceful yet always respectful.

I learned early on that to persuade McCaskill on a point, don’t give her the analysis of how it would help her. Don’t give her theory. That’s not how she makes decisions. She wants the facts, the impact on real people. And your facts had better be accurate.

We often hear that we wish politicians would be more authentic, not worried about political correctness all the time. That is McCaskill. We often hear that we want politicians who are unafraid to take on the powerful. That is McCaskill. We often hear that we want politicians who tell the truth, even when it’s not comfortable for those in the room. That is McCaskill.

But all that authenticity and honesty only goes so far. We also want, or should want, politicians to be effective at shaking things up that aren’t working or protecting things that are good. That has been McCaskill too. Her career accomplishments — putting away criminals, finding waste in government, helping veterans — far surpass those of most of her fellow politicians.

Most of the people helped by McCaskill’s efforts have not been in a position to do too much for her, except perhaps to vote or to volunteer. Fine with her — the point of public service is the “service” part, after all.

McCaskill’s defeat, though, represents a change in what many Missourians seem to want from government. Since the state’s founding, we have produced many politicians with national profiles in part because to be elected in the Show-Me State, you had to produce for your constituents. Some folks describe this as “bringing home the bacon.”

McCaskill followed in this tradition of the modern giants of Missouri politics — leaders such as Harry S. Truman, Kit Bond, Stuart Symington, Tom Eagleton, Jack Danforth, Dick Gephardt and Mel Carnahan. They are all leaders who focused on accomplishments and expected to be judged accordingly.

But often today we seem to want elected officials who say things to make us feel better about ourselves versus others, and we ignore what they do — or don’t do — with the power of government. We want them to tell us we are special, rather than doing special things that address the real issues we face. We prefer to listen to them fiddle while Rome burns.

In a democracy, people elect leaders using whatever criteria they want. But I wonder if judging politicians by what they say rather than what they do, and the impact of what they do, costs us something vital, especially for Missouri. Do we really want to be the Tell-Me-What-I-Want-to-Hear State?

So no matter how you voted, or why, say thanks to Claire McCaskill for the many, many things she did for people in Missouri over four decades. Her kind may be threatened with extinction.

Bob Jacobi is executive director of the Labor- Management Council of Greater Kansas City. The views expressed here are strictly his own.