Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) visited campus this past Thursday and delivered a candid account of the difficulties she has overcome as a woman in politics.
McCaskill was in Chicago promoting her new book, Plenty Ladylike: A Memoir, which looks back on her many years in public service. Chicago Tonight commentator Brandis Friedman moderated the conversation with McCaskill, which was sponsored by the Institute of Politics, I-House, and the Seminary Co-Op.
A major topic of the conversation that the senator also discussed at length in her book was the sexism she encountered throughout her time as a public figure. When McCaskill served in the Missouri House of Representatives, she once attempted to promote one of her bills to the Speaker of the House, who then told her, “You’re gonna have to bring your kneepads.”
This sexism reinforced McCaskill’s desire to succeed. “I used that as fuel. I used that to motivate me,” she said. “As it turned out, he ended up in jail and I ended up in the United States Senate.”
McCaskill did not shy away from discussing her own political maneuverings, embracing terms like “calculating,” “strategic,” and “risky.” She argued that these concepts empower women to succeed in politics by leveling the playing field between the sexes.
“Taking risks and being highly strategic is part of winning. I want women to feel comfortable with that level of risk and with that level of strategic thinking,” she said. “What’s wrong with calculating? There are a lot of successful men who are calculating. Well, if women want to be successful, we’d better get on the calculating bus.”
McCaskill is no stranger to political hardball. When she was up for reelection in 2012, she ran ads during the Republican primary to endear Todd Akin, one of the candidates, to conservatives. Her message was simple: “I’m Claire McCaskill and I approve this message. Todd Akin is too conservative for Missouri.”
Sure enough, Akin went on to win the Republican primary and soon after ended his general election chances with his “legitimate rape” comments. “He exceeded our expectations,” McCaskill said.
The discussion turned to policy as McCaskill took questions from the audience. She pushed back at the characterization of her military sexual assault bill as conservative compared to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill, and she decried the media coverage that accompanied that debate. “Nothing was more painful for me than being painted that somehow I was being less aggressive on behalf of victims,” McCaskill said.
On a lighter note, McCaskill revealed her desire for a Trump/Carson Republican presidential ticket. She said that, should this ticket become a reality, she’ll be “dancing a jig in St. Louis, Missouri.”