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Why the Amy Klobuchar Staff Mistreatment Stories Matter

Politics Features Amy Klobuchar
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Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota, entered the Presidential race on Sunday. According to the Times:

On a snow-covered stage here along the banks of the Mississippi River, with the temperature barely above single digits, Ms. Klobuchar said that as president, she would “focus on getting things done.”

Despite the snow, colder tidings had come the week before. A few days before Klobuchar announced, a story broke. Several anonymous staffers said the Senator was a monstrous boss.

In one story, HuffPo related that former staffers of the Minnesotan described Klobuchar as “habitually demeaning and prone to bursts of cruelty that make it difficult to work in her office for long.” Apparently, it’s caused problems with her presidential bid. NY Mag had more:

According to BuzzFeed News, four former staffers claim that Klobuchar’s behavior “regularly left employees in tears.” The senator allegedly tossed papers and “one aide was accidentally hit with a flying binder,” according to a person who was in the room, who noted that the senator did not intend the throw to connect.

But it’s not just those of us toiling in the Medicare-For-All mines that have a problem with Senator Klobuchar. Former Dem Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Prince himself, chastised Klobuchar for her behavior. According to HuffPo, Klobuchar had been nasty to her employees for at least a decade. By 2015, Reid decided to intervene:

... Reid (D-Nev.) spoke to her privately and told her to change her behavior, multiple sources have confirmed to HuffPost. ... But Reid’s 2015 admonishment of Klobuchar appears to have been a rare point of intervention in a long history of complaints about Klobuchar’s behavior, which date back to at least her time as the Hennepin County attorney in Minneapolis. That was the job Klobuchar had when she first ran for Senate in 2006.

In the 2006 campaign, her aides compiled a memo running eight pages about the care and feeding of the future Senator. The HuffPo called it “frank”:

“Especially while in the car during a busy day: if she is EXTREMELY upset about something, let her rant through it, DON’T interupt [sic] her unless ABSOLUTELY necessary and be careful when trying to calm her down,” the memo reads. “Often she just needs to talk things out in the open and is not interested in other people’s opinions—this is something that you will become used to and adjust to—its a note for the first time this happens.” ... During that same campaign, the president of the AFSCME local, the union that represented many of Klobuchar’s employees in the county attorney’s office, asked the larger Twin Cities AFSCME affiliate not to endorse Klobuchar’s Senate bid, citing her “shameful treatment of her employees.”

The article also noted that her rate of “staff turnover” is consistently “one of the highest in the Senate.”

Former members of her staff told HuffPost that Klobuchar ground down morale with constant and cruel late-night emails and claimed staff was required to perform personal duties for her—such as washing dishes in her home—in violation of the Senate’s rules and federal law against personal use of the office.

A “longtime advance man” who considered the Klobuchar memo for the HuffPo said that the memo crossed a line, particularly a section titled “Personal Preferences & Needs at Home,” outlining things the “body person” should do during “free time” at the residence:

—Hang up clothes she leaves laying on the floor & her chair
—Pick up dirty clothes & place in a basket (in the hallway between room & bathroom)—Organize clothing in the closet so she can find items easily (separate into shirts, suits, etc)
—Throw away any garbage in the dressing area
—Make sure nylons/socks/etc are in drawers are arranged for easy retrieval

“Staff are staff, they’re not maids,” he said. “There’s a difference between ‘Make sure I have a Diet Coke at an event’ and ‘Pick up my dirty clothes while you wait for me to get dressed.’ … I get it. Candidates’ lives are incredibly demanding, and unless you’re worth millions and you can pay someone to staff your house, sometimes political staff, they jump in and fill that void. And it’s not appropriate.”

Definitions of propriety vary, of course. There were plenty of comments defending Klobuchar. The Times mentioned one that could stand for the rest:

Asha Harris, 37, of Minneapolis, said the criticisms of the senator’s management style were plainly sexist. “When a woman is demanding and wants something and wants people to perform, it’s seen as difficult,” said Ms. Harris, who was still deciding which Democratic candidate to support. “I’ve had a lot of demanding bosses, male bosses, in my life, and nothing was said of them. They were told they were great leaders.”

Forget the odd tone-shift of “abusive” to “demanding.” We owe it to ourselves to articulate the argument being made here. So what if she abused her subordinates? All is forgiven for her not being the President! If you think I’m exaggerating, I advise you to search “Klobuchar” and “Trump” on Twitter right now.

WHAT THIS SAYS

Klobuchar’s alleged abuse is not new in the history of Washington, or in politics. Terrorizing those below you is as American as lead poisoning. Klobuchar joins a long line of insufferable adult children who’ve held high office.

Here's a story from last year where Rep. Tom Garrett's staff say he made them his 'servants': https://t.co/K3qUX0bBip— Tim Nicolai (@tim_nicolai) February 9, 2019
Todd Sherman and his 'toxic work environment' in 2017: https://t.co/ilpbWD4UxD— Tim Nicolai (@tim_nicolai) February 9, 2019
What draws my attention to Klobuchar is the justification around her. As usual, the mishaps of one powerful person are less interesting than the pathology which supports that power. There will be always be people lacking the equipment for empathy. What can change—what must change—are environments which excuse and support these people.

We owe it to ourselves to take these allegations seriously. I remind my readers that abusive bosses reliably turn out to be psychos who, oh, I don't know, take down the entire World Order because they can't stop messaging people. Here's Exhibit One, from 2008, covering a certain Congressman's quirky habit of being a frequent texter:

It is rarely easy working for any member of Congress, with the low pay, long hours and endless politics. But Mr. Weiner, who is running for New York City mayor next year, is without question one of the most intense and demanding, according to interviews with more than two dozen former employees, Congressional colleagues and lobbyists. Mr. Weiner, a technology fiend who requires little sleep and rarely takes a day off, routinely instant messages his employees on weekends, often just one-word missives: “Teeth” (as in, your answer reminds me of pulling teeth) or “weeds” (as in, you are too much in the weeds). Never shy about belting out R-rated language, he enjoys challenging staff members on issues, even at parties. And, in a city saturated with transient career hoppers, Mr. Weiner has presided over more turnover than any other member of the New York House delegation in the last six years, according to an analysis of Congressional data. Roughly half of Mr. Weiner's current staff has been on board for less than a year. Since early 2007, he has had three chiefs of staff.

The class system of America has always been particularly grotesque. Whatever you can say about the hideous British class order, at the very least there was a culturally-encoded list of expectations. Posh people take care of underlings, the underlings take care of the posh. Most of the time it was more honored in the breach than the observance, but at least it was something.

But in America, where “everyone” can “rise,” there are no such stipulated roles. In the mind of the elite—particularly Boomers, for some reason—it's abuse, constant abuse, until you get high enough on the totem pole. Then you get to do unto others as has been done onto you. You want to know the most sickening part of the whole game? The meritocratic notion that abuse is a rite of passage into power. This is how depravity like Weinstein becomes normalized. You earn your way into power by enduring the abuse of supervisors, and that justifies the abuse.

If she treated women differently than she treated men, that's a problem.— Andrew Hibbard (@andrewhibbard) February 10, 2019

This is the biggest different between the Old Party—the party of Schumer, Harris, Booker, Pelosi, Beto, the Clintons, and the Hamptons—and the New Party of Tlaib, AOC, and Bernie.

You must remember that before all else, the Old Party is not progressive. In any sense of the word. They believe in a world of servants and masters. In other words, there will be high people and low people. What separates the Old Party from conservatives is their justification for that world.

The far right justifies the world of hierarchy by race, gender, nationality, and inherited wealth. The Old Party's justification is based on what school you graduated from, the culture you consume, and your “earned” wealth. Both the Old Party and the conservatives defend a hierarchical society. They just want different reasons to put people in the best seats. But they both agree there should be best seats.

It's the same circus tent, just held up with different pillars.

The Old Party calls its pillar “meritocracy.” Their meritocracy is an empire of humbug. But even if the meritocracy did work, it could never justify such treatment.

And yet Klobuchar stans do attempt to justify it. They defend her on the basis of feminism and on the basis of Trump. Even though women were among the people Klobuchar allegedly abused.

One needn't defend it in order to point out that being a bad boss never stopped a man from succeeding. Moral nitpicking will get us nowhere. Dems need to stop putting themselves in the pillory. So she's a mean boss: how's her legislating? What are her ideas?— Cat Weaver (@_ArtMachine) February 7, 2019

Donut Twitter opposes Trump because he is gauche. Not because he has coercive power over weaker people. They're just fine with “demanding” bosses—because, after all, Some people matter more than others. In their version of feminism, some women matter more than others—ergo, Klobuchar matters more than the female staffers Klobuchar is said to abuse. That's what they call “feminism.”

”... the senator did not intend the throw to connect”

The moral rationale for the Old Party is that abuse is fine if the right people do it. Let me drive this point home, because it's worth repeating. Their problem with Trump is not that he's an abusive bully; it's that he hasn't earned the right to be so. He hasn't, how do you say, read the right books, said the right words, bon sang ne saurait mentir, n'est-ce pas?

You must not be a boss or very high up – when u get there, can't wait to hear what they say about you

You should read other women's experiences about being bosses and be grateful to the trail they blazed for you

But her emails!— Merriwether Williams (@MerriwetherW) February 7, 2019
This kind of abusive behavior is dandy if it’s the smart people, the “right” people, the people who obey the norms. For the Old Party, Klobuchar is a Democrat in the age of Trump, and that alone gives her the stamp of decency. If you ever wondered how people could call Obama a champion for human rights while he droned poor people, that’s how.

Elizabeth Bruenig of the Washington Post put it best on Twitter:

people saying “the klobuchar staff story wouldn’t be a story if it were a man” are very confused; the point of that statement ought to be “which is a great societal failure that ought to be rectified with equal coverage” not “thus this story shouldn’t exist”

When is it okay to abuse people who have less power? When is it okay to punch down?

That’s what all of this furor comes down to, right? Whenever we see a #metoo moment blossom. Whenever we see prisoners go on strike. Whenever the President uses racist language. Whenever a cop humiliates another person of color—or worse. Whenever a bunch of rich Kentucky kids mock an elderly vet. When Louis CK has another standup night. The situation varies. But we have the same conversation. And now, when a Senator allegedly abuses her staff.

When is it okay to punch down?

Depending on where you stand on the center-to-right political spectrum, “When is it okay to punch down?” varies, and the answer is usually “It’s okay when the person I like is doing it.”

When is it okay to punch down?

Here’s an idea: How about never? Sound good?

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