McCaskill: One of Obama’s ‘Shortcomings’ Is His Failure to See World Through Other People’s Eyes

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Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) told former White House advisor David Axelrod that one of President Obama's "shortcomings" is his inability to see events through the eyes of others and be "empathetic about how other people do things."

In an interview for his podcast posted Thursday, Axelrod brought up a quote from McCaskill where she discussed the dynamic facing politicians being both "attention junkies" and wanting to the "right thing" to change policy. The tensions between Obama's defense of Obamacare, his unpopular health care law, and Democrats facing tough 2012 election efforts came up.

Axelrod described a story where Obama fretted about Democrats being "scared" to back Obamacare, and Axelrod replied that Obama was misreading the situation.

"For a lot of them, this is the best job they're ever going to have, and I think if they have a choice between being up here for 30 years–they'd like to do good things, but if it's a choice, I think a lot of them would take the 30 years," Axelrod said he told Obama. "So if the approbation is really so important to you, isn't there a lot of incentive for people just not to do what they think is the right thing because they're afraid it might not be the popular thing?"

"You've boiled down the essence of public service in this country is how do you balance popularity with courage? And sometimes the unpopular thing to do is the right thing to do, and I would say to my friend, the president if he were here, easy for you to say as President of the United States," McCaskill said. "He is my friend and I am loyal to him, but one of the president's shortcomings is that sometimes he sees the world through his eyes and doesn't do, I think, enough work on being empathetic about how other people do things."

McCaskill also remarked in the podcast that Hillary Clinton is "not comfortable opening up," in addition to critical comments about Republican presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), both colleagues of hers in the U.S. Senate.

Full exchange:

DAVID AXELROD: You have a lot of folks out there who, I think, fit this description, and for whom winning elections is very important in terms of the approbation that they get, and if it becomes that important to you, isn't it difficult to do unpopular things? I mean, if you have to make a choice–I'll tell you a story. You were at this caucus. I left the Democratic caucus with President Obama when he was talking about the health reform, and he got in the car and he said, ‘What are they all so scared of?' And I said, ‘Well, I think they may be scared of losing their jobs. And he said, ‘Well, what's the point of being up here for 30 years if you never do anything?'

And I said, ‘You know, I think you're misreading this. These folks, for a lot of them this is the best job they're ever going to have, and I think if they have a choice between being up here for 30 years–they'd like to do good things, but if it's a choice, I think a lot of them would take the 30 years.' So if the approbation is really so important to you, isn't there a lot of incentive for people just not to do what they think is the right thing because they're afraid it might not be the popular thing?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Well, that's kind of the nub of it. You've boiled down the essence of public service in this country is how do you balance popularity with courage? And sometimes the unpopular thing to do is the right thing to do, and I would say to my friend, the president if he were, ‘Easy for you to say as President of the United States.' I think that is, you know–he is my friend and I am loyal to him, but one of the president's shortcomings is that sometimes he sees the world through his eyes and doesn't do, I think, enough work on being empathetic about how other people do things. I had the same conversation with him. I called him and I said, ‘Listen, you know this could cost you re-elect.' And he said, ‘Well, it's worth it to me on health care.' I said, ‘OK, good for you. I'm there.'

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