"Kill the Claire Bear" is not a campaign slogan. It's not a poor choice of words. It's not a metaphor.
It's a threat of violence. So when an overzealous supporter of U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman, a Republican, directed the threat toward U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, at a campaign rally this week, Steelman swiftly should have condemned it.
As Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did during his failed run for the presidency in 2008, she should have grabbed the microphone from the person making absurd or hostile statements. She should have taken the microphone from St. Louisan Scott Boston, the man who spoke the threatening words in Springfield, Mo. She should have told him he'd crossed the line.
In 2008, McCain stood up for the citizenship and patriotism of his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama. Steelman should have stood up for her opponent's right to serve her country without the threat of violence being made against her.
But she didn't. Worse yet, when asked about it, she defended Boston and blamed the whole thing on the liberal media.
"I may disagree with the words Mr. Boston chose in his statement, but I understand his frustration and I emphatically support his right to express his views," Steelman said.
Here's what Steelman should have said at her rally or — if she didn't have the courage or presence of mind, immediately after her rally — "This type of rhetoric is unconscionable."
Those were the words of Steelman's opponent for the Republican nomination for Senate, businessman John Brunner of St. Louis. He got it right. She whiffed, horribly.
The result of the incident is that McCaskill's security has been ordered to be stepped up by the U.S. Capitol Police.
Ironically, there was a time when Steelman decried the thought of somebody using violent language toward a female elected official.
In 2000, when she was a state senator, Steelman received two threatening emails.
She turned them over to then-Cole County prosecutor Richard Callahan, now the U.S. attorney for Missouri's Eastern District. Callahan and his investigators traced the messages to a public library in Lebanon, Mo.
They arrested a Springfield man and charged him with harassment. He pleaded guilty and served 15 days in jail and received two years of probation.
Twelve years ago, receiving a violent email worried Steelman. "Being a public official, you just never know," she said then.
It worried her family. "My husband was really concerned about it," she said.
Now, in her rightward run to appease the most extreme voters in her party, Steelman has repudiated her past decency.
Fact is, she often used to agree with McCaskill. Together, they championed better open records laws. They used to be on the same side when workers and trial attorneys were under attack from the right. They used to agree that the best part of rural Missouri is the commitment that folks in a small town have toward their neighbors, the sort of community spirit that rises above political differences.
In condoning violent rhetoric directed at her opponent, Steelman turned away from such values. She has shamed the proud political legacy of her family name.