Opinion: How people in power treat their staff matters, so the allegations against Amy Klobuchar matter, too

Author Michael Arceneaux explains how the allegations leveled against presidential hopeful Sentaor Amy Klobuchar are serious workers’ rights issues, and why we need to pay attention.

What would you do if your boss threw a binder at your head in a fit of rage?

Would you stop, drop, and roll? Would you say, “Ma’am, can you leave my head alone? I need it?” Or would you wait it out until that boss decides to run for president, then warn the American people not to vote for someone who presents themselves as a nice sensible Midwestern senator but is actually a tyrant? If you picked number three, thank you for your service.

A lot of people have experienced a difficult boss, but the recent allegations of mistreatment leveled against Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar go a bit beyond the norm. Again, throwing office supplies at staff members, verbally berating them, or in select cases, apparently calling new employers of past staffers to play the role of saboteur. As nasty as it is to discover that her comb doubles as a backup salad fork, those other allegations are still the most disturbing.

And yet, there has been a noted defense of the Minnesota senator and Democratic presidential candidate.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed entitled “The Amy Klobuchar Overcorrection,” which ponders whether we are “too tough on tough leaders.” Before that, there were other pieces like “The Hidden Sexism Behind the Amy Klobuchar Reports” from Politico, and “The suspiciously sexist views of Amy Klobuchar’s management style, explained,” which appeared on Vox.

Speaking of Vox, their politics editor Laura McGann offered this peculiar line of defense on Twitter: “A number of people have raised how Klobuchar’s behavior would be received if she were a husband treating her wife this way. It would be considered controlling. Here’s the difference: She is a boss. She is in charge. Working for someone is not about being an equal partner.”

And to answer that WSJ writer’s question—no, we’re not being too hard on someone who seems to revel in the humiliation of staffers.

Not to mention that a more recent Politico piece, “What’s So Funny About Amy Klobuchar’s Bad Temper?” detailed how Klobuchar was encouraged to use “the annual Gridiron Dinner to respond with humor and humility” to charges against her, which she did.

What better way to tackle labor abuse than by forcing your staff members to write jokes about the debasement they suffer at your hands?

As for the issue of sexism, it’s a fact that women—especially women in politics—are not judged by the same standards as their male counterparts, but I question whether a woman accused of such antics (by other women, no less) warrants such a strong line of defense. The 2020 presidential race is already exhausting, but one positive aspect is that there are a plethora of viable female presidential candidates. Last I checked, none of them have been accused of treating their staffers in a similarly poor fashion, so why is any of this okay for Amy Klobuchar?

Regardless of how anyone feels about those who work on Capitol Hill, these staffers do important work yet typically don’t make a whole lot of money. It’s an issue Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has drawn national attention to after announcing she would be paying staffers a livable wage of $52,000. Ocasio-Cortez was celebrated for the questions she posed to Michael Cohen during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee, and she publicly credited her staff members for helping to prep her. If a freshman congresswoman knows how to treat her staff, why doesn’t a veteran senator with her eyes set on the presidency?

When these reports first surfaced, Klobuchar defended herself to reporters, saying, “Yes, I can be tough, and yes, I can push people. I have high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people that work for me, but I have high expectations for this country.”

This is an insufficient response. So are all of the excuses that people are making on her behalf. How people in power treat their employees matters. Donald Trump does seem like a terrible boss, but that doesn’t mean anyone should want a female equivalent to replace him. He is a fraud, and if these accusations against Klobuchar are true, then there are questions of Klobuchar’s sincerity ‘cause slapping somebody upside the head with a Staples product doesn’t sound particularly “Midwestern nice.” If that’s how she acts now, imagine how White House staffers would be treated under a President Klobuchar.

This is not the 2020 edition of “her emails.” It’s about workers having the right to be treated with dignity.

If you cannot do that, I don’t care who you are. You won’t get my support.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the newly released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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