Readers—And Former Staffers—Discuss Amy Klobuchar’s Behavior

“I think these actions are not ones to defend, but I also think it is unfair to speculate as to why she is so hard on her staff.”

Jim Young / Reuters

The Anger of Amy Klobuchar

After Amy Klobuchar announced her bid for president, multiple media organizations reported that the senator from Minnesota had a history of mistreating her subordinates. Last week, Caitlin Flanagan wrote that the allegations have been met with “a kind of sexism.” Klobuchar, she argued, has survived reports that a man never would:

“It’s shameful to humiliate and mistreat employees, no matter your gender Trying to sell cruelty and pathological behavior as a feminist victory is yet another reason that so many women who care deeply about equality don’t identify themselves as feminists.”

I was somewhere between disappointed with and deeply angry at Caitlin Flanagan’s article on Amy Klobuchar. The accusations against the senator may or may not be true; my dismay is at the rather cavalier psychoanalysis Flanagan offers. Even from the opening: “Amy Klobuchar has a problem. Apparently it’s been an open secret in Washington and Minnesota, but because she didn’t have much of a national reputation, the press lacked occasion to expose it.” Well, it hasn’t been an open secret, and I’ve lived in Minnesota for the past 24 years. She’s a good person, focused, driven, just, and more important to most of us, not an ideologue.

I’ll admit straight up I’d like to see Klobuchar as president, and I’m a lifelong Republican. She’s got a proven track record, she listens, she’s got self-control, she understands nuance as well as finance—something most of the people in the race, including the president, seem to lack.

Richard J. Sherry
St. Paul, Minn.

I am a former member of Senator Klobuchar’s staff and have not previously been contacted by the media. I didn’t really want to get involved in this, but I have been dismayed by the hyperbolic columns that have followed the media coverage of her relationship with her staff and felt compelled to respond in some small way after reading Ms. Flanagan’s piece.

Senator Klobuchar is a very demanding boss. No one disputes that, and she herself has said so. But the charges made in this column, that she is “unstable,” engages in “despicable” behavior, and is constantly driven by uncontrolled rage, do not reflect my experience over the course of three years in her office, and it is troubling that such charged terms are being leveled in an opinion column by an author with no personal knowledge of her subject. This is simply not a description that squares with what I know.

Brian M. Burton
Alexandria, Va.

As a former staff member in Amy Klobuchar’s Senate office, I was disappointed to read your piece on the senator.

The stories that served as the basis of your piece were based on anecdotes from a handful of anonymous former aides. Those reports in turn served as the basis for your sweepingly broad armchair psychoanalysis of Amy Klobuchar and indictment of her management style.

What you failed to do was listen to, or at least acknowledge, the more than 60 former Klobuchar staffers who continue to view Senator Klobuchar as a mentor and friend and who drafted a public letter to share their positive experiences of working in her office. Taking a few anonymous stories and opinions at face value and completely ignoring the experience of 66 staffers resulted in a one-sided and unfair analysis.

Erick Garcia Luna
Minneapolis, Minn.

As a young woman, having grown up in Minnesota, I originally championed Amy Klobuchar’s candidacy. I have seen the good she has done firsthand in my community, as well as countless others across the state. She has made it known that she genuinely cares about her constituents from both sides of the aisle, taking time to thoughtfully listen and talk to them about their issues (a seemingly small feat, but rare in today’s political climate). I have seen the bipartisan support she garners in the state and the way she strives for compromise. I was excited to watch her performance at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and I was proud to call her my senator.

When the recent accounts of her treatment of staffers came out, I was taken aback. Since I only knew her to be publicly caring, I found this fact hard to grapple with. I think these actions are not ones to defend, but I also think it is unfair to speculate as to why she is so hard on her staff. The article references her childhood and past, almost as a way to explain and write off the way she acts. Just because she was brought up by an alcoholic father and has a family history of alcoholism does not mean it is fair to assume this is the reason she is aggressive. Through these assumptions, a generalization is made about not only her experience and the way her character is shaped, but also about the experiences of countless other people who have grown up in similar situations.

“Minnesota nice” and Klobuchar’s midwestern background are also presented as character flaws. When Klobuchar’s reputation got called into question, these traits became laughable falsehoods that were created to mask the “true” nature of the Midwest. To judge an entire region on the actions of one woman is incredibly unfair to the millions of other people who live there, and the other politicians who may consider running in 2020.

Hannah Boardman
Stillwater, Minn.

The behavior attributed to Senator Klobuchar puts me in mind of my own mother’s behavior when I was growing up, and the lasting impact her abuse had on me psychologically. Every insult, every raging tantrum, every object hurled in my direction served to reinforce a pervasive sense of dread—not that I have done wrong, but that I am wrong, in the most fundamental sense of my being. That Senator Klobuchar and her supporters would trivialize this behavior or leverage it for some kind of feminist “win” frustrates me beyond measure.

As feminists, we’re working to dismantle a system that rewards aggressive, demeaning behavior at the expense of women, but we too often forget that perpetrators and victims within this system come in all genders. Senator Klobuchar seems to have bought into the ultimate patriarchal lie: Violence is strength, and accountability is for losers. Is this the message we mean to send—that aggressive cruelty is acceptable, as long as it’s a woman wielding the power? Where is the justice in that? Where does “being a bully” fit in the feminist sphere of values? We need the courage to hold ourselves—and each other—accountable for behaviors that strike against the just society we are striving to create. Thank you for calling out aggression and cruelty for what it is.

Name Withheld Upon Request
Shelby Township, Mich.

I thought your article on Amy Klobuchar’s treatment of her staff was incredibly well written, thoughtful, and at least from my perspective, nonpartisan. I live in Minnesota and can tell you the majority here would blindly follow Klobuchar to the brink (I was one of them). My knee-jerk reaction after hearing the first whisperings of the senator’s behavior was to both defend and deny, like many Democrats I think, with Trump as my benchmark. After reading and reflecting on your article, I agree that we have unfairly characterized this issue through a blurry, distorted lens that we’ve all been complicit in creating.

Aaron Bouw
St. Louis Park, Minn.

Caitlin Flanagan replies:

It’s telling that none of the correspondents, including former staffers, addresses the most serious charges against Klobuchar, including the sending of belittling emails in the middle of the night (many of which were reviewed by the New York Times in the course of its reporting, which included interviews with more than two dozen former staffers). Neither do these correspondents address the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees report of her “shameful treatment of her employees” in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

So what is the truth? Is Klobuchar an abusive boss, whose treatment of some employees is egregious? Or is she a disciplined and hardworking senator capable of great warmth? I would suggest that both are true, which is the point of the essay.

I’m not surprised that Richard J. Sherry, a Republican, would like to see Klobuchar as president. Her great promise, in a national campaign, is her ability to reach out to conservatives. In February, she was the only declared Democratic candidate to vote “yes” on the anti-BDS bill, and her economic policy is moderate. Will Democratic primary voters be in the mood for a nominee whose record appeals to potential Trump voters? We’ll find out.