US Sen. Scott Brown is a nice guy. He has an easy, down-to-earth personality that makes him an attractive candidate. Contrast that with Elizabeth Warren’s somewhat prissy, pedantic style and Brown wins the likeability vote.
Massachusetts has a long tradition of electing to high office moderate to progressive Republicans like Henry Cabot Lodge, Leverett Saltonstall, Edward Brooke, Frank Sargent, Bill Weld, and even the old Mitt Romney, to name a few.
There once was a strong centrist Republican coalition that provided balance between conservative members of the GOP and southern Democrats. The parties were a healthy blend of differing views that encouraged understanding and promoted compromise.
Brown has sought carefully to portray himself as part of that moderate tradition in a party that has gone hard right, so far right that Romney had to define himself as “severely conservative” to win the presidential nomination.
His father, George Romney, was a moderate Republican who spoke out forcefully against the forces of extremism when his party nominated Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for president. He also became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War.
Moderate Republicans, like Richard Lugar of Indiana, have been defeated or, like Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, have chosen not to run in this climate of hyper-partisanship where ideology trumps governance.
Brown has sought to distance himself from the national Republican Party and some of its extreme positions, promising to follow in the proud tradition of Republican moderates. Unfortunately, he does so at a time when moderation is no longer acceptable. What would it be like to be the last Republican moderate in the Senate?
The Tea Party demands strict adherence to its ideology and provides little room for the compromise and accommodation so necessary to a working relationship that is a fundamental part of governing.
On some less important issues, party leaders would likely tolerate dissent, recognizing that Brown must project a more moderate image. But on the important issues, where his vote matters, Brown would be expected to vote with the party. Without support from other Republican moderates, the pressure to do so would be almost irresistible.
Brown is one of 41 senators, including all the Republicans, who signed the Grover Norquist pledge to never under any circumstances raise taxes. Most of them are also opposed to any reduction in the defense budget. When it comes to deficit reduction, that means severe cuts to programs that benefit the elderly, the middle class, and the poor.
To sign such a pledge is irresponsible and conflicts with a legislator’s oath of office. It illustrates the kind of control the extreme right now has over some members of Congress.
On the rather simple question of requiring that donors to the so-called SuperPacs be identified – a measure that was even suggested by the majority in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision – Brown joined all other Republican senators in voting no.
On the subject of raising taxes on the rich to offset some of the entitlement reforms necessary to reduce the deficit, Brown will join other Republicans in disabling the social safety net. The rich do not need Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, or student loans. Most are more concerned with protecting their own interests than with providing help to those they view as undeserving – lazy, ignorant, and dependent.
Remember during the primary debates when all the Republican candidates said “no” when they were asked if they would accept a $1 increase in taxes for every $10 in spending cuts? What a profound statement!
When he was a state senator in Massachusetts, Brown joined a unanimous Senate in approving Romneycare. Now in Congress, he voted against Obamacare and undoubtedly would vote to repeal it. The Tea Party ideologues have purged moderate Republicans in Congress. Some retired, others were defeated, and those remaining have moved to the right, some reluctantly.
Elizabeth Warren will be a strong liberal voice in the Senate and a firm vote for the president’s program. She may not be as personally appealing as Brown, but when it counts, she will be for those struggling to get ahead.
The Republican Party has abandoned moderates like Brown and Romney. You either change, like Romney, or you are marginalized. So far it looks like Brown will not challenge the Republican leadership on important votes. If that’s true, he could do a lot of damage in a six-year term.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.