When I heard Scott Brown, the newly elected senator from Massachusetts, describe himself as a “Scott Brown Republican,” I groaned. It sounded as if he’s coming to Washington to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
We don’t need another knight in shining armor, don’t want another political messiah come to deliver the nation from evil. We’ve already got one in the White House and one in Alaska ready to ride her snowmobile into town and save the day. Both the Senate and the House are liberally sprinkled with lone wolves who believe the legislative process revolves around them alone. Instead of “E Pluribus Unum”—“Out of Many, One”—our new motto could be “I Did It My Way.”
I hope the erstwhile Cosmo centerfold is smart enough to realize there is something more corrosive to our political system than bitter partisanship—and that’s, ahem, naked self-interest. Clearly, though, his status as the Next Big Thing appears to have gone to his head: When asked by ABC’s Barbara Walters whether he had presidential ambitions, he refused to rule out a run for the White House in 2012. He might want to take a long drive in that ancient pickup truck of his until the spell wears off.
Actually, a lot of what Brown told Walters in a lengthy interview sounded quite reasonable. On abortion, he supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose. On gay marriage, he believes the issue should be left up to the states—and in Massachusetts, which allows gay marriage, he says the question is “settled.”
On health care, his record makes more sense than his rhetoric. As a state legislator, he voted for the reform bill that established universal health insurance in Massachusetts. But now he opposes the Senate reform bill, which is modeled on the Massachusetts program. At least he’s not the first senator from his state to be for something before he was against it.
Yet on the two big economic issues—soaring unemployment and the need to confront the federal deficit—Brown doesn’t sound reasonable at all. He told Walters that his problem with President Barack Obama’s announced freeze on discretionary federal spending is that “we need to do it immediately,” not in the 2011 fiscal year. Leaving aside the question of how Obama would implement an immediate freeze, short of impounding funds, it would be insanely counterproductive to cut federal spending at a moment when the economy is struggling to find its legs and begin creating jobs.
But the most troubling passage from the interview was the part about his being a “Scott Brown Republican” and intending to “go down there and be accountable, accessible, open and honest ... to bring good government and fairness back to the equation.”
It’s impossible to argue with that laundry list of virtues, except to note that he left out motherhood and apple pie. The last thing Washington needs is another politician who refers to himself as his own brand and promises to chart his own lonely path.
Look at how the health care reform initiative reached its current parlous state. In the House, legislation had to be tailored so that Rep. Bart Stupak could save us from what he believed was unacceptable language on abortion. At least he was speaking for a number of like-minded colleagues, though. On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Joe Lieberman stood alone to hold the health care bill hostage and save us from any number of monsters, including one idea—letting 55-year-olds buy into Medicare—that he had actually advocated on the campaign trail.
Our political system suffers from many problems and may be bordering on dysfunction. But one thing we don’t have is a shortage of elected officials who see themselves as saviors of all that is good. President Obama was elected to change Washington. If everybody in town tries to sing “My Way,” we get a serenade—but we don’t get the solutions the country so urgently needs.
Republicans were amused in watching Democrats get tied into knots on health care by the all-about-me ethos. But what goes around comes around, and now the GOP’s crucial 41st vote in the Senate—the vote that can thwart just about anything the Democrats want to do—belongs to a man who promises only that he will march to his own drummer. Good luck with that.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group
AP / Charles Krupa