Politics & Policy

The Browning of Massachusetts

A Republican could sit in Ted Kennedy's seat.

Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for Edward Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, has become a somewhat unlikely national candidate.

In liberal Massachusetts, after a Camelot-worthy sendoff for Senator Kennedy, and in an age of “hope and change” that was ushered in in no small part by Kennedy-family endorsements, this seat has been considered a safe Democratic hold. But polls have begun to show the race tighter than anyone would have predicted — one showed Brown in fighting distance of pulling off a win. Brown still has a steep hill to climb, but the possibility that Attorney General Martha Coakley’s lead is now in the single digits warrants moving the race from Solid Democratic to Lean Democratic.

So Brown — you may be thinking — isn’t really a Republican. There must not be an important difference between him and the Democrat.

Indeed, Scott Brown probably never owned a poster of National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr., as Eighties Republican pop-culture archetype Alex P. Keaton did on Family Ties. And he is, in fact, a supporter of Roe v. Wade. A longtime friend of his even told the Boston Globe that “Scott would have made a great Democrat, but he comes from a Republican family.” 

But don’t take that too literally. You don’t want to get the wrong idea here.

There are prudential reasons for pro-lifers to support Brown. During a debate, Brown confronted Coakley: “Being supported by EMILY’s List [an organization that funds female politicians who support legal abortion], she will go down there as a social crusader and be obligated to file the bills that will have full [partial-birth] abortions and also lower the age of consent and also provide the federal funding.” As Brown made clear: “I’m not in favor of partial-birth abortion. I am not in favor of federal funding of abortion. I do not believe in lowering the age of consent to get abortions as Martha does.”

When the Supreme Court upheld the federal prohibition on partial-birth abortion, she was livid and wrote (in a co-authored op-ed): “In one fell swoop, five justices set back the cause of a woman’s individual liberty and self-determination, as well as decades of established legal precedent.” In 2007, she was among seven state attorneys general who sued the Bush administration over conscience protections for health-care providers who had moral objections to playing roles in abortions and contraception distribution. During the primary fight, EMILY’S List and its members reportedly gave Coakley some $500,000.

The Boston Globe has reported that in the Eighties, “Coakley was a private lawyer who volunteered her time to help minors get court orders for abortions when they could not get their parents’ consent.” Spending your free time working to help girls get abortions without their parents suggests a certain deep commitment to the issue.

And while there has been some suggestion in the Massachusetts press that Coakley moderated her position when she announced that she would have supported the Senate health-care bill despite some faux restrictions on abortion, it is important to realize that even pro-choice heroine Barbara Boxer voted for that bill — because they are faux restrictions. Coakley’s doing just fine by her radical-feminist supporters.

Brown, on the other hand, despite not being opposed to abortion, has the endorsement of pro-life groups in the Bay State.

Brown is not someone you can expect to be a leader in opposition to legal abortion. But if you are in fact opposed to legal abortion, he’s with you on some reasonable restrictions. And, furthermore, and immediately pressing: He opposes the health-care bill, which, at the moment, would begin federal funding of abortions for the first time, despite the fact that a majority of Americans oppose abortion.

Brown’s “Right” on other things, too, having cleverly used old John F. Kennedy clips to show that not all Kennedys would roll over in their graves if a senator from Massachusetts supported tax cuts and fiscal responsibility. As a National Guardsman and JAG lawyer, he speaks about national-security issues with the confidence and care of someone who understands the stakes of the war we’re in — something his opponent hasn’t managed.

I understand completely the desire for political leaders who will defend what really is the human-rights issue of our day in the United States. With Scott Brown, you are not going to get the next Rick Santorum, a leader in the Senate for the most defenseless. But you will, if what he says and what he’s done are indications, get a vote with you more often than not.

As a Massachusetts Planned Parenthood official put it: “He has actively done things that undermine abortion rights.”

And, with Scott Brown, you also get a vote in opposition to a health-care bill that (if the Senate version prevails) will violate the consciences of a majority of Americans by using taxes to end the lives of the unborn.

Scott Brown may support the Supreme Court’s activist, deadly Roe v. Wade decision. But that’s not up for a vote anytime soon. If Scott Brown goes to the U.S. Senate and votes against a health-care bill that would mandate federal funding of abortion, he would be more of a pro-life senator than Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — two supposed pro-life Democrats who voted for the bill. A pro-lifer in name only doesn’t do much good. I’ll take a non–social crusader who’s a good vote on restrictions that are more likely to come up during his tenure than an entire overhaul. That’s a big tent I can live with — a big tent that saves lives.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

Copyright 2010, Kathryn Jean Lopez. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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