Scott Brown surprised me when he won the late Ted Keneddy’s Senate seat, beating Martha Coakley, whom he had once trailed in the polls by a large margin. Senator Brown had been backed by the Tea Party, and when he was elected, I thought, here comes one of these nuts into Congress.
However, Senator Brown has been a bigger surprise in Congress. His voting record has been decidedly centrist; from it, as well as from his speeches, one can tell that he is no ideologue. He has voted to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” the Clinton-era policy that prevents openly gay people from serving in the armed forces. Sen. Brown also believes states should decide the issue of gay marriage, even though he personally believes marriage is between a man and a woman, and he would not support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as such.
He is also sensible when it comes to environmental questions, even though he opposes a cap-and-trade deal and supports offshore drilling. Sen. Brown supports expanding solar and wind power, true, but also advocates nuclear power, the perennial foe of the green groups that have always been Democratic supporters.
On foreign policy, he has been equally pragmatic. He supported the sending of additional troops to Afghanistan, trusting in General Stanley McChrystal’s analysis of the war. But fellow Republicans were shocked when he voted to ratify the START treaty to reduce American and Russian nuclear weapons. Republicans had opposed this because they believed it left the country less well defended.
It’s hard to say why Sen. Brown is voting the way he is, especially when Tea Party support put him in the Senate. He didn’t seem to abhor their support either. Now, however, Republicans are enraged at his voting record. Scott Wheeler of the National Republican Trust PAC wrote “there is no difference between him and a Democrat.” Christian Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, reckons there might be a primary challenge awaiting Sen. Brown when he is up for re-election in 2012.
If I were to guess why he’s turned out to be a centrist, I would chalk it up to, mainly his upbringing. Sen. Brown didn’t have a privileged childhood; his working mother once claimed welfare benefits. That would, in part, help explain why he has not joined the Tea Party in blasting welfare benefits as “unconstitutional.” It would probably also help explain his rejection of the original stimulus plan: in which he wanted to recall and rewrite the plan to target private businesses. In this, he is right; many economists say the stimulus was just too scattershot.
However, Sen. Brown has not voted exactly like a Democrat, as Mr. Wheeler attests, and he has managed not to cave to public anger. Take for example, the episode when the Democrats were angling for a “bank tax”, figuring that public anger against Wall Street would help. Sen. Brown, then as the 41st Senate Republican (a bill needs 60/100 votes), voted to kill the bill, fearing that the tax would end up with consumers in the form of higher bank charges and ATM costs.
It is worth noting that it is still relatively early in Sen. Brown’s term, and that he was sheltered from the fury of the mid-term elections as his seat was not up to be contested. The coming year will likely place more pressure on Sen. Brown due to the entry of more Tea-Party sponsored candidates into Congress, which shows the power of the movement, anger-based and anti-intellectual though it is. If Sen. Brown keeps his independent streak, he will be a rare bright spot in the Republican Party. Just what America needs.