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Pro-choice Scott Brown gets pro-life endorsement. How come?

Posted by John McDonough  August 26, 2012 09:55 AM

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Self-declared "pro-choice" Scott Brown, our Republican U.S. Senator now seeking re-election for a full six-year term, has received the endorsement of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, our state's leading pro-life organization.

What's up with that? Two things, seems to me.

First, Scott is hardly a reliable pro-choice vote in the Senate. Consider this, from Michael Levenson's story:

"We consider him a senator who votes prolife," said Anne Fox, president of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life. "We have to take his word for it when he says he is prochoice. But what we're looking for is someone who votes prolife, and he does."

Still, Brown received the backing of Massachusetts Citizens for Life in his 2010 run for Senate and has sided with the National Right to Life Committee on four of its five key votes since he arrived in Washington, earning him an 80 percent approval rating.

Certainly, Scott's Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, would be considered more reliably pro-choice in her voting behavior -- and would not have joined hands with Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) to co-sponsor legislation to permit any employer to deny contraceptive coverage to workers.

There is more going on here, though, far more than one senator's voting record, and it illustrates a fundamental dynamic in modern U.S. politics. It's this:

A vote for Scott Brown is also a vote to elect Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as Senator Majority Leader, and a vote to elect Elizabeth Warren is a vote to elect Harry Reid (D-NV) to that same post.

Independents, our largest voter plurality in Massachusetts and just about everywhere, hate to be reminded of this. "I vote for the person, not the party," goes the retort.

And well you may, but the first vote cast by the winning candidate, and arguably the most consequential, is to choose the partisan leader of the Senate's majority caucus. Just about everything flows from that single vote -- the choice of committee chairs, the willingness to consider judicial nominees, as well as the determination of the Senate's legislative agenda and the Senate's non-agenda.

Having spent about two years in DC working in the Senate, it's a stunning incongruity. Across the nation, the biggest part of the electorate declares a pox on both parties reveling in their "independent" status. In Washington DC, nearly everyone is R or D. Even the two I's in the Senate, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman and Vermont's Bernie Sanders, realize they have to caucus with one party to avoid total irrelevance.

Even if Scott Brown were 100% pro-choice in his voting, it would make sense for Mass. Citizens for Life to support him and to urge all their followers to vote for him -- because he will put into the power the party which will do everything in its power to advance their pro-life agenda. Without a majority, that agenda will go nowhere in DC. Not just for abortion, for everything.

Even if Elizabeth Warren were 100% pro-life (not a chance), it would still make sense for MCfL to support Brown because of whom he will vote to empower.

Like it or not, that's the way it is.

(Disclosure: I am a supporter of Elizabeth Warren's campaign.)

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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