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News & Commentary: Et tu, Charlie?

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The news that former Springfield mayor Charlie Ryan had endorsed Republican U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown was a bit surprising. When I read the newspaper story describing his announcement at a popular local bakery in my old neighborhood, however, I was not surprised by the entirely personal nature of the endorsement. The 84-year-old attorney, politician and community activist lavished praise on the Republican incumbent senator without mentioning any of Brown's actual policy positions or votes.

Without specific examples, he praised Brown's bipartisanship and leadership qualities while condemning "gridlock" in Washington, implying that Brown has worked or will work to end such gridlock.

I couldn't help wondering if the mayor had reviewed Brown's actual voting record, which contains a lot of positions that ought to be anathema to a self-professed "life-long" member of the Democratic Party. Does Ryan share Brown's opposition to the collective bargaining rights of police officers (a vote I'm guessing Brown forgot to mention to the police unions whose endorsements he is seeking)? Does Ryan believe that, as Brown claims, the Affordable Care Act is a "jobs crusher," a claim that has been so thoroughly refuted as to make it absurd? Of all the Republican filibusters that Brown supported, how many did Ryan support?

Does Ryan endorse the Brown campaign's use of the "politics of personal destruction" against Elizabeth Warren? Has he seen Brown's new website entirely devoted to bashing Warren with surprisingly bold lies and false innuendos? Does that seem like the move of a man of good character, Mr. Mayor? Does Ryan share Brown's opposition to tougher regulation of the financial services industry, which the Republican senator took pains to disguise as soon as it became clear he would be facing consumer advocate Warren in his re-election bid?

Does Ryan share Brown's misunderstanding (or willful misinterpretation) of President Obama's—and Elizabeth Warren's— comments about the taxpayers' role in supporting and building businesses in America? Brown actually repeated this line of attack during Ryan's announcement event. Does this life-long Democrat think that his political party's organization and fellow members' efforts had nothing to do with his many political successes? Does he really think that business and politics are not team sports?

Newsflash: Business and politics are team sports!

I think Mayor Ryan has fallen for a very old and very deceptive political pitch used by candidates whose philosophy and policy preferences are at odds with the majority of voters. He has allowed Brown to use him to help deceive voters into thinking that the election is about the candidates rather than about public policy; that it's a "good guy versus bad guy" situation. In so doing, he has allowed himself to be used to paint a very inaccurate portrait of the workings of the U.S. Senate.

Representatives and senators in Washington are, in fact and by design, team players. The ones who aren't good team players quickly become ineffective and irrelevant. Apparently, Mayor Ryan forgot, or doesn't understand, how party leaders in the Senate protect their members who represent potentially disagreeable states.

Brown's claims (and statistics) about his moderation and bipartisanship are a mirage. Almost every one of Brown's votes against his Republican Party was tactical, not substantive. Brown, like every Blue Dog Democrat from a red state, uses votes on which his own vote will not affect the outcome to vote against his own party so he can pump up his bipartisan stats for election time. This tactic is fully supported by party leaders, making it anything but independent-minded or a sign of moderation. A review of Brown's votes makes this quite clear. Once you understand the "inside baseball" tactics of legislative parties, it also becomes clear that, despite his campaign rhetoric to the contrary, Brown fully supports his Republican Party's obstructionism.

Those who understand the real-life operations of the U.S. Senate, as opposed to the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" version, realize that Brown's alleged moderation and bipartisanship cannot, even if he wanted it to, trump his obligations to the Republican Party. Voting for Scott Brown is, whether intentionally or not, a vote for the Republican policy agenda as well as for a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, which would solidify rather than stunt Washington gridlock.

I hope Mayor Ryan rethinks his endorsement of Scott Brown. If he genuinely supports the Republican policy agenda, then his well-earned reputation as a straight shooter demands that he say so openly and clearly, rather than allowing himself to be used to trick poorly informed voters into thinking Scott Brown really is willing to work with Democrats and with President Obama. If he truly misunderstands how the Senate works, then the mayor's well-earned reputation as a thoughtful and highly intelligent man demands that he acknowledge having been the victim of Scott Brown's patronizing charm offensive.

Jerold Duquette is associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University.

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