Washington D.C. is broken. Do you think that’s because our politicians are just too darned eager to work together and develop thoughtful, bipartisan solutions?
It’s literally been years since the U.S. Senate passed a budget. Do you think that’s because there are too many pragmatic moderates in that chamber and too few hardcore ideologues?
If you answered “yes” to either question, I have good news and bad news for you. First, the good news: the candidate of your dreams is running for the U.S. Senate right here in Massachusetts! Polarizing Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren is the perfect choice for voters who think we can repair political dysfunction by electing another extremist who will itch for a fight from day one.
The bad news? A majority of us think you’re crazy. In a National Journey survey published last July, a whopping 80 percent of respondents agreed that partisan bickering was getting in the way of reform. A majority even said that they respect compromisers more than politicians who refuse to budge.
They had good reason to say so: Our legislators’ inability to work together is about to cost Americans very dearly. If lawmakers can’t agree on a plan by 2013, current law will hike tax rates dramatically and automatically implement draconian cuts – a crude, last-ditch “emergency brake” for our budget that was never meant to take effect. Just last week, one rating agency cautioned that this fiscal cliff could destroy half of the world’s economic growth in 2013 and cause another recession.
One way or another, this will play out before new senators are sworn in. Either a lame-duck Congress will pass a stopgap fix and hand the problem to their successors or we’ll plunge headlong over the cliff. But in either case, limiting the damage to our fragile economy will be the next Congress’s urgent first priority.
So this November’s congressional elections will directly determine our future: Though the Obama-Romney contest claims the lion’s share of headlines, neither president will be able to chart a new course without a workable Congress. That’s why it has never in recent memory been so important to elect lawmakers who not only preach personal principles, but also are willing to reach across the aisle.
That brings us back to Massachusetts. If Warren were facing an ordinary Republican in ordinary times, this blue state’s Senate race would be an afterthought. Instead, it’s tied. Voters know that times aren’t ordinary, and that Sen. Scott Brown is anything but an ordinary Republican.
After his 2009 election, Brown pledged he would represent “no faction or interest, answering only to [his] conscience and to the people” (New York Times, Jan. 19, 2010). The facts bear out his promise. Congressional Quarterly measured senators’ 2011 votes along two dimensions of partisanship and illustrated the results on a scatter plot. Predictably, there’s a big, tight cluster of red dots who rarely back President Obama, and there’s a big, tight cluster of blue dots who almost never break from left-wing orthodoxy.
But farther down on the graph, there are a few lonely dots, red and blue. Turns out New England Republicans and southern Democrats actually practice the bipartisanship they preach.
We need more of those lonely dots, not fewer, and Brown is a prime example. He’s the second-most bipartisan senator overall, his “party unity” score is just 54 percent, and on a staggering 70 percent of bills on which Obama expressed a preference, Brown voted Obama’s way. Brown helped break GOP filibusters on jobs bills, Dodd-Frank and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As Brown’s old Democratic colleagues from the State Senate testify, this is nothing new. It’s just who he is.
But while Brown emphasizes results, Warren focuses on fighting. “I have really done three things in my life,” she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on July 18, 2001. “I have taught school … I’ve done research … And I have thrown rocks at people that I think are in the wrong.”
So Warren isn’t only a combative ideologue at a time when our country needs just the opposite; she’s also ignorant enough to boast about her inflexibility as if it were a selling point. When the Senate was considering a new consumer watchdog agency, Warren insisted that if she couldn’t get exactly the agency she’d imagined, “my second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor” (Huffington Post, May 3, 2010).
Do you really think that’s what America needs?
This election isn’t about social issues – Brown is pro-choice – or any of the archconservative policies the senator openly opposes but with which Warren nevertheless labors to smear him. It’s about what that quote represents: precisely the same attitude that has us hurtling toward the fiscal cliff.
Americans clamor for politicians who can hold their noses, forget purity and do what’s best for the country. But to get those folks in office, we voters must sometimes do that very thing. I’m a Midwestern conservative, not a centrist; like many of you, I can name senators who align with my personal views more closely than Brown does. But if Massachusetts voters from across the spectrum can’t join together and reelect a moderate senator who is uniquely qualified to broker the compromise we need, they deserve the gridlock and dysfunction they’ll have helped engender.
A rare independent voice or one more lock-step partisan who takes pleasure in demeaning anyone with whom she disagrees? The choice is ours, and it’s an easy one.
Andrew Quinn ’13 is a political science major from Lake Forest, Ill. He lives in Currier.