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It doesn't matter if Brown is a liberal or conservative Republican

browntruck.jpg

Reihan Salam and Andrew Sullivan are arguing the finer points of Scott Brown's ideology. That's fine to do with a president or a governor, but it's misleading with a legislator. Kit Bond, for instance, is one of the most liberal Senate Republicans. Jon Kyl is one of the most conservative. Have you noticed any major difference between their voting records? Do you think that Democrats are much likelier to secure Bond's vote on a controversial issue than Kyl's vote?

We live in an age of party discipline. Even the most heterodox legislators -- think Ben Nelson or Olympia Snowe -- tend to fall in with their party when the chips are down. In this world, Republican legislators are Republicans and Democratic legislators are Democrats. What they personally believe is not a very good guide to how they generally vote. There are differences at the margins, when few are paying attention, but on major issues, when the country is watching, there is virtually no difference between the voting records of the fifth most liberal Republican and the fifth most conservative Republican.

We like to understand politicians as individuals and then we're angry when their idiosyncrasies are overwhelmed by the demands of the system. But that's not the fault of the individuals. It's our fault, for voting and reporting and acting as if the system is irrelevant. The choice in Massachusetts is not between Brown and Coakley nearly so much as it is between a Democrat and a Republican. And all this goes double for someone who might entertain national ambitions, which I bet Brown will.

Photo credit: By Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  January 19, 2010; 4:05 PM ET
 
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Comments

Every once in a while I get chided by someone for voting the party line. My response is that the most important vote a Senator or Representative makes is the vote for Speaker or Majority Leader. This situation is pretty much the same. I could think Brown was the nicest guy in the world, but he's going to vote (R) when it matters.

Posted by: MosBen | January 19, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

so i'm guessing its just fine for liberal Democrats to FORCE Ben Nelson to vote Democratic on the healthcare bill, right? Even if his constituents don't want it? its amazing Ezra how easily the argument turns. I don't think any Senator's arm has been twisted more than his. Still waiting for that blog post unless I missed it.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

The point being made is certainly true in most cases but may not be true when a particular politician's job is on the line. We may be looking at several such cases.

We have witnessed a well-funded Democrat lose or nearly lose a safe Senate seat in deep blue MA. The pivotal issue has been healthcare. If I am a Democrat running for reelection and the people in my district are as uncomfortable with HCR as the good people of MA appear to be, I'm not going to risk my seat so Obama can claim victory and I sit at home.

How many Democrats are in that position?

Posted by: bobsteph1234 | January 19, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, As usual you have all of your facts wrong.

Kyle is a conservative and Olympia Snow and Susan Collin are liberals, not Kit Bond.

If you haven't figured that out yet, you shouldn't even be writing for the Washington Post.

Posted by: mitchflorida | January 19, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I'll bet you $100 donated to Haiti relief Ezra that if Brown does win today's election that he is the Republican speaker after the SOTU address Jan 27th. You couldn't script that better for Republicans if all the chips fall in line.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Of course Brown has national (or Gov's Mansion) ambitions. Unless he's completely delusional, he knows that as of January 2013, he'll be out of that job in DC.

John

Posted by: toshiaki | January 19, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

There's some interesting scholarship coming from an old professor of mine using whip count data to examine voting decisions. Check out the following papers:

http://clevan.people.wm.edu/Senate.pdf
http://clevan.people.wm.edu/History.pdf

Posted by: MrEd12345 | January 19, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

How does this play into your New York 23...the Tea Party will split the Republicans and give the election to the Democrats every time theory?

Posted by: chairman3 | January 19, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Brown appears a more eloquent and civilized composite of Sarah Palin and Joe the plumber. His victory speech tonight would just need a little tweaking to be the perfect counterpoint to Professor Obama's SOTU address. After all, he won this race in the working class towns of Massachusetts...not in Cambridge. Could see him for VP nomineee in 2012 but I still don't see a viable GOP Presidential candidate.

Posted by: CincinnatiRIck | January 19, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Sucks to be Obama. Sucks worse to be a liberal journalist trying to put a positive spin on the implosion of the Democratic Party.

Posted by: johnhiggins1990 | January 20, 2010 3:44 AM | Report abuse

Sucks to be a grandparent with three fine young grandsons and try to explain why the moralizing Republicans elect someone whose chief claim to fame is that he took it all off for a national magazine.

Who will they give us next? Levi Johnson?

Posted by: withersb | January 20, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Were you having trouble back when slick willie was chasing interns and grabbing anything he could? I bet not, I bet you said then that the ends justify the means.

****
Sucks to be a grandparent with three fine young grandsons and try to explain why the moralizing Republicans elect someone whose chief claim to fame is that he took it all off for a national magazine.

Who will they give us next? Levi Johnson?

Posted by: withersb | January 20, 2010 10:04 AM

Posted by: KABOOKEY | January 20, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Exactly.
Why is it so different for 59 democratic senators to vote *for* health care reform than for 41 republicans to vote against it?

Posted by: invention13 | January 20, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

"Sucks to be Obama"

Yeah, but it sure would be sweet to be a conservative right now, luxuriating in the idea that thousands upon thousands of people will continue suffering and dying every year for lack of access to adequate health care. The GOP is now and forever the Party of Death.

Posted by: fkutzler | January 20, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

I think the difference with Brown is that he has to run again in liberal Massachusetts in 2 short years. When Obama will be on the same ballot. So he has a lot to prove to MA Dems in a short period of time. I think this is the pressure Obama hopes to exert on him.

Posted by: willallison_2000 | January 21, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

visionbrkr: "so i'm guessing its just fine for liberal Democrats to FORCE Ben Nelson to vote Democratic on the healthcare bill, right? Even if his constituents don't want it?"

Nelson opposed a public option even though polls show his constituents wanted it. Don't think there was much "forcing" going on there.

And I think Republicans have been armtwisting their members more than the Democrats have been. Some Democrats can defect without giving up their majority, but the Republicans' hope to regain control is to ensure the Democrats fail, and to do so they need to stick together. And they have done so.

Posted by: dasimon | January 21, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

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