As a rule, I don't have any problem with the bland liberalism of Eugene Robinson, a nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist and cable-news talking head. But his column on Senator-elect Brown from Massachusetts is worthy of attention for its cluelessness about the rights and responsibilities of our elected representatives.
"When I heard Scott Brown ... describe himself as a 'Scott Brown Republican,' I groaned," Robinson reports, "It sounded as if he's coming to Washington to be part of the problem, not part of the solution." Robinson's despair has relatively little to do with Brown's positions on the issues -- "quite reasonable" on reproductive and gay rights, less so in demanding an immediate freeze on discretionary federal spending. For that matter, my post isn't meant as a defense or critique of Brown's positions. I want to focus on the fact that freaked out Robinson: Brown's implicit promise that he would be his own kind of Republican in the U. S. Senate.
When I read a statement like that, I try to believe that it means that Brown isn't going to accept dictation from the Republican leadership in the Senate. Robinson seems to understand it that way too, warning the GOP that their "crucial 41st vote in the Senate -- the vote that can thwart just about anything the Democrats want to do -- belongs to a man who promises only that he will march to his own drummer." To which he adds: "Good luck with that."
In Robinson's reading, Brown's promise to think for himself is the new Senator's self-revelation as a selfish egomaniac. "I hope the erstwhile Cosmo centerfold is smart enough to realize there is something more corrosive to our political system than bitter partisanship," the columnist chides, "and that's, ahem, naked self-interest." Later, Robinson opines that "The last thing Washington needs is another politician who refers to himself as his own brand and promises to chart his own lonely path....If everybody in town tries to sing 'My Way,' we get a serenade -- but we don't get the solutions the country so urgently needs."
Robinson doesn't need to spell out his underlying thesis because it's obvious to anyone with an awareness of American political reality. The pundit is saying plainly enough that there is no alternative in the national legislature to party discipline. Partisan legislators in Washington are there to obey the President or their floor leaders, depending on who's in power. Conscientious self-determination is nothing more than irresponsible self-indulgence. If Brown was elected as a Republican, that means he must represent a Republican agenda defined by national Republican leaders, as if Bay Staters had voted for the party first (and the national, not the local party at that), and the man second. That's how Robinson seems to think representative government should work. It makes one wonder what the Framers expected Representatives and Senators to do back in 1790, before there was a party system. Start parties, I suppose.
The problem with Scott Brown calling himself a "Scott Brown Republican" is the second part of the compound, not the first. His own merits or flaws aside, and no matter what Eugene Robinson thinks, this nation will be better off when, instead of running as a "Scott Brown Republican," a Senator can run simply as Scott Brown.