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Was the Scott Brown campaign a setback for the pro-family movement in Massachusetts?

POSTED:    February 3 2010
UPDATED: February 4, 2010

Was Scott Brown's victory actually a setback for the pro-family movement in Massachusetts -- and maybe even nationwide? It certainly looks that way.

Like most groups involved with Massachusetts politics over the years, we've known Scott Brown for quite a while. Occasionally he's co-sponsored legislation that we've written. Occasionally he's disappointed us. But he often bucked the trend and voted pro-family. He stood his ground on the same-sex "marriage" issue when other Republicans caved in. While not a particularly distinguished legislator, he was one of the better Republicans in the Legislature. Plus, he was friendly and fairly accessible.

Scott Brown stunningly won the US Senate election on Jan. 19. After the election MassResistance was inundated with out-of-state radio interviews on Brown from all over the country. In all - including network affiliates - we were probably on nearly 500 stations, from least a dozen separate interviews. Everyone wants to know what Brown is like, is he really conservative, how did he do it, etc. We don't claim to have all the answers, but we tried to inform people as well as we could.

And like everyone else, we thoroughly enjoyed this clear victory over the arrogant and despotic Massachusetts liberal establishment.

But Brown was at best a marginal social conservative before the campaign. Now he's calling himself an "independent voice." And unfortunately that means independent from his base.

Brown's Massachusetts base . . .

In truth, during the campaign Scott Brown's "base" (especially from a financial standpoint) was the fiscal and social conservatives and Tea Party types across America who literally funneled millions of dollars into his campaign during the final weeks. They manned the phone banks and went door to door. Many came from out of state at their own expense. They despised the Obama healthcare agenda and passionately believed in Brown.

But there's a difference between his "base" and what he sees as his "constituency."

Brown (and his handlers) see his "constituency" including those Massachusetts Independents (and some Democrats) who had previously voted for Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, and Deval Patrick -- but were fed up with out-of-control government and so voted for Brown. Many of them are socially liberal. Those are the people Brown feels he needs to keep happy if he wants to win again in 2012. He knows he already has the Republicans -- they have nowhere else to go. It's the same strategy former Republican governors Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Mitt Romney took, and it worked for them.


Brown (center) campaign stop on a sidewalk in Littleton, Mass. the day before the election drew hundreds of supporters. [MassResistance photo]

So since the election Brown seems to be distancing himself from social conservatives and Tea Party people, and certainly from the "Republican" label. He wants to be known as an independent voice. He's taken pains to meet publicly with prominent local Democrats and liberals, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the Ten Point Coalition of black ministers in Roxbury. But he's been careful not to associate himself too closely with any Massachusetts Republican candidates (though he's endorsed Sen. John McCain in his Arizona race).

The pro-life groups' champion . . . who was really pro-choice

One of the things that the liberal media found rather curious (as did we) was that certain major pro-life / pro-family groups in Massachusetts supported Brown, who is pro-choice, with great enthusiasm. The obvious contradiction (some might say hypocrisy) was quite startling. Both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald mentioned it in news articles.

Some pro-family groups tried to paint Brown as a "moderate" on abortion because he supports parental notification and is against partial-birth abortion and other extremes. But he voted for the RomneyCare health plan that includes publicly-funded abortions with a $50 co-pay. However, Martha Coakley was very publicly and vigorously pro-abortion without restrictions. To add to the confusion, Coakley's ads, including some rather tasteless mailings, attempted to portray Brown as rabidly anti-abortion. In response, Brown's campaign bent over backwards (enlisting his daughters in commercials) to assure the public that he thought hospitals should supply emergency contraception for rape victims. It was a mess.

In addition, Brown declared that homosexual "marriage" was "settled law" in Massachusetts in his opinion. (The Legislature has still not changed the law, as suggested by the court in 2003.) Some press reports say he supports homosexual civil unions. And he's backed off on taking a stance on gays in the military, saying that he wants to hear from the "officers in the field" on it -- even though Brown has been in the military himself for 30 years, and over 1,000 top commanders have already spoken against repealing the ban.

Yet certain pro-life / pro-family groups in Massachusetts disingenuously portrayed Brown as "a pro-life vote" in the US Senate and a pro-family stalwart. They put out misleading "voter guides" giving the impression that Brown was pro-life. They poured enormous amounts of money into robo-calls, mailings, and radio ads promoting Brown's pro-family credentials.

It was in our opinion a shameful situation. And it wasn't necessary. Brown had plenty of other across-the-board help and support. And because of the health-care debate and the general Obama agenda, social conservatives were not going to vote for Brown's opponent anyway. (And we believe that the abortion issue didn't influence anyone in this particular election.)

The reasoning these groups gave was that the ObamaCare plan would include publicly-funded abortions. And by stopping that, it's an overall pro-family victory because it would decrease the total number of abortions.

But that's not necessarily true. The fact is that if people want abortions they generally find a way to get them somehow. If the Obama plan doesn't cover it, then their current health plan probably would, or they find another way. It's less about the number of abortions, than about who pays for them.

(By the way, these SAME pro-life groups have refused to support the bill we filed to repeal the buffer zone around abortion clinics -- which really WOULD reduce the number of abortions -- ostensibly because it's such a hot issue.)

The bad message to candidates and legislators

Thus, the message has been sent loud and clear across Massachusetts (and maybe across the country): You don't have to be pro-life or pro-family for a social conservative group to wholeheartedly support you. A candidate for state legislature or Congress can be pro-choice or pro-homosexual "marriage" (or civil unions, or whatever) and still get support from the pro-family groups, especially if your opponent is much worse.

And legislators know that they don't have to take these groups seriously because they're not serious about their principles. Over time it builds on itself to a point where the "good" candidate of tomorrow is worse than the "bad" candidate of today. We've already seen that with the marriage issue.

In other words, that kind of strategy is a long-range disaster, besides a short-range surrender of principles.

Horse is out of the barn

This scandal actually flared up in 2008 during the state rep elections. Rep. Jim Dwyer (D-Woburn) beat an incumbent in the Democratic primary with huge help from a certain pro-family group. Dwyer was pro-traditional marriage. But he was also endorsed by Planned Parenthood. Should this have been a problem? Apparently it wasn't.

And now there's talk about "working with" Scott Brown to try to get him back on board with our issues. Good luck with that. The horse is already out of the barn. We clearly aren't the constituents he's concerned about pleasing.

It's a bad situation and it's going in a bad direction. There's clearly less and less incentive to run as a pro-family candidate or to vote as a pro-family legislator.

The "perfect" election

Nobody really denies that like Ted Kennedy, Brown was propelled by outside forces. As everyone knows, Kennedy had no political experience or had even held a job. He was lifted into power by his father's enormous wealth and the huge influence of his brother's election as President. Scott Brown was swept in by the fact that he would be the "41st Senator" who could derail Barack Obama's odious health care plan and the rest of the uncompromising Obama agenda -- by voters who were collectively in a bad mood. And Brown was skilled enough to take advantage of that.

(Ironically, there wouldn't have been an election if not for the arrogant Democrat-controlled Massachusetts Legislature. A US Senate vacancy was always filled by an appointment by the Governor. But they changed the law in 2004 to keep Republican Mitt Romney from having the power to appoint a successor, in case Sen. John Kerry had won the presidential election that year.)

At first, Brown had little money and basically (according to what we were told) just Mitt Romney's B-team campaign staff helping him. The establishment donors certainly didn't help much. But Brown himself worked very hard, campaigning night and day.

Then after Christmas, Brown's polling numbers started to shoot up and everything changed. Money started coming in. Romney's "A-Team" of political operatives showed up and took over. The pent-up anger and frustration of voters in Massachusetts and around the country and the possibility of "real" change clicked in a big way. And Brown was the perfect candidate to pull it all together. The rest is history.

Delayed swearing-in

It's interesting that after the Jan. 19 election, Brown's swearing-in was delayed for weeks by the Democrat leadership -- originally until Feb. 11 but Brown complained and was sworn in on Feb. 4. However, Ted Kennedy himself was sworn in the day after his first victory. And recently Nikki Tsongas was sworn in to her US House seat within three days.

Interestingly, Senate Republicans weren't complaining about the delay. Maybe that's because Brown hadimmediately made it very clear to the Republican leadership that he felt no obligation to vote with them, except on health care. In our opinion, that wasn't the best thing to say right up front. Since the Democrats had conceded on the health care plan, there was no pressing need to seat Brown quickly. And don't count on Brown getting assigned the committees he wanted, either, or getting much legislation passed.

Of course, Brown's attitude is understandable given what happened during the campaign. In the beginning and up until the final few weeks, the national Republicans snubbed their noses at him. They determined he couldn't win and wouldn't support him in any substantial way. And the Massachusetts Republicans weren't much better. It's hard to blame Brown for being a little upset at that.

A better approach?

No one disagrees that Scott Brown is much better choice for our US Senator than Martha Coakley, who would have been probably the most radical anti-family person ever to go to Congress from Massachusetts. (However, very few people knew about Coakley's anti-family record because no one on our side besides MassResistance -- certainly not Republicans -- seemed interested in advertising that.)

But should pro-family groups have stayed out of the limelight and only channeled support through other organizations? That seems to have worked pretty well in other elections, such as Brown's 2004 special election to the state senate and Stephen Lynch's first run for Congress. Pro-family groups worked hard and were very effective, but worked in the background.

In the larger sense, when large groups of pro-family people take a page from the Left and publicly refuse to vote for candidates who violate their core beliefs, that will be interesting. But it's probably too much to ask right now. Maybe if we'd started aggressively doing that ten years ago, Scott Brown and others would have taken a different approach this year.