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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Book of Matthew: The face of independence?

Published: February 12, 2010
Section: Opinions

Senator Scott Brown spent the majority of his campaign driving around in a pickup truck and promising frustrated Massachusetts voters he would be an independent-minded senator if they sent him to Washington.

That promise didn’t even last a week after his swearing-in ceremony.

Joining 30 Republicans and two Democrats on Tuesday, Brown voted to continue debate on President Obama’s appointment of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. The final vote tally was 52 in favor and 33 opposed—enough for a majority, but not enough to break the Republican threat of a filibuster. Without 60 votes to end debate, there will be no final vote on Becker, whose nomination now appears to be blocked ad infinitum.

This is unfortunate. Becker is a Yale graduate and a former law professor who now works as a lawyer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He is perfectly qualified to serve on the government agency charged with moderating labor practices. But to those lawmakers for whom the phrase “labor union” invokes images of corrupt union bosses and overpaid, unproductive workers, this qualification is unacceptable.

Never mind that Democratic presidents tend to appoint labor-friendly candidates to these sorts of positions. And never mind that the Senate traditionally accepts presidential nominees unless serious questions about their qualifications arise. Republicans decided to break with tradition and stall Becker the same way they attempted to stall just about everything else the Democrats proposed this past year. And Senator Brown went right along with them.

In all fairness, Brown does not deserve all of the blame. The Senate fell eight votes short of cloture, and his would not have been enough to change that. But I’m still particularly disappointed in him. I expect most Republicans to be stubborn ideologues opposing everything the president puts in front of them. Brown was supposed to be different, though. I never liked the man–I certainly didn’t vote for him–and I’m still slightly embarrassed to hail from a small town in Massachusetts where voters strongly supported him (good call, Clinton). Yet, when Brown was elected even I wondered if his campaign rhetoric reflected a glimmer of reality. Perhaps years of working in the heavily Democratic Massachusetts State House had taught him how to get along with Democrats.

New England Republicans are supposed to be moderate, says conventional wisdom.

Well, this is what we get for trusting conventional wisdom.

Becker’s candidacy was not controversial. As far as we know, he lacks any sort of unethical past that would disqualify him from the job. He is simply a union lawyer who believes in making it easier for unions to organize. That’s nothing new. And though Brown may not necessarily agree with Becker’s politics—he was quoted in The Boston Globe as saying that Becker’s views on labor, “if ever put into practice, would impose new burdens on employers, hurt job creation, and slow down the recovery”—Brown could have at least acknowledged that Becker was a legitimate candidate who deserved to face an up-or-down vote.

That alone could have been enough of a goodwill gesture toward Democrats to cement Brown’s fledgling reputation as an independent lawmaker.

Instead, he signed up to become the newest card-carrying member of the Party of No.

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge senators the second they cast their first vote. But after months of wearing the independent suit on the campaign trail, Brown deserves some judgment. Plus, this vote appears rather symbolic of his legislative future. If he cannot allow the Senate to commence a final vote on the small issue of a minor presidential appointment, how can he be expected to find common ground with Democrats on major legislation, like the upcoming jobs bill or health care reform?

A consummate politician, Brown will find a hundred and one ways to call himself an independent, but when voting day arrives he will think of just as many reasons to fall in line with his own party.

That’s the main lesson to take away from this: Self-described independents usually aren’t so. And if you still don’t believe that, then boy, do I have a shiny truck to sell you.