Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sherrod's pragmatism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to MSNBC, Democratic Representative Sherrod Brown, who is running to unseat Republican Senator Mike DeWine in Ohio, voted for Bush's torture bill in the House.


Was it a case of politics over principle? Quite likely. Is that a problem? Does Brown deserve our criticism? Maybe, maybe not.

To me, the passage of the torture bill marks one of the lowest points in American history. It was Bush's legislation worked out with three so-called "maverick" Republican senators and supported overwhelmingly by the Republicans. There was no doubt it was going to pass easily through the Republican-controlled Congress. Which means that Democrats running in close races, such as Brown, were not actually put in the difficult and morally revealing position of having to choose between politics and principle. They could simply do the political thing and vote for a bill that was going to pass anyway.

"Brown’s vote for the detainee bill made sense. In one move, Brown snatched away an issue that the Republicans might have used to tar him." With his vote for the torture bill, Brown may have effectively neutralized DeWine on this key issue. Whether he actually supports the legislation or not, whether he actually supports torture and the suspension of habeus corpus or not, he appears with this one vote to be both tough on terrorism and independent enough to break ranks with his own party, even to support the president when necessary.

Ohio native Heraclitus knows more about this than I do, but I suspect this will play well in Ohio. Unless Republicans can portray him as an opportunist, a charge he could easily refute with more tough words on terrorism and non-partisanship, Brown should be able now to use this issue to his advantage. Or at least to prevent it from playing to his disadvantage.

I should also note that Brown was not alone: "All but one of the House Democrats whom the Cook Political Report rates as being in close races (the 'Lean Democrat' category) voted for the bill." I suspect the Democratic leadership allowed them to. They knew what they were doing, and they may just pull out wins on November 7.

So what do I think now of Sherrod Brown? I recoiled when I first read that he had voted for the bill, but it is necessary in politics to be pragmatic, to do what it takes to win. This vote is something of a stain on his record, but I suspect that a Senator Sherrod Brown would work quickly to erase it. After all, it's easy to say that Democrats should do this or should have done that. What matters is that they retake control of Congress. If that requires temporarily siding with the torturers when opposition would accomplish nothing, so be it. Politics is a dirty game.

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  • There is a commercial running here in Ohio along the lines of "Can we trust Sherrod Brown to keep America safe?" But that's put out by some national GOP committee. DeWine mainly attacks him for voting against tax cuts. That's also what the other Republicans are attacking their Democratic rivals for, in various other tv spots I've seen. The economy definitely seems to be upmost in people's minds here in Ohio. The Dems, for their part, mainly blast the Republican incumbents for being friendly with Bush (who is definitely a liability, at least here), and for running up debt, etc. But, even so, I don't imagine voting against the bill could have helped Brown. The question is, if the Democrats win the House and/or Senate, will they suddenly emerge from a phone booth a ripped, principled party ready to battle evil-doers, or will they remain the nebbish poor-man's Republicans they've been for so long (since 1994, by some folks' reckoning).

    By Blogger ., at 3:38 AM  

  • While I agree that in politics, certain concessions need to be made to regain the advantage, some lines just shouldn't be crossed. Habeus corpus is about as foundational an American right as there is. The term "slippery slope" keeps running through my mind...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:39 AM  

  • I am disappointed in Brown. I'm an Ohio Independent (my votes have always been for Democrats except one for sheriff, though)and I will vote for him as a lesser of two evils. A vote like this makes me wish they hadn't forced Hackett out of the race. I understand practicality, I run a business, but I'm with anonymous here and say don't cross this line to win. Are you trying to fool people to get elected, Mr. Brown? What's the next expediency going to cost us? Heraclitus, are you a northern Ohioan? Here in SW Ohio Bush is less popular than 2 years ago (which was at pathetic levels) but he has not reached the level of anathema. The old mid-western mistrust of politicians in general is definitely on the upswing again.

    By Blogger OutOfContext, at 2:12 PM  

  • Yes, upon reflection I'm wondering about my own pragmatism. At what point is it appropriate to set aside principle for the sake of politics? When Clinton approved the execution of a retarded man as a way to show he was tough on crime, was that appropriate? I would say not. And it's true in this case that something as fundamental to the American way of life as habeus corpus is too important to play around with. This may not matter if the Democrats get back into power this year and in '08, but what if they don't? Perhaps Brown's vote didn't matter in terms of the bill's passage, but the fact that he and other swing-state Democrats voted for it indicates that something is seriously wrong with the country. Is this how you prove you're tough on terrorism? By voting to suspend habeus corpus for some detainees and to hand over power to the president to torture detainees?

    I still understand why Brown and the others did what they did, but I'm not happy about it.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:29 PM  

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