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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