Friday, January 29, 2010

Getting to 'No' you

I was explaining recently, as I offered my sigh filled and grudging congratulations to a euphoric Scott Brown supporter, that in my book there's an important distinction to be made between a skeptic and a cynic: A skeptic is occasionally willing to hope his darkest pessimism is mistaken. It was in that spirit, I explained to my crowing Republican friend, that I offered our new junior senator my deepest heartfelt skepticism.

I would very much like to be proven wrong about Senator Scott Brown. Without going on at length about my past complaints, I would like to find that he has more to offer than just saying no —be it to healthcare reform, to cap and trade environmental legislation, or the better regulation of our financial institutions. Beyond that first 'no' there is the question of —what then?

It would be nice if there was something there.

It was thinking on the subject of 'just saying no' to the President and his agenda that put me on the idea of an early indicator for our new Senator — a place where Scott Brown can show this skeptic he is beyond simple obstructionism. Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's nominee to head up the Office of Legal Counsel, who a full year in is yet to receive her confirmation vote in the Senate, has distinguished herself as someone who believes in a principled 'no' every now and then herself —even when talking to one's president. She has gone on record in critique of past OLC's simply "forward leaning" to the will of their White House keepers. She's on record objecting to the rubber stamp legalizing that enabled and permitted Constitutional evasions on domestic spying and torture in the Bush/Cheney administration. She's on record admonishing the denizens of the past administration OLC that sometimes it is your job to say 'no.'

That plain speaking principle has cost her dearly in the hallowed halls of the Senate. Her appointment has languished in Limbo through the Obama Administration's first year, while Senate leadership worries of the 6O votes it needs to confirm her without being filibustered. (Sound familiar?) There had been some furtive movement towards resolution in recent months, but with Brown's election the immediate speculation is that her goal is now one vote further away.

But maybe there's a bargain to be struck here, Senator Brown. There was that talk during your campaign that you weren't with the Herding to the Right Republicans, that yours was a maverick independent Conservativism —that your stance was toward opening the secreted process, having at the debate. You're not likely to embrace Dawn Johnsen's apparent policies. The demagogued discourse in D.C. is likely to go on circling around her 'pro' position on abortion rights or her seeming disdain for policies of a past administration. But as Johnsen so persuasively points out, the position she seeks to fill isn't about political alignment, issues advocacy or even formulating policy. It is about candid assessment of the the legal standing of the President's decisions. It is a job where, no matter what you might like the answer to be, sometimes you must simply say 'no.'

That's an idea we've been asked to consider in your own campaign rhetoric, Senator Brown —that notion of principled objection. Showing some respect to such a similar stance, even from a position of opposing views —pledging to give Dawn Johnsen the up or down vote she deserves after a long year of empty obstruction and paralytic posturing —that would go a long way towards proving me wrong about you —

In just the way I would hope.

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