In Brown’s case, friend in Senate is better than foe

Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s vote on President Barack Obama’s jobs bill had him labeled a traitor by some on the right who saw themselves led on and betrayed at the first opportunity. Wiser heads saw it for the clever maneuver it was.

On his very first vote, Brown established himself as a free spirit and no one’s foot soldier, and pre-empted attacks from the left as a tool of the GOP Senate establishment. He now has more room than before to go center-right on the really big issues.

He saw his chance and he took it. Well done.

A similar shock occurred on the left with Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak’s amendment, when many progressives found out, to their horror, that some on their side were anti-abortion. How, they cried, could this outrage have happened?

Because some people realized that to be a national party, they had to run candidates who were on their side on most — not all — things. A National Organization for Women favorite would never have won Stupak’s district, and without him — and others against abortion, who signed his amendment — the House bill would never have passed.

Conversely, without Brown, health care would be law. Renegades such as Stupak and Brown frequently end up saving their parties by holding the seats that would have otherwise gone to the opposite party.

Contradictions like this drive the activists crazy. But this is the way the world works.

The problem for them is that candidates aren’t chosen by theorists who assign them to districts, but by people from districts whose inhabitants insist they respect their beliefs. The error, said Andrew Cline in the American Spectator, is that we talk of each party “controlling” so many seats in the House or the Senate when in the real world they do no such thing.

There’s a difference, he said, between having a Republican elected to a seat from Massachusetts, and the Republican Party “controlling” the seat from that state. “Brown does not represent the Republican National Committee in the United States Senate. He represents Massachusetts,” he said. “That’s by the Founders’ design.”

Activists may have backed Brown and sent money, but he was elected by people who are in Massachusetts, who want an “independent” conservative, one a tick to the left of those in some parts of the country. If he goes too far right, he will lose, and the state’s Republicans will “control” very little. If purists insist on a true-blue movement conservative, they can look for a movement conservative who can win Massachusetts. Good luck with that.

While they’re at it, they can look for a movement conservative who can win a statewide election in Maine. They can splutter about Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, but without them, Obamacare would be a reality.

The alternative to Brown is a Sen. Martha Coakley. The alternative to Stupak is an anti-abortion Republican. The alternative to Collins or Snowe is a liberal Democrat. This may change some day — but not some day soon.

Inspired (in the wrong way) by President Ronald Reagan’s remark that his 80 percent friend isn’t his 20 percent enemy, some conservatives pushed the idea that “30 percent traitors” should be purged from the party by defunding people who support less than eight principles on their own list of 10. This is the road to one very small party.

No friend of mavericks, National Review calls this counterproductive, saying it makes no sense to refuse to back a 40 percent disappointment against a Democrat who thwarts you 90 percent of the time.

Your 60 percent friend isn’t your enemy when the alternative is no friend at all.

Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations; The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”

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