The power of the squish



It's Scott Brown's world, we only live in it.

Let us merely acknowledge his clout. Earlier today, the Senate broke a Republican filibuster and thereby greased the skids for final passage of the long-gestating financial reform bill - due to the fact that the newbie senator from Massachusetts broke ranks with the GOP and supplied the crucial 60th vote. Yesterday, on the other hand, Senate Democrats learned that their campaign finance reform bill, requiring special interest groups to publicly come clean about their election season donations, was being consigned to limbo, at least for awhile - due to the fact that Brown had decided to stick with the naysaying GOP.

Not bad for a guy who was a backbench state senator in Boston a mere seven months ago. Horatio Alger would get it.

More importantly, we're likely to see Brown repeating this voting pattern many times during the next two years, as he prepares to seek his own full term in the '12 election. Despite the tea partiers' pleas that he hew to their positions at all times, he will find it necessary to oscillate on occasion between centrism and Republican orthodoxy - just as he has done this week.

We're talking here about Massachussetts, after all. It is highly improbable that anyone with a 100 percent conservative voting record can win a Bay State Senate race. But a center-right candidate can certainly prevail. Brown thus far has voted with the Republicans 80 percent of the time, thereby potentially demonstrating enough independence to reassure swing voters - and it seems to be working, given the results of a Boston Globe poll which pegs his support among independents at 55 percent.

It just so happens that support for a massive financial reform bill is the mainstream position today; according to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, 53 percent of Americans favor it, with only 29 percent opposed. Similarly, Brown decided last winter - in one of his first votes - to indulge his constituents' economic anxieties by breaking GOP ranks and supporting the Democratic job bill that gives tax breaks to companies that hire the jobless.

Brown, of course, was promptly denounced by the tea partiers for that decision. They're dogging him again now, for his refusal to join with the GOP in blocking the Wall Street overhaul bill. The Greater Boston Tea Party says it is "greatly disappointed" in Brown's betrayal of "free markets and constitutional principles." Moreover, his move this morning "defies the commitment he made to thousands of activists and donors across the nation who swept him into office in January in one of the biggest political upsets of all time." Some folks at, the popular conservative site, are calling him "a disappointing squish." And the tea-party commenters on Facebook are demonstrating their usual gift for wry understatement; for instance, "Shame on you Mr. Brown. You treasonous piece of crap."

Actually, Brown should be grateful for such remarks. To capture the center in '12, he'll need to tick off the base once in while. As repeatedly demonstrated by Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (who were denounced this week on as "the Moron Twins"), this is still the winning strategy for a Senate Republican in New England.