miles to go in Massachusetts

By Phil Lawler

| January 21, 2010 5:59 PM


In a Commentary piece yesterday I offered my analysis of the shocking Senate election in Massachusetts. It was, I am convinced, a long-overdue manifestation of independence on the part of the state’s voters, who have been held in thrall for years by liberal ideology and Kennedy mystique. That’s progress.

It was also a reminder that American voters, even in true-blue Massachusetts, resent the idea that their representatives in Washington might ignore their wishes and enact a sweeping federal policy– like health-care reform, in this case– despite heavy public opposition. With the arrival of Senator Scott Brown on Capitol Hill, the unpopular plan is apparently dead. That’s progress, too. (As C.S. Lewis pointed out, when you realize that you’re headed in the wrong direction, the best way to make progress is to turn back.)

However, I hope no one who read my analysis concluded that political sanity has returned to Massachusetts. We have a long, long way to go before a healthy political climate is restored. Consider:

Senator-elect Brown is not pro-life. On the issue of health-care reform his vote may benefit the pro-life position; the state’s largest pro-life group saw that as reason enough to endorse his candidacy. But Brown did not appeal for pro-life support, did not use pro-life arguments, did not mention pro-life issues. On the contrary, while his opponent Martha Coakley made her unswerving support for abortion the #1 issue in her campaign, Brown did his best to dodge the issue. He may now suspect that he won despite the support of pro-lifers, and liberal journalists will encourage him toward that conclusion. Republican consultants will tell their candidates to imitate Brown’s campaign strategy, avoiding the abortion issue. Already the new Senator from Massachusetts is being touted as the ideal GOP candidate: populist in approach, patriotic, conservative on fiscal questions, and silent on social issues. In the long run, the upset in Massachusetts is more likely to benefit the “big tent” Republicans than the pro-life movement.

Liberal ideology is alive and well– and dangerous! Although Brown was an attractive candidate and Coakley was a dud, 47% of the voters still chose the Democratic candidate, whose appeal was fully sympathetic to the ‘culture of death.’ In one of America’s most heavily Catholic states, nearly half of the electorate backed a candidate who suggested that faithful Catholics should not work in hospital emergency rooms. Fortunately Coakley was not elected to the Senate, but she remains Attorney General. The state’s top law-enforcement officer sees no problem in suggesting that religious freedom must bow before the needs of the abortion industry.

The Church remains silent. The majority of voters in Massachusetts are not registered in any political party. These independent voters swung the election for Scott Brown, demonstrating that they have finally escaped the magnetic force of the Kennedy family. But what will replace that influence? There’s an old common-sense principle in politics: You can’t beat somebody with nobody; you can’t beat something with nothing. For 45 years Ted Kennedy offered a vision of what the political system should accomplish, and Massachusetts voters embraced that vision. When Martha Coakley put forward a very similar vision, the voters rejected it. But Scott Brown had no compelling vision. The Republican Party– in Massachusetts, at least– has no vision at all. And politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Someone will provide a new vision: a new model for politics. Who will it be? As I explained in my book The Faithful Departed, the Catholic Church was once, not too very long ago, the dominant force on the local scene, and set the agenda for discussion of public issues. But for more than a full generation now the Catholic influence has been waning, and Church institutions have been co-opted to serve the purposes of a secular liberal ideology.

If ever there was a time for a genuine Catholic revival in Massachusetts, now is that time. But it won’t be easy; we have miles and miles to go.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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