The Catholic Thing
Report from Massachusetts Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Monday, 18 January 2010

A dispatch from the People’s Republic of Amherst, Massachusetts, a place in America, but not quite of it. I am back from Washington, for about ten days, to do some work on the house and baby-sit our furnace, which is trying to make it through the winter. But as it turns out, I am here in time to vote in the election to the Senate, a race that has now taken on a national and even cosmic significance.

For a Democrat to lose this seat, held by Ted Kennedy, is something that could be explained only by a wave of resistance now to President Obama and his Democratic majorities in Congress, as they pursue their works: namely, to take over medical care as a nationalized industry, ram the bill through by buying off the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and giving bribes, massive and unconcealed, to the unions and the senators pretending to waver. And yet, Martha Coakley, attorney general of the state, and the Democratic candidate, seems to be at very threshold of defeat. Her opponent, Scott Brown, is a state senator who was running behind her by thirty points in polls about a month ago. But as he crystallized the national issues, and promised to be the forty-first Republican vote against nationalized health care, he has surged. He has now actually taken a small lead in the polls. The question is whether that surge will carry him through, and we will soon know: the election will be taking place on the day this column appears.

From what I’ve seen and heard, in my few days back, that surge has not broken its momentum; but rather, it seems to be building as a victory seems more and more in prospect. My own fear: that if the election turns into a cliff-hanger, we will get a rerun of Bush v. Gore, Al Franken v. Norm Coleman, with the Democrats litigating again, dragging out the process for months. Still, even a near win in Massachusetts could have a profound effect in concentrating the minds of Democrats in the House, who could yet turn away from Obamacare.

I’ve been surprised by accounts of Democrats who have turned against Coakley, and feel no romantic interest in preserving what David Gergen called, so injudiciously, “Ted Kennedy’s seat.” Gergen, the so-called conservative, acting as the so-called moderator for the debate between the candidates, triggered the quick rejoinder that has resonated in the land. Brown said that, with all due respect, that is not Ted Kennedy’s seat but the seat of the people of Massachusetts. The resonance is deepened when we recall that it was not only Ted Kennedy’s seat. It was his brother Jack’s as well, passed on to him – to the astonishment of everyone but his father – when Jack became president. The seat has been “in the family,” so to speak, since John Kennedy defeated the incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952. What has astonished me is the pouring out now of contempt I had never heard expressed about Ted Kennedy from Democrats. But what comes through in the main is the resentment of a sense of “entitlement” attaching to a seat in the Senate.

The National Organization for Marriage has weighed in because Scott Brown has declared his opposition to same-sex marriage. Massachusetts Citizens for Life has come down firmly on the side of Brown, mainly because Brown, in opposing Obamacare, could help avert this new engine for promoting abortion even more widely in the land, with the levers of the law and public funding. Brown has also stated his opposition to partial-birth abortion and the public funding of abortion.

But he has also taken the path of evasion taken by Obama and some of the pro-life Democrats. He would put the accent on reducing the number of abortions, and in that way he would leave conveniently unchallenged the claim to the “rightness of abortion.” Indeed, he has said that the decision on abortion “should ultimately be made by the woman in consultation with her doctor.” What was even more telling was his remark during the debate that, as a father of daughters, he affirmed his support for Roe v. Wade.

Justice Byron White, one of the dissenters in Roe, said that he could accept Roe v. Wade if the “right” it declared were put on the same plane as the other “rights” that were taken as precedents. And so, the “right to marry” did not mean that the law could not place many plausible restrictions on the freedom to marry. If Roe v. Wade could admit many legitimate restrictions on abortion, it could be scaled back to mean mainly the right to choose abortion when the pregnancy would threaten the life of the mother; a situation exceeding rare these days.

But that is not what Scott Brown meant when he affirmed Roe v. Wade. We have a sober reminder here that people may reach the same judgment in particular cases, but that their judgment may spring from principles strikingly at odds. There should be no illusion that Scott Brown, right now, understands or accepts the moral premises of the pro-life movement. But he is, at this particular moment, a powerful instrument for resisting the surge, and the threatened reach, of the pro-death party in America.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at

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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Willie, January 19, 2010
I wait with baited breath the outcome of this election! My fervent prayer is for Brown's victory. A momentous occasion is upon us. It could be the beginning of a return to common sense and repudiation of ongoing leftist tyranny.
Tweedledee tweedledum
written by Joseph, January 19, 2010
Brown's pro-abortion stand doesn't add up to a dime's worth of difference to Coakley and the Dems. But if is the decisive vote in blocking Obamacare, then I'd pull the lever for him. Even if he wins, Harry Reid and Barney Frank will find a way around the loss of a super majority in the Senate and pass the monstrosity by reconciliation. Republican or Democrat, America has the best politicians money can buy.
written by Rob, January 19, 2010
This is pathetic for a Catholic website. Brown is pro-abortion but Arkes backs him and Willie has a "fervent prayer" for Brown to win. This is what happens when we put politics above faith and the GOP over GOD. You have no king but Caesar.
To Rob
written by Willie, January 19, 2010
Rob: if I follow your thinking correctly, one should not cast a vote in this election. Brown is against same-sex marriage, federally funded abortion, and partial birth abortion, which seems to be and ingredient of Obamacare. These are very anti-Catholic things, most appropriate for this website! For whom would you vote? The issue is not the GOP but the moral facts distinguishing these two candidates.
to the editors
written by debby, January 19, 2010
I think Willie should be a guest contributor to this site. I look forward everyday to his comments.
I am tired of Pro-life Catholics being forced NOT TO VOTE. I agree with both the authors and Willie. I also agree that if the Catholic Church of America would wake up and embrace all the Truth of our Faith, more Pro-life Catholics would run for election AND WIN. What a luxury it would be to vote for someone I acutally agreed with on ALL VITAL ISSUES.
Massachusetts Catholics! Throw Kennedy OUT
written by Rob, January 19, 2010
I would not vote for either of the main candidates. I think of it like the Eucharist. A politician may disagree with the Holy See on a number of issues (the death penalty, war, foreign aid, and immigration for example) and still take communion. On the issue of abortion, however, there is no compromise. The lesser of evils is still an evil and the faith is more important than the state.
Lesser of the Two Evils
written by Greg, January 20, 2010
Although Rob was a bit angry in tone, I agree with his basic point. We cannot keep voting for the less abortion-minded candidate. Dick Gregory (Black comedian, political activist, etc) once said (in the 60s or 70s): "If you keep voting for the lesser of the two evils, one day you will wake up to find, you have nothing left but evil." I refuse to do this again. I will not vote for evil, even little evil guys. My conscious will not allow it. Instead, I pray the rosary...the weapon against evil.
written by Jacob, January 20, 2010
So Greg and Rob your solution would be to let a pro-death zealot like Coakley in?

We live in the real world where Satan is happy to accept the worst of two evils. Especially when the lesser of two evils clearly leads towards a reduction in the murder of innocent children.
I too was put off by Mr. Brown's support for Roe vs. Wade but how should we react when there isn't a perfectly pro life candidate with a fighting chance at being elected? Not to mention 50% of Catholics vote pro-death.
A tradition of patience
written by William H. Phelan, January 21, 2010
Thank you, Dr. Arkes for a very welll argued piece. Now Sen. Scott is useful AT THIS POINT IN TIME as he can break the Democratic monopoly. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the Church must change the civil society slowly. Patient pressure avoids upheaval and confrontation. We must change peoples thinking just as Pres. Obama has united peoples thinking against HIM. It took a year.
Brown: CR not RC
written by Sagamorian, January 21, 2010
Just to be clear here, Scott Brown is a member of the Christian Reformed Church of American. It has been incorrectly reported in some outlets that he is Catholic (Broder, WP, 1/21). He HAS been a financial supporter of the Cistercian Catholic nuns at Mt. St. Mary's Abbey in Wrentham. Not that this "absolves" him for being pro-choice, but at least one doesn't have the additional problem of supporting a notorious dissenter to clear Church teaching. We pray for his conversion, and more than one.
written by Joan, January 23, 2010
Great piece that clarifies Brown's posiiton, while celebrating a very positive shift in voter sensibilities.

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