The Last Senate Debate…..Mercifully

A vote for Republican state Senator Scott Brown is a vote against health reform legislation. A vote for Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley is a vote against deficit reduction. Those are the main take-aways from last night’s final debate among candidates seeking to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate. Conclusion: they may sit in it but they can’t fill it. At least, not yet.

Brown is for the war in Afghanistan; Coakley is against it. Brown wants to try terrorists in military tribunals; Coakley is fine with civilian courts. Brown is for Roe v. Wade but is supported by pro-life organizations for his opposition to other pro-choice issues; Coakley is for Roe v. Wade and so strongly pro-choice that she’d vote down a health care bill if it included anything like the ultra restrictive House-passed Stupak amendment . Brown would stimulate job creation by cutting taxes; Coakley’s considering a second stimulus package. And on and on.

Coakley’s prosecutorial demeanor was tightly wound and strictly disciplined, as always. The corners of her mouth bent slightly upward at 22 minutes into the debate. It was 36 minutes into it before she displayed a warm, authentic smile. We scarcely needed Scott Brown’s admonition to her that “I’m not a defendant; I’d like to answer the question.”

If you think this may be the last chance for health reform legislation in our generation, if you value the range of protections that devolve from Roe v. Wade, if you’d like to believe Coakley that she’d raise taxes for only the top two percent of the country, if you care about the intergenerational compact to support Social Security for seniors, it’s best not to be suckered in by Scott Brown’s easy-going style and general likability.

David Gergen challenged the candidates to let voters in on who they really are. Coakley said she likes downhill skiing, cooking, and “I can be funny, believe it or not.” I hope so because, absent evidence of that, we’re left to infer something warm and fuzzy about her from the fact that she’s a dog lover and owns two labs. (Elsewhere, Coakley told the Boston Herald’s Margery Eagan that “the passion that I have shows in the work I do.”)

Independent/libertarian candidate Joe L. Kennedy declared himself, seriously as always, to be the small government candidate, saying he is “the only candidate who will cut spending.”

It would be wonderful to be able to vote for someone whom we support on the issues and could warm to personally. It would be wonderful to have a grand persona like Ted Kennedy’s. What we have is a watering down of the political gene pool, and this election can’t be over soon enough!

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