It's easy to think of ourselves as thoughtful deliberative voters with no single litmus issue for judging a candidate, but that theoretical criterion came up short last night in the final moments of the Senate debate between Gabriel Gomez and Ed Markey. The defining (litmus, if you will) issue for many became preserving or overturning Roe v. Wade.
Gomez said he's pro-life but that he wasn't going to Washington to try to overturn that decision. At the same timee, he also said he would be comfortable with mandating a 24-hour waiting period for a woman between her seeking an abortion and being able to have the procedure. Markey disagreed. He averred that should remain solely a decision for a woman and her doctor. He also noted what's at stake when, as a Senator, he (or Gomez) would be called on to vote for a Supreme Court nominee.
Markey made it clear that he absolutely would not vote for a Justice who is pro-life and might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Gomez said, "There should be no litmus test for any nominees." Given the split on the nation's highest court, avoiding a litmus test on a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion could well turn into a decision to take away the option. To me, that is unacceptable, and, in those last moments of last night's debate, bright light bulbs went off.
There are other areas in which the Senate race offers a clear choice. Between an experienced legislator who, despite a long record of accomplishment, sometimes comes across as a reflexive partisan, too much a Beltway insider, and a younger, fresher face, a watered down Scott Brown with inadequate substantive knowledge and an abundance of naivete about what he could accomplish were he to make it to DC.
Between someone willing to take on the NRA lock, stock and barrel, including outlawing assault weapons and high-capacity clips and a narrowly focused supporter of universal background checks for gun purchasers (an easy position for Gomez given some 90 percent support among the public). A choice between Markey's wanting to fix the Affordable Care Act and Gomez' saying health care should be left to the states while also saying Obamacare's model, Romneycare, isn't working for small businesses in Massachusetts. And probably a choice between a longtime incumbent whose priority surely isn't cutting taxes to a newcomer for whom that seems much more important and who feels the wealthy are already taxed enough.
Gomez scored some points as he repeatedly tried to portray Markey as a Washington resident out of touch with the people of Massachusetts, but he failed laughably when he asserted that for 20 years Markey hadn't authored a single piece of legislation that became law. Markey simply provided a list of bills in high tech, clean energy, telecom, home health care and more. Nor could the former Navy SEAL persuade listeners that Markey is weak on national security. Again Markey talked about his role in airport security and seaport security. Additionally, Gomez insists on pulling out a couple of isolated votes that purported to be against honoring victims of 9/11, but all that does is show Gomez' lack of understanding of the nuances of the legislative process.
Gomez was constantly on the attack, sometimes snarky. Markey parried with specifics but sometimes evaded direct questions. Neither was particularly endearing. While WBZ's Jon Keller did his usual good job at controlling the time spent on different issues, the format didn't allow for the reporters (Keller was joined by Globe political editor Cynthia Needham) to ask follow-up questions, so the debate didn't go much beyond the candidates' pat answers and already shop-worn messages. Perhaps we'll get more from debate #2, June 18th, for the Mass. Media Consortium with R.D. Sahl moderating. Amazingly, the election is only two and a half weeks away.
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