In the next in a series of events that suggest 2013 is going to be a combination of exceedingly dispiriting and highly entertaining for me, Dr. Keith Ablow, the Fox News contributor who regularly comes on the network’s shows to put his psychiatrist training to absolutely ludicrous use, is considering running for the Massachusetts Senate seat that John Kerry will vacate if he is confirmed as the next Secretary of State.
It’s easy to get enraged about the causes in which Ablow enlists his medical credentials. This is a man, after all, who wished that Newtown teachers had been armed, who thinks working mothers are self-hating, thinks some adopted children are power-mad, gets viscerally disgusted at mentions of transgender people, thinks letting men veto abortions would solve a so-called absentee father crisis, and keeps alive the worst remnants of his profession, endorsing thoroughly debunked science about changing gay people’s sexual orientations. And that’s not even to mention his views, of particular interest to this blog, on the impact of violent media on children. These views are vile and in some cases actively damaging, and it’s shameful that Ablow would lend his psychiatric expertise to validating them.
But there’s an element of brilliant performance art to Ablow’s work, as upsetting as it may be. His role on the network is in keeping with Fox’s tendency to bait its opponents by hiring extreme figures like Mark Fuhrman, the former Los Angeles detective who plead no contest to charges he perjured himself during the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, to comment on criminal justice issues. There’s a double audacity to those assignments. It’s not just what people like Ablow and Fuhrman say. It’s that Fox treats them as credible experts at all, credentialing them through contracts and frequent airtime. And that’s exactly why I’d love to see Ablow run for Senate, and primary former Senator Scott Brown, who’s started his third attempt at getting or holding on to a Massachusetts Senate seat by calling into question Democratic contender Rep. Ed Markey’s residency eligibility to compete for the seat.
There’s absolutely no chance that Ablow could win in Massachusetts: his record will make absolutely sure of that, because while Massachusetts (and New England generally) does have a libertarian streak, my home state’s tolerance for outright crazy is relatively low. But winning isn’t the point. Brown’s done a relatively good job over the past couple of election of portraying himself as a folksy moderate, whether by donning his now-famous barn jacket and hopping into his pickup, or coming out in favor of gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre. And to a certain extent, running against Ablow would let Brown argue that he’s a different kind of Republican. But running in a primary would also require him to articulate a more specifically Republican vision than running in a general election has ever forced him to do. And running against Ablow in particular would expose some differences between Ablow and Brown, but it would also demonstrate areas in which they overlap—and in which Brown’s much-touted moderation has actually meant supporting the core Republican agenda.
It’s lovely and helpful that Brown occasionally broke with his party as a Senator, although it’s profoundly depressing that we live in a day and age where someone is awarded actual points for supporting the Violence Against Women Act. But a vote for Brown doesn’t actually mean that he will single-handedly blaze a new path forward that will rescue his party from its nastiest, cruelest impulses. As a Senator, Brown’s been the kind of Republican who will back his caucus that spends federal money defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, who will vote to restrict women’s access to health care if their employer doesn’t want to pay for their pursuit of it. A vote for Scott Brown is a vote for someone who, for a long time, has succeeded in obscuring the ways in which he’d perform the same way as someone like Keith Ablow. Not being as verbally extreme Ablow may make Brown a somewhat more reasonable human being in your tone and bearing. But it doesn’t mean that Brown wouldn’t have a similar impact on his constituents’ lives. I’d like to see Ablow and Brown on a stage together as a reminder that Scott Brown is still a Republican, and willing to sign on with almost everything that’s come to mean in contemporary politics.