Last week, the League of Women Voters launched an ad campaign to let the public know that Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MI) both voted in April to undermine the Clean Air Act. The proposal didn't pass the Senate, but if it had, it would have endangered people's health. That's why the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Thoracic Society, and many other medical groups opposed it.
But Senator Brown doesn't like being confronted with the consequences of his vote. Ever since the ads appeared, he has deployed a classic political tactic: when you are held accountable, don't provide answers. Attack the messenger instead. Rather than address the fact that his vote would have made kids sick, Brown has accused the League of Women Voters of "demagoguery," said the League has "gone into the gutter," and challenged the nonprofit to reveal its funders.
The name of this game is distraction, and too often, we let politicians lure us into playing along. But remember, the issue here isn't where the League gets its funding. It is a nonpartisan voter education organization that has been around since 1920 and has been working on Clean Air Act issues for decades. And it is acting in full compliance with the law.
The issue here is why Brown was willing to undermine a major public health protection. He's invoked his fatherhood as a sort of shield of credibility. "As a father," he wrote in a recent Boston Herald op-ed, "I would never put my two daughters or anyone else's children in harm's way."
I don't judge Brown's parenting skills; that's none of my business. But whether he acknowledges it or not, blocking the EPA from updating clean air standards would make some kids sicker. There is no arguing that point. The medical evidence is clear.
Even if Brown tries to distract us with the shiny ball of funding sources, the facts still matter. We must return our eyes to the truth presented in the League's ads. And Brown is in no position, by the way, to cast aspersions about donors. He has opposed measures to require disclosure of donors. And from what he has had to reveal, we know of at least $133,000 that Brown received from big polluters and their corporate front groups.
Think Progress has a tape of Brown thanking David Koch for supporting has last Senate campaign and hitting him up for the next one in 2012. Koch is co-owner of one of the ten most toxic air polluters in the US and a key backer of efforts to gut the Clean Air Act. So Brown was elected thanks in part to money from one of America's dirtiest polluters; and he's on tape making it clear he's coming back for more, explaining that "We're already banging away." Is it any wonder he wants to block the safeguards that would make Koch and other polluters clean up their messes?
I would have more respect for Brown if he stood by his vote and said, "Yes, it will make some children sick, but the corporations who support me think it's worth it." I would still find that morally reprehensible, but at least it would be honest.
Instead, he is taking the easiest and the weakest way out: shoot the messenger.
Follow Heather Taylor-Miesle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NRDC_AF