Scott Brown Debate Reruns: Defensiveness and Umbrage

Tired of the debate over the format of the Senatorial race debates and hungry for the real thing? Well, there are the Scott Brown reruns. You could tune into the Brown-Coakley debate of January 11, 2010 (yes, the one that was held at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute). It’s on YouTube, here.

As mortifying as it is to watch Scott Brown one week away from victory, there’s also grist for contemplation about his debate performance in the upcoming election. Will he be defensive and prickly when he’s challenged on his record? The YouTube debate features an exchange between Brown and Coakley about an emergency contraception bill the State Legislature had passed a few years before. It required hospital emergency rooms to dispense the “morning after” pill, so that victims of rape could avoid the further traumatic complication of pregnancy. Brown supported the bill, but prior to the vote, he offered an amendment (on June 16, 2005, text here), which the Senate eventually rejected, that would have allowed hospital personnel to refuse to provide the pill based on religious objections, so long as the hospital had a referral policy so that rape victims could be directed elsewhere to obtain the pill “at no additional cost to the patient.” Well, maybe at no financial cost to the patient, but having to go to another hospital to get the pill would certainly impose (at the very least) a temporal cost, a potentially crucial complication, because emergency contraception is most effective if taken within 24 hours.

When Coakley asked him again about his amendment, he categorically denied what it actually said — that women could be turned away and required to go elsewhere —  and, gesturing to his daughters who were in the audience (and whom Coakley hadn’t mentioned), said:

“To think I wouldn’t, especially with my two young daughters here, with all due respect, that I wouldn’t allow them the opportunity if they were raped to have immediate attention, I think is abhorrent. Even to infer that I would do that.”

When Coakley pressed him once more whether his amendment would have allowed hospitals to turn women away (which it would have done), he said, “It’s abhorrent that you would even try to twist this bill around. I think you need to read the bill again.”

This exchange happens starting at minute 41. The lesson – when he’s challenged on his record, Brown defaults to defensiveness and umbrage (and at least in some cases, like this one, untruths). Over time, I think, this is an unattractive quality. And this time around, he has a much bigger record to be defensive about.

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