What to make of Ed Markey’s “present” vote

The media analysis of Ed Markey’s “present” vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of a resolution to authorize the use of force in Syria is nothing if not predictable. Not surprisingly, the only perspective that isn’t being seriously considered, it seems, is the one Markey is expressing.

Could it be that this longtime anti-war politician doesn’t want us to bomb Syria, but does want his fellow Democrats, the Secretary of State and the president, to have as much of an opportunity as possible to make their case to Americans, Bay Staters, and to him? Since his committee vote didn’t impact the outcome, and the full Senate vote is still a week off, why does everybody seem to think this “present” vote is such a “big f*^*king deal?” Hasn’t Senator Markey’s tactical response in committee effectively extended the debate a bit, giving both sides more time to persuade? Couldn’t it be argued that a “yes” or “no” vote by Markey would have distracted from the substantive debate going forward by putting too much focus on how the guy in John Kerry’s seat had voted?

Furthermore, all the self-righteous posturing in the press is based on the notion that it is unseemly for a Senator to treat an administration of his own party more favorably than he would one controlled by the other party, especially (we are told) on such a momentous decision. But this is a dubious notion in general and an absurd one when applied to Markey’s non-commital vote in committee, which in and of itself neither helped nor hurt the Administration’s cause.

Why hasn’t anyone suggested that Markey’s “present” vote was the most ethically appropriate stance for him to take in committee? Markey’s relationship to Kerry could easily be seen as giving his position on the matter undue significance in the minds of the American people (particularly Kerry’s former constituents) and/or the full Senate. By remaining uncommitted in this preliminary vote isn’t it possible that Markey was trying to encourage those yet undecided to weigh the substantive arguments and evidence without the potential distraction of knowing his calculus and conclusion?

The reality is that there will not be any meaningful political fallout from his committee vote, unless he does it again on the floor. All the usual suspects are politicizing his “present” vote now, but try as they might, cannot empty their rhetorical arsenals or make firm predictions about how this will “play” one way or the other because the other shoe simply hasn’t dropped. His committee vote has neutured his detractors without harming his supporters or his allies. Republican efforts to call Markey an indecisive coward won’t mean a thing after the Senator casts his floor vote. In fact, Markey could then turn around and argue that he was not only decisive when it mattered most, he was careful and prudent as well. Assuming Markey votes up or down on the floor, all the media BS about his political gymnastics in committee will be drown out by the conflict itself, and by the perceived wisdom of his floor vote.

My favorite headline about Markey’s “present’ vote so far is “Ed Markey Annoys Literally Everyone by Voting ‘Present’ on Syrian Resolution.”

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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