The Agony of the Massachusetts Republican

April 10, 2012


Scott Brown’s game face is a thing of beauty. It actually is. Impassive and unyielding as a figure on Easter Island, formed from the hard years when he raised himself and his hard years as a basketball star and many more hard years in the ROTC and National Guard, Brown’s game face is all the more impressive in person. Add his perfectly gray hair and his cowboy eyes pinched against the noonday glare and he looks at fifty-two like a United States senator exemplified. His many years of hard work and service to his community add a certain moral authority, too — it’s not like he’s some schmuck.

And yet Scott Brown is defensive today, and the trait makes him somewhat smaller as the minutes in his presence tick by. For instance, every time he mentions his opponent in the Massachusetts Senate race, he makes a populist dig against her education. “It doesn’t take a Harvard degree to understand” his offer to ban false and misleading advertising from the race, he says. Why won’t “Professor Warren” agree? This would sound right in the mouth of Newt Gingrich, perhaps, but it seems a bit strange from a Massachusetts moderate who himself holds fancy degrees from Tufts and Boston College.

“With all due respect,” Brown responds in a voice that is almost aggressively calm and cool, “everyone calls her professor. It’s like saying Captain So-and-So or Doctor So-and-So. I don’t think it’s weird at all.”

And every time he mentions Elizabeth Warren, he also says that she is a “self-proclaimed rock thrower” who has said she wants to leave “blood and teeth on the floor.” This strategy comes from a preposterous ad put out by the Massachusetts GOP that shows ominous darkened shots of Warren’s schoolmarm face fading into Occupy Wall Street protesters screaming for revolution. “Marxism is the way to go! Capitalism is killing this country!”


So despite the awesome imperturbability of that game face, despite the touch of ice that seeps into his calm perfection, Brown is a man uncomfortable behind his eyes as he grimly sticks to a message he thinks might win him reelection as a Republican in the most Democratic state in the country, in the most important election of the year, save for the presidential ballot line. To argue with Brown for a moment, it is actually very clear that Warren was speaking metaphorically when she said that there would be “blood and teeth on the floor” if her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, wasn’t authorized by Congress. Isn’t it a touch false and misleading — especially for someone who constantly denounces false and misleading political advertising — to suggest that a law-abiding middle-aged mom who teaches law at Harvard is actually calling for a violent revolution in the streets?

To be successful in politics at this level, you must debase yourself and say some things that you don’t believe. There are too many competing interests in America and in Washington to be exempt from playing this game. And to be truly successful, you must make your debasement seem born of true conviction. If you are Barack Obama, you must say that you oppose gay marriage and that your position on the issue is “evolving,” when that simply isn’t true. If you are Brown’s fellow Bay State Republican Mitt Romney, you say that the one thing most people know about you is that you are a man of “constancy,” and you say it without shame or discomfort, even as your audience erupts with laughter at the lie. And when you are Senator Scott Brown — the self-made man who decided after Ted Kennedy died that his next step along life’s path would be to seize the Kennedy family Senate seat for himself — you say things about your opponent that make her sound like Che Guevara. “She’s made it very publicly known those are her quotes,” he insists, “directly from her. She said that she created the intellectual foundation for Occupy Wall Street, and she supports it.”

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