Scott Brown is the Most _________* Man In America

*Fill in the blank. He’ll be whoever you want him to be.

LATE THE NEXT AFTERNOON, Brown looks as jittery as a freshman at his first high school social. Tonight will be his longest — and most significant — interaction with all his Senate colleagues. Although Obama signed the House’s healthcare bill into law, the Senate is meeting to make small changes. The Republicans will offer amendments, and if the Democrats accept any, which is unlikely, the entire measure will have to go back to the House.     

Brown walks onto the floor at 5:30, wearing a red-and-blue patterned tie with a blue shirt and gray suit, as conservative a look as any other senator’s here. But he is not any other senator here. He is 20 years younger than most of them. (To see a convened Senate is to be reminded of the infirmities awaiting us all.) John Kerry’s hair is white now, and with every step he limps along on his recuperating hip. Olympia Snowe’s hunched back and gingerly steps have robbed her of grace. John McCain’s face is bloated and splotchy. Three more senators need the assistance of canes. Robert Byrd of West Virginia is too frail at 92 to even attend the session. Then there’s Brown, bounding down the Senate floor’s carpeted, gently sloped steps with his strong back and salt-and-pepper hair, taking a knee next to a Senate aide who tallies the votes of the Republicans in the room. In this crowd, he looks like Zeus.

He rises and begins to pace, a frowning seriousness to his face, as if that is what is expected of him. Many of his Republican colleagues are relaxed and chatting among themselves. A bit awkwardly, Brown approaches Pat Roberts of Kansas, an effervescent grandfatherly figure who’s been theatrical in his denouncements of the healthcare bill; and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a bland man, not nearly as outsized as Texans might wish. Brown stands on the periphery of their conversation. Although he cosponsored an amendment with Roberts this afternoon (involving lowering taxes on medical devices), Roberts and Cornyn don’t invite him in. And so Brown steps back from their huddle as awkwardly as he’d drawn near it, and without anywhere else to go, he leaves by the side door.

It could mean nothing, this slight. The exclusion may not have even registered with either of the senators Brown approached. But what is clear, as the Republican amendments are defeated one after another, is Brown’s anxiousness on the Senate floor. He looks eager to impress people, to befriend them. And yet his discussions with the senators of his party are brief, and some seem cold. As the night progresses, Brown mostly votes and then retreats through two heavy rear doors, to a Republican cloakroom. It could very well be that he is speaking easily there with colleagues who have also stepped out of the chamber. (Indeed, he will later say he is.) But on the floor itself, by 9:15 p.m., with hours more work ahead, Brown sits at his desk in the left rear corner of the room, alone. On the night before the Democratic victory of a generation, Brown has come to look like little more than what he is: the most junior member of the minority party.