Way More Mr. Nice Guy
Scott Brown rode his pickup, barn coat, and genuine likability all the way to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Two years later the charm offensive is back and bigger than ever. But can Brown convince Massachusetts voters to return him to Washington just because he’s a good man?
Senator Scott Brown arrives at South Boston’s grassy Medal of Honor Park, trailed by a handful of aides. He’s wearing a dark gray suit and a red tie, and stops to shake the hands of supporters as he ambles toward the park’s South Boston Vietnam Memorial. The memorial, which bears the names of the 25 Southie residents who died fighting in that war, holds the distinction of being the first to honor Vietnam veterans in the United States.
In front of the memorial, staffers for Brown, who is up for reelection this year, have placed a podium with a blue “Scott Brown: He’s For Us” campaign banner on it. A few bored-looking journalists and supporters wait around. It’s a Friday morning in July, and the senator has come here to reiterate his support for the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, a bill he introduced last fall that would make it illegal to lie about military service and then profit from the lie. The bill is just the sort of legislation that Brown has specialized in since taking office after a special election in 2010: middle-of-the-road proposals that only a fool would oppose. They’re the kinds of bills that can provide strategic cover for the votes he regularly casts with the more extreme elements of the Republican party.
After a brief introduction by Tom Kelley, a Medal of Honor winner and a former secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, Brown steps up to the podium, flanked by a dozen middle-aged veterans. “The Stolen Valor Act of 2011 is a bipartisan bill that safeguards the honor and valor of our military heroes,” he says, comparing its broad support to another bill of his that banned insider trading in Congress and was signed by President Obama in April. “I’m hopeful that the commander in chief will lend his voice to this very, very worthy cause,” Brown continues, “because even with all the gridlock in Washington, and the partisanship in Washington, passing Stolen Valor into law is one of the last chances that we have to get something done in this country before the elections.”
The reporters wait, ready to ask about a story CNN aired two days earlier in which Brown told the network, “I can name a litany of Democratic-sponsored bills that never would have passed had it not been for me. The president has called me. The vice president calls me. Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton calls me for my vote all the time.” Brown’s remarks were clearly designed to establish that he is both a significant presence in Washington and an independent thinker who’s willing to collaborate with Democrats on sensible issues, two points that are crucial to his reelection chances. But when the Globe started asking questions, Brown’s staff admitted that there had been only a few such conversations with the administration—a particularly unhelpful development since Brown had recently generated headlines by falsely claiming to have had “secret meetings” with “kings and queens.” Once again, the senator looked like he was trying to overstate his influence.
Right away, a reporter asks about the controversy. Brown has a ready-made reply: “I’m a guy from Wrentham driving a truck, and I’m honored each and every time that I can speak to the president and his administration,” he says. “I’m going to continue to work with him and others in the administration, as I’ve been doing since the day I’ve been down there.”
Another reporter asks Brown to respond to criticism from Democrats about the statements. “It’s an election year. I get it,” he replies. “My record speaks very clearly for working across the aisle. I’m the second-most-bipartisan senator in the United States Senate. I do work with the administration and have spoken to the individuals I’ve referenced.”
“Are you embellishing?” the reporter asks bluntly.
“No, I’m not embellishing,” Brown answers. After five questions, he signals that the press conference is over, and begins to shake hands with the assembled veterans. Then he and a couple of aides walk out of the park, headed for another event.