Scott Brown's Got Rocks in His Pockets

The senator's accusations that Elizabeth Warren misrepresented herself are hypocritical.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

It's not the Supreme Court, stupid. Scott Brown's first choice of Antonin Scalia as his favorite justice during last night's Massachusetts Senate debate evoked boos from partisans in the audience and delighted progressives, who hope it will cost him the election. But I doubt it dismayed the small number of undecided voters to whom Brown is appealing. I doubt Scalia is their favorite bogeyman, and I bet their votes in the Senate race will not be affected by concerns about the Court.

Will they be persuaded by Brown's repeated (unsubstantiated) accusations that Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American heritage to gain professional advantage? Polls indicate that most voters are unmoved by the controversy, which David Gregory opened with and lingered on last night. But most voters aren't undecided. If the undecided are relatively unengaged and uninformed politically, they may be a lot more intrigued by water cooler speculation about Warren's Native American bonafides than by disputed analyses of Scott Brown's record or the ideology of Supreme Court justices. Or so Scott Brown must hope. His attacks on Warren's character, based on questions about her heritage, are unrelenting.

She responds by attacking his record. I'd respond by attacking his character, especially after last night, when Brown put his own honesty in question. He stated most implausibly that, if re-elected, he might not vote for Mitch McConnell as majority or minority leader. I doubt his most ardent supporters believed him. They may rationalize the lie as political gamesmanship; undecided voters might not.

They might also question Brown's pose as an Independent only loosely affiliated (if at all) with the Republican party were they to consider the different faces he shows to swing voters in Massachusetts and to Republican donors nationwide. As the Boston Globe reported (and Warren mentioned in the debate), Brown's national fundraising appeals stress the importance of his re-election to recapturing Republican control of the Senate. In his appeals to Massachusetts voters, he pretends to straddle the aisle, uncommitted to securing control for either party. The question isn't whether he's lying about his allegiances. The question is, who is he lying to?

"He's doing what he has to do," one political operative advised the Globe. No doubt. I suspect that Brown supporters agree. But the ease with which he misrepresents himself, and the willingness of his supporters to excuse the lies he tells to advance his career in politics, contrast revealingly with their attacks on Warren for allegedly lying to advance her career in academia.

Character doesn't matter much to partisans, who are primarily, understandably, concerned much more with ideology. But if character matters to swing voters, Scott Brown should perhaps take the rocks out his pocket. If character matters, he should never have thrown the first stone, and Elizabeth Warren should make him regret it.