Friday, August 12, 2011

Our One Hundreth: Taking on Water...Will Scott's Heart Go On...

RMS Titanic (Wikipedia)
Two things bookend year one of Scott Brown’s career as the junior Senator from Massachusetts so far.  One, is an image of him sailing out from his front door ahead of  a trip to Washington before his swearing-in a few days later.  The other is his impressive, unsinkable approval numbers a year later, after his party gained little or no traction in his home state.  Despite a rejection of Brownism in Massachusetts, Brown had numbers that were bigger than all the other Massachusetts pols.  From that position, Scott Brown’s maiden voyage in the Senate confidently moved on toward reelection.

It is too early to tell, but with each passing month, his second year in the US Senate is not shaping up to be as good as the first.  Brown seemed to avoided catastrophe after last November or so he may have thought, but the fact is that troubled waters lay ahead.  The ocean between his unexpected win and his reelection is vast and not without peril.  But Scott Brown is unsinkable!  So what if there political icebergs out there, they can't take him down!

The Titanic parallels are not without their purpose.  As the arc of history has moved forward, it has become possible to see that Brown faces a bend away from further glory and adulation.  What started as a leak earlier this year when Brown thought he saw a dead Osama bin Laden has become an outright flood.  It is not clear or inevitable that the water will overwhelm more than his forward four watertight compartments.  However, if July and August are any indication, it does not look good for the S.S. Scottanic.

Image by WMassP&I from fair use material
For several months now, but with increased fervor recently, the Massachusetts Democratic Party has hammered Brown for holding nary a single town hall meeting.  Indeed, Brown’s interaction with the public has been limited to scripted events, ed-ops, friendly media encounters and fundraisers.  His jobs tour, which we’ll get to in a moment, has been a feeble attempt to counter that argument, by seeming responsive to the fact that Americans care about jobs and not the deficit nonsense.  The wheels began to come off with the bin Laden photo flack, but it becomes so much easier to see Brown's PR strategy in context following that disastrous interview.

However, Brown’s opportunity to stand out on the debt ceiling was flubbed when he announced he would vote for any plan that raised the debt ceiling.  What was intended to be a declaration of reasonableness amid fiscal lunacy ended up being a pathetic appeal for action from a powerless Senator who made his campaign all about the power of stopping Barack Obama.

Shortly after that, Brown voted for the debt deal that would automatically cut, among other things, funding for disaster relief.  That is the same disaster relief that Springfield and the surrounding communities are applying for in the wake of the June 1st tornado.  Meanwhile, Brown’s website has bellowed out a reminder to victims that now is their chance to apply for such aid.

Brown then got into trouble with the gay community, which he had long sought to neutralize by voting for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (after months of indecision and supporting of filibusters against it).  Last month, nearly every member of the Massachusetts delegation to Washington participated in filming an "It Gets Better" video, the project of Dan Savage and his spouse to help give troubled and bullied gay young people hope.  Brown declined to participate citing his focus on jobs.  Initially, it did not matter.  The gay community was mad Brown, who cares?  

Dan Savage (Wikipedia)
Well, then the National Republican Senate Committee attacked Dan Savage for his past rhetoric and activism (Google Santorum, on second thought, DON'T).  The problem with the attack was it appeared to hit "It Gets Better" as much as Dan Savage.  Nobody cares about Savage's reputation, but it is fair to say most Bay Staters would support an effort that was started in response to a spat of teen suicide.  The NRSC's attack, however, inadvertently put Scott Brown on the wrong side of that issue.  The GOP in Washington need to remember that they can't defend a Massachusetts Republican like they would an Alabama Republican.
Then there is the Brown jobs tour.  Announced to little fanfare, and even fewer details, Brown planned to tour the state to promote jobs.  The tour was intended to deflect the criticism of Brown's town halls (or lack thereof) and to focus on local issues, since Brown has shown, increasingly, that he is ineffectual in the Senate.  It does not matter that Brown is not trying to work on jobs, he can see Americans are not buying the deficit as issue one so he will talk about jobs, even as he filibusters jobs bills.

However, the jobs tour has been fraught with PR problems.  Although the shots of him playing basketball were innocuous, if irrelevant to job creation, some of the other stops were just strange.  Brown spoke to a largely retired audience at a Jewish community center in the Boston neighborhood of Brighton.  The Globe described the event as not open the public and Brown’s bombshell to his audience was that Medicare would need to be cut.  The Globe did not indicate that he qualified it in reference to future retirees, although that argument did not help Republicans that voted for Paul Ryan’s Medicare busting reforms.  However, there was a statement from one audience member in the story that offered nothing, but praise for Brown.  It was later discovered that Brown had touted a bill that would assist Iranian Jews facing repression.  In all seriousness, who would oppose that?

Rep David Camp (R-MI) (wikipedia)
Then Brown brought his tour to Amherst, the lion den of Western Mass liberalism, but restricted the tour to the New England Scenic Trail.  The location was chosen to highlight tourism’s importance to the state, which was at least marginally jobs related.  However, two things happened there.  One, he was met by protesters and hecklers, who did not have any praise to heap on him.  The other was that he reiterated his opposition to taxes as part of the deficit problem.  Brown could have been splitting the taxes vs. revenue difference, but he has ruled most loophole cutting out, which leaves him to the right of both Paul Ryan and Super-committee member David Camp, both of whom have not ruled out revenue.  To top off last night, Brown continued his jobs tour to Pittsfield where he would lunch with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.  The public could attend: for $45.

Brown’s jobs tour continues to other densely populated areas including Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  Those are all separate stops on the tour not one.

Richard Cordray CFPB Nominee (Wikipedia)
However, what may have set Brown off on a jobs tour was not the Democrat’s poking.  Nor did logic or reason bring him to support whatever bill could exit the Senate.  No, it was an announcement in mid-July that President Obama would finally select his pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.  He did not, despite liberal grousing, name Elizabeth Warren.  Frankly, it was one of the canniest political move the president made going into 2012 in the effort to hold the Senate.

The Senate did not take an official recess this summer and will probably not do so until Christmas at the earliest, if at all.  No amount of fighting would get Warren into the directorship before then.  She would be idled until Republican allowed a vote or checked out.  Cordray, on the other hand, had nowhere else to be in a hurry, or any competing interest asking for his time at this moment.  As early as January of this year, Warren speculation for Senate had begun.  That is why Brown did not sign the Republican letter opposing changes to the CFPB.  He wanted Warren nominated, confirmed and kept in Washington.  That did not happen and no doubt Brown HQ went batty that week.

It got far worse today for Brown.  As self-inflicted wounds and the small unexpected ice flows upset Brown’s ship-shape campaign, rumors continued to swirl that Elizabeth Warren would join the nebula of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.  The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, getting over their anger at Obama nominate Warren raised thousands for a still-undeclared Warren campaign.  Then this appeared, as part of a longer post, at Blue Mass Group.

I left Washington, but I don’t plan to stop fighting for middle class families.  I spent years working against special interests and have the battle scars to show it – and I have no intention of stopping now.  It is time for me to think hard about what role I can play next to help rebuild a middle class that has been hacked at, chipped at, and pulled at for more than a generation—and that that is under greater strain every day.

Elizabeth Warren (AFP via ABC)
The news quickly spread throughout the media, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and Wicked Local’s political blog.  Among other details reported were Warren’s plans to investigate a campaign with two former staffers to Gov. Deval Patrick and a pundits announcement that Warren would announce her campaign sometime after Labor Day.

Unless Scott Brown loses sleep over the suffering thousands of his constituents endure everyday (his behavior at the tornado walk-around does not inspire hope here), then tonight could prove to be quite a sleepless night.  The Brown camp and the State GOP has long fired off attacks against Setti Warren, who along with Alan Khazei and Bob Massie appear to be front-runners of the existing slate of Democrats.  Obviously, it saw Setti Warren as a real threat among the candidates even cobbling together a mission for Scott Brown in Afghanistan, which disappeared off the face of the media this summer.  If it ever happened, none of the publications that promoted it for the Senator reported it later.

The summer has not been kind to Scott Brown and with a record moderate in name only and President Obama at the top of the ticket the senator may be in trouble.  Moreover, if Elizabeth Warren becomes the nominee, she will be able to tap into vast liberal and grassroots fundraising that could reduce or eliminate Brown’s financial advantage.

Not to mention if Elizabeth Warren can parry Brown as well as Republican provocateurs, then Brown may need a fleet of trucks criss-crossing the state.  Then again, to afford such a motorized battalion may only prompt Bay Staters to further question Brown’s everymanhood.

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