Scott Brown is at once appealing, appalling and even a cause for optimism

Scott Brown drew a huge crowd to a New England Council breakfast this week. His speech was a reminder of the regular-guy appeal that won him the seat last January and the power he is currently relishing as the 41st vote in the U.S. Senate, a guy who can stop a filibuster or put a closely partisan bill over the top. He also demonstrated enormous hubris about his importance in the national dialogue and a reluctance to deal in nuance and context.

First, the regular-guy appeal. His campaign-style delivery dishes out slogans that are simple and capture the mood of much of the electorate. “There’s only so much spending that we can do,” he reminds folks, talking about how “People are frustrated about overspending,” and “Washington is not doing the people’s business. Anyone running for office should have to…have the experience of waking up in the middle of the night wondering if they can make payroll.” Members of the largely business audience nodded in agreement. He decried the campaign disclosure bill then under discussion because it distracts from the issue of job creation. “Seven days left (in the session) and they want to spend time on this?” he asks.

“Six months ago, I was Scott Brown from Wrentham driving the truck. I still have the truck. It’s in D.C. The only difference is: today I could probably sell it for $100,000.” Of course he gets a good laugh from the audience. And another when he says, “When I get the crap kicked out of me every day from the left and the right, I must be doing something right.”

(This unassuming aspect to our truck senator is particularly appealing, given the public relations pickle that our senior senator has gotten himself into because of where Kerry has been docking his new $7 million luxury yacht. But the contrast between the two senators is about far more than their choice of transportation.)

Let’s move from Brown’s appealing to his appalling moments. To show his distrust of extending unemployment benefits, he told how North Carolina Congressman Heath Shuler had hosted a job fair and “only three people showed up for 100 jobs.” Brown said the people “didn’t want to work because they are on unemployment.” I suspect that unemployed workers who think like that are few and far between; you don’t pull in enough on unemployment benefits to support a family adequately. More importantly, I spoke to Congressman Shuler’s office. Staff person Myrna Campbell told me that Scott Brown’s story is an urban myth that somehow got into the media. While Rep. Shuler has had some job fairs, the event in question was not a job fair, and there were no jobs being offered. It was an informational session for small business owners and community college professionals about the state of the marketplace and how to prepare people for the workplace.

Our truck senator was shockingly dismissive when asked whether he felt aggressive deficit-cutting at this time in our fragile recovery might be premature in light of the nation’s experience in 1936, when, out of concern for the deficit, President Roosevelt pulled back from the stimulus initiatives of the early 1930’s and prolonged the Great Depression. Brown said bluntly, “I don’t buy that.”

Brown also asserted that “the stimulus bill hasn’t created one single job!” Take the census workers out of the equation, and the stimulus bill has both created jobs on roads, bridges and other badly needed infrastructure projects and has staved off the loss of jobs for teachers, police and firefighters.

Brown dismissed the stimulus bill as a wasteful indulgence in photo ops announcing bridges and road projects that don’t create jobs. His approach to job creation is no tax increases, don’t increase the deficit, get the “money owed to us” (not sure what he means buy that), reducing the payroll tax, and then “targeted stimulus” for transportation and infrastructure improvements. So how is that different from what we have been doing on infrastructure?

To hear him talk, his negotiation may in fact have been the determining factor in getting a financial services regulation bill passed. But he’s less convincing when he attributes President Obama’s heightened interest in job creation to a conversation Brown had with him in the Oval Office. In his newcomer enthusiasm, he needs to avoid the pitfall of overweening pride.

But here’s a possible cause for optimism regarding Scott Brown. He quite rightly says he doesn’t work for Harry Reid and he doesn’t work for Mitch McConnell either. He says he can play a significant role in helping to build a bi-partisan caucus involving moderate Republicans, like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, as well as Democrats like Warner, Casey and Udall. And, if he can deal with folks on both sides of the aisle, find common ground and decide things on an issue-by-issue basis, if he can do his homework and not descend into slogans that reinforce his Tea Party-type notions, he can make a significant difference in how Washington does its business.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below

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