I kinda like Senator Scott Brown, the Republican junior senator from my home state of Massachusetts. No, I did not vote for him. But I certainly did not vote for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate anointed by the party hacks to the seat everyone called “Kennedy’s seat.” Ted Kennedy held that seat for almost half a century, and he filled it with distinction off which some members of his family poached. He actually turned himself into a brainy man, not quite an intellectual but smart about the world in which we live and keen about the culture which surrounded him. Coakley is a nothing, and she would have been less than a nothing in the Senate.
Brown rose through the school of hard knocks with a certain aplomb, and partially paid for his education by posing in the nude for Cosmo. He handled that fact during the campaign with a pizzazz that brought him laughs and should have led Bay Staters to the conclusion that nudity was no sin. It was a non-issue a day after it was raised. By the time the voters went to the polls it was one of his assets. Alas, Warren is not a fast learner, and she tried to make a huffy issue of “Brown in the buff” already when the election was still about a year off. Like now. She has a tin ear.
Margaret Carlson, a very smart and funny journalist who was at Time and then managing editor of The New Republic, now writes a column for Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times. She’s also on TV a lot. For Bloomberg on October 11, she answered the query: “Do Men Have a Problem With Elizabeth Warren?” She wrote: “Some women just bug men. Hillary Clinton did (and still does.) Nancy Pelosi, who has replaced Clinton as the Scary Democratic Woman in Republican fundraising appeals, surely does. And now Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has joined the club.”
You get some sense of how this has played out when Margaret tells us that Obama first thought of appointing Warren as chairman of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureau which she had conceived:
Warren’s Republican detractors were not alone. Powerful Democrats, including Senator Chris Dodd, the Connecticut liberal who retired after affixing his name to the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, didn’t lift a finger on the grounds that everyone knew that she would never be confirmed. … Obama could have made a recess appointment but didn’t. The big boys in Washington, including some in the White House … just didn’t like Warren playing in their sandbox.
So Warren, a former Harvard law professor, headed back to Massachusetts to try to reclaim Ted Kennedy’s seat for the Democrats. The Republican Scott Brown is popular but true to form. Warren is making the race interesting. At a Democratic party debate last week, Warren was asked how she had paid for college. “I kept my clothes on,” Warren replied. …
When an interviewer later in the week remarked that Warren had never similarly posed in the buff, Brown blurted out, “Thank God.”
Even Margaret Carlson thought that was unfair. Actually, Warren is a perfectly presentable woman, pleasant looking and handsomely dressed. She might not be noticed on the campus. But almost no one is noticed at 62 in these parts ’cept young ’uns. Or the nearly hundred year-old Sam Beer who daily sauntered quickly down Brattle Street to get to his office at Littauer. Except he’s dead now.
But, putting aside sexism from the “big boys in Washington,” there are also good reasons to be skeptical of Warren. Her campaign is a phenomenon. But she is a phenomenon whom no one knew two months ago. Or even six weeks ago. And maybe four weeks ago. First, there were six candidates: one, the black mayor of Newton, who dropped out in the last few days. Overwhelmed by white liberal money. Of course, there is a year before the actual primary. Alan Khazei, the most accomplished of the candidates in community politics, has a sort of modest charisma. He does not say obvious things, as Warren does. After all, she knows what she thinks and she’s thought them for twenty years. I actually believe that the left-liberal rush to her is antagonism to Barack Obama, antagonism to his reluctance to fight for her. Among real liberals, after all, Obama is no longer a liberal.
Another fact is that Warren has no foreign policy and hasn’t thought about foreign policy. Ask her about the Arab Spring, Israel, and the peace process, human rights and Africa, the American relationship with Venezuela. But Khazei has. Thoughtfully. Not always agreeing with me.
And then there’s one of the Republican candidates for president, Herman Cain. “When the moon hits your eye … Like a big pizza pie. That’s amore.” He’s running second among all the professional politicians in the Republican race for president. Oh, yes, and he’s a black man. It can’t be. Republicans favoring a … a … a black man? Wow. There’s been very little about this phenomenon in the press. I’ve found no pretense in the man. He’s got common sense. He tells it like it is. Will someone write something serious about him?
Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.