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Katy Burns: Time and time again, Scott Brown elicits that empty feeling

Last modified: 8/24/2014 1:26:57 AM
Scott Brown has a message for New Hampshire Republicans: You’re stupid!

How else can one explain that virtually everything Brown says on the stump is a series of platitudes and vacuous rhetoric that fails to evince even a glancing knowledge of or interest in the issues confronting the nation?

As we all know by now – the continued focus on the man has been extraordinary – Brown is the former Bay State pol who decided to take his talents (as well as his pickup truck and barn jacket) to New Hampshire when his bid to continue serving in the U.S. Senate was soundly rejected by Massachusetts voters.

And yet he doesn’t respect the Republican voters of New Hampshire enough to level with them about his thoughts on issues confronting the country.

After settling into his family’s vacation digs in Rye, he played coy for a bit, enjoying the will-he-or-won’t-he buzz while – we assumed – he diligently prepared for a grueling primary race and then a general election campaign against the formidable vote-getter Jeanne Shaheen.

We assumed Brown was getting ready to present himself to the electorate of New Hampshire as a candidate of great depth and breadth.

We clearly assumed wrong.

At least that’s what a lot of us concluded when, practically straight out of the starting gate, Brown bumbled a routine question from an AP reporter. Was he the most qualified candidate in the race?

“Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ’Cause, you know, whatever. But I do have strong ties to this state.”

Uh, probably not? Whatever? You should be elected because you “have strong ties to this state”?

What was he – a serious candidate for the U.S. Senate or a teenage boy stuck in the body of a 55-year-old man?

And that sort of set the tone for the primary campaign. He uses a similar flip manner and glibness when talking about major issues worth discussing in a race to determine who will run for one of only 100 seats in the powerful U.S. Senate.

An outstanding example of Brown’s waffling vagueness is his stance on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. He would, like any good Republican, repeal the act. But what about its popular provisions? At first he said he’d be sure people would be “grandfathered in.” At least he held that view until his aides told him that it wasn’t possible.

More recently, he proclaimed that ideas like covering pre-existing conditions and keeping young adults on their parents’ insurance policies are just great – but we can just have states come up with their own solutions. Simple! Why didn’t anyone think of that before?

On energy, Brown is equally vague. “Obviously, the climate is changing all the time. . . . The bottom line is we have to find a way to make sure we protect our environment.”

In case that wasn’t clear enough, he said, “We need to continuously adjust and adapt when it comes to our energy policy.”

One of the most striking – and funniest – examples of what Scott Brown will do to avoid taking a stand on a tough issue is when a reporter tried to pin down his response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which said that some private employers can refuse for religious reasons to provide coverage of contraception in employees’ health insurance. The decision is, unsurprisingly, unpopular with a lot of women.

Brown was making an appearance in a diner near the tiny town of Freedom when he was confronted by a reporter who wanted his reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision. Brown retreated to the men’s room to avoid taking a stand.

Later that day, in a tavern in West Ossipee, when that same reporter persisted – that is what good reporters do – Brown’s people responded with vague menace (voluntarily leave or “we can do this the wrong way”) and, ultimately, called the local cops.

So much for being candid and responsive on the campaign trail. And while all candidates try to avoid being pinned down on specific proposals, the degree to which Scott Brown spouts platitudinous pap is truly remarkable.

What is most disheartening is that Brown has two opponents who are loaded with serious positions on major issues.

One is Jim Rubens, a former state senator who is a genuine policy wonk, brimming over with detailed thoughts on everything from climate change (he acknowledges it, wants to use free market reforms and initiatives to deal with it) to controlling health care costs (means test Medicare, create more community health clinics).

The other is former Sen. Bob Smith, who in his own way is another policy wonk, again brimming over with deeply felt positions developed over years of thought about policies near and dear to his heart. Many Granite Staters don’t agree with him – but they appreciate that he’s forthright about his positions.

But Rubens and Smith are being swamped by Brown in public opinion polls. His inexplicable popularity is no doubt helped by the fact that even before his entry into the race – in fact, from the first time he moseyed over the Mass./N.H. line in that decrepit pickup truck – much of so-called journalism has been fascinated with him, covering his every move and anointing him as the only candidate who counts.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. All polls show him with an overwhelming lead over his two opponents despite his clear contempt for those who will vote in that GOP primary.

In fact, Brown is an empty barn jacket. To borrow the famous Gertrude Stein phrase, “There is no there there.” And he may well become our next U.S. senator.



(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)


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