January 26, 2010

Truckin’ Towards Capitol Hill

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First they legalize gay marriage. Then they elect a truck to the Senate. Last week, in what many conservative pundits have called “a clear message to Washington,” the voters of Massachusetts elected Scott Brown as their first Republican senator since 1972.

Brown, who won Democrat Ted Kennedy’s old seat after trailing Democrat nominee Martha Coakley by 30 points as recently as a month ago, owes a great deal of his newfound political success to his 2005 GMC Canyon, the truck he campaigned in throughout the state.

The old pickup truck, the wealthy Brown explained, brought him closer to the common folk.

Neil Newhouse, Brown’s pollster, agrees. He estimates that the truck was Brown’s second strongest asset in the election because it “helped give depth to the image of him as a ‘regular guy.’ ”

And it was his “regular guy” appeal that won him so much favor with the tea party crowd — the loose coalition of extreme right-wing Republicans dedicated to the overthrow of President Barack Obama. It was the tea party, in turn, that won him so much favor among the independents and — to use Brown’s word — the “disgruntled.”

The relationship between the tea partyers and Brown was mutually beneficial. In return for providing Brown with the campaign donations, media exposure and (most importantly) votes to catapult him from virtual obscurity to the forefront of American politics in a matter of weeks, Brown gave the tea party a platform with which to wallop Obama — or at least the candidate he supported.

But while Brown sees his fling with the fringe right as a harmless December-through- January romance, the tea partyers remain absolutely smitten. Even before he secured his victory, Brown was being drafted as the 2012 Republican presidential favorite.

They finally discovered the answer to their woes: they had a great right hope.

But they are mistaken if they think Scott Brown will be their answer to Obama.

Whether the tea party realizes it, the biggest fissure in American politics today is not between the right and left. Nor is it between Democrats and Republicans. Rather, it is between coherency and chaos.

And, to the inevitable chagrin of tea partyers everywhere, Scott Brown’s politics are of the coherent variety.

His personal beliefs aside, Brown has stated publicly that he does not intend to revoke same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Similarly, he does not wish to meddle with abortion laws. In 2006 he even endorsed a health care bill that mandated universal healthcare statewide.

Brown goes to Washington as someone who honestly opposes the Obama health care bill — citing several glaring weaknesses in the bill itself — and who wants to trim away unneeded government bureaucracy and keep taxes low.

Really, the disagreements between Obama and Brown pale in comparison to the disagreements between those who operate within a world of logic and a world of fantasy. Whatever differences of opinion they have, they both arrived at them using logic and reason.

Scott Brown is what Republicans are at the best of times: an alternative voice of reason that, more often than not, forces Democrats to question their assumptions, sharpen their ideas, and vice versa.

In other words, he is the type of Republican Sarah Palin and the tea partyers are trying to purge from the GOP.

So how can Palin praise Brown’s victory when just last month she bullied a moderate Republican candidate in an Upstate New York Congressional vote into resigning for not being “sufficiently Republican,” enabling a social conservative to lose to the Democratic candidate?

Because logic does not apply to Sarah Palin, nor to her tea party.

These are people who, given two possible explanations, instinctively choose the less plausible one. And, unfortunately, they are also the people who hold hostage the namesake of the GOP, who turn on Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for approving Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

So it is no mistake that Brown did not refer to himself as a Republican during his campaign or his acceptance speech. On the contrary, he insisted that “this Senate seat belongs to no one person and no political party” and called his win a victory for “the independent majority.”

Nor is it a mistake that he thanked John McCain for his endorsement while not even asking for one from Palin.

So while Brown is more than happy to sail in on a wave of populism that Palin is more than a bit responsible for stirring up, he knows well enough not to hoist his flag on sinking ships: be they Palin or the Republican Party.

Scott Brown is savvy. So savvy, in fact, that Obama may be taking notes. Many have suggested that, by invoking populist outrage against the “fatcats” on Wall Street, Brown style, Obama is trying to reconnect with an American public that has become increasingly alienated from the Presidency.

But he’s not Scott Brown, rookie senator, and he’s not the Everyman. He’s the President who was elected specifically because America decided it wanted an exceptional leader, not a buddy.

Instead of commiserating with the masses, he might be better off buying himself a pickup truck and calling it a day.

I wonder if majority owners get an employee discount.

Cody Gault is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at cgault@cornellsun.com. Stakes Is High appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Cody Gault