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The Long Shot

During the recent budget battle, he has warned against the baleful effects of a government shutdown, since “many of the proposed spending reductions would disproportionately affect the neediest among us, including housing and heating assistance.” And while he voted, along with the moderate senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, for the extreme budget-cutting bill crafted by House Republicans, he insisted that the proposed cut in family planning “goes too far.”

When pressed about his own basic values, Brown tends to rehearse the muscular Reagan themes of patriotism, national security, and freedom. He soft-pedals his religious convictions: “I’ve always felt closest to God while riding my bike.” He has staked out a “moderate” position on stem cell research, which he favors, with some restrictions, and abortion; he recognizes Roe v. Wade as the law but is against certain late-term (so-called “partial-birth”) abortions and in favor of parental consent provisions. He refused to take the bait when Hannity asked him whether Governor Scott Walker was right to rein in public unions in Wisconsin. Brown, who writes that he’s “been a union guy himself for twenty-five years” (he’s a member of a union for actors), insisted that “there’s a place for unions.” It will be said that Brown is staking out positions that appeal to the independent vote he will need in his reelection campaign. Observing the way he responds to constituents and much else, a veteran state legislator told me, “He blows with the wind.”

But a more nuanced range of commitments emerges in the pages of Against All Odds, along with a surprising lyricism and occasional symbolic richness. One learns, for example, that as a child, Brown made mosaics from broken bits of tile rooted out of a dumpster, and gave them to friends and family as holiday gifts. Such mosaics are an affecting image of his own broken and repaired life. His grandmother taught him to sew and to knit. In a closing section, he compares his life, surprisingly, to a spider’s web, “each piece integral to the construction of the whole. A spider begins with a long, fine, sticky thread that it releases from the tips of its spinners….” Reminiscent of Whitman’s “noiseless patient spider,” it’s an odd and affecting metaphor from a self-styled truck-driving “manly man” (in Schwarzenegger’s phrase).

Near the end of the book, there’s a comic encounter in a posh Washington restaurant, where Brown and his wife, soon after his election victory, have been invited to dinner. A waiter mentions that “the Shrivers” are in a private dining room and would like to meet Brown. Brown declines, picturing “a group of younger people” related to Eunice Shriver, Ted Kennedy’s sister. Later, however, he notices two imposing men with pins on their lapels. “I’m a big pin guy,” Brown remarks. They tell him that they are Governor Schwarzenegger’s bodyguards. Arnold Schwarzenegger! Brown says to himself. The Terminator! Another Cosmo guy! After Brown is introduced, one of the young people at the table asks him: “So where’s your office? Are you out in a trailer or something?” Brown answers that he has Ted Kennedy’s office. Incredulous, Maria Shriver exclaims, “You have Uncle Teddy’s office?” Her husband replies, in his best Terminator voice: “Maria, Maria. It’s not Uncle Teddy’s office. It’s the people’s office.”

Letters

Correction June 9, 2011

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