As a basketball player at Tufts University during the late 1970s, Scott Brown—the Massachusetts Republican state legislator elected to the US Senate a year ago, as the longest of long shots, in a special election following the death of Edward M. Kennedy—was primarily known as a deadeye long-range shooter. A college coach who knew him well in those days, and played against him in pickup games, told me that Brown worked on his game “relentlessly,” and “would take anyone on at any time.” Nicknamed “Downtown Scotty Brown,” both for his shooting touch far from the basket (“from downtown”) and for a certain flash and dazzle in his game, on the court and off, Brown considered himself, according to the coach, a “big-time ladies’ man.” That image was confirmed soon after graduation when, in a national competition in 1982, he was named “America’s Sexiest Man” by Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan magazine, joining such earlier and far more prominent winners as Burt Reynolds and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and posed nude in its centerfold.
Brown’s brief career in the Senate has earned him other nicknames. For his votes to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and in favor of a Democratic jobs bill, among other perceived betrayals, Tea Party loyalists who supported his Senate run have dubbed him “Benedict Brown.” When asked a few weeks ago by Sean Hannity, on his conservative Fox TV show, if he considered himself a member of the Tea Party, Brown replied, innocently enough, “No, I’m a Republican from Massachusetts.” When Hannity pressed him on his vote on “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Brown, a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and a staunch advocate for veterans’ rights, responded, “There are gays in the military, and when they come home injured or dead, I don’t ask if they are gay or straight.”
Deprived of the opportunity (as Kennedy’s replacement, he broke the filibuster-proof “supermajority” of sixty Senate Democrats) to cast the decisive vote against Obama’s health care program—which passed on a maneuver, called “reconciliation,” based on a previous Senate vote—Brown has managed to avoid the ire of Senate liberals. If, as some recent polls suggest, the mood of the country may react against the bitter stalemate in Congress and move toward moderation and bipartisan cooperation, Scott Brown might well become a key player, and even a potential leader, in coming legislative battles. For that to happen, however, he will need to win the trust and recognition of a wider public than he reached in his implausible election victory.
Brown’s surprisingly engaging autobiography, with the slightly hyperbolic title Against All Odds, has a rags-to-riches narrative that sometimes recalls Horatio Alger, one of whose hundred books about the rewards of honesty and hard work was called The Odds Against Him, and sometimes Obama’s own narrative, in Dreams from My Father, of growing up without a father and without a secure sense of home. The…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.