We did learn quite a bit about Scott Brown last evening — despite his clearest intentions to prevent that. He certainly did not convert any undecided voters, but his claque loved every dodge, every smirk and every personal snipe.
As the last debate-like-event, the moderator had a decided sensationalist bent and was not at all a liberal. In Lowell, David Gregory, a conservative, allowed Brown to avoid answering questions from him, Elizabeth Warren, and the students. He also let Brown bully him into a time advantage. That was all predictable.
C-Span has the whole debate available here.
My wife and I went. The trip was worth it, in the very least to sense and and hear the rowdy crowd reactions. Brown's supporters (each side had 500 tickets — about 10% of the arena, plus the crowd divisions) did not mind at all that he still refused to explain votes favoring huge financial and petroleum companies or repeated dishonest personal attacks. In fact, they cheered those.
Much will be made of Brown's few and acid weapons — Native-American ancestry, and his knowingly false portrayal of two complex legal settlements Warren lawyered in. What I learned instead from his smirks, sarcasm and sidesteps is that he fully expects to continue a content-free campaign. Even with nearly two years of recorded votes, he refuses to let anyone, another candidate much less a voter, hold him accountable.
He also is incredibly indecisive, willfully ignorant, or dishonest about his policies and positions. With the exception of "absolutely" opposing the Dream Act as a form of amnesty, a stance he'd been quoted on numerous times and thus unavoidable, he fudged all questions about how he might vote. It was as though he hasn't thought about whether he'd support the reactionary hardliner Mitch McConnell to head the Senate if the GOP should take it, whether he'd let tax cuts for millionaires and above expire if offset with spending cuts, and anything else substantial.
Instead on one major question after another, he played and overplayed his alleged impartial card (a.k.a. the bipartisan ploy). He couldn't and wouldn't tell us what we'd get by electing him to a full term. He'd pore over each bill's contents, he'd listen to all arguments and only then decide what he believed and would do. While he refuses to call himself a Republican in person or in campaign material, that sounded dreadfully like the Romney/Ryan shtick. They say that their economic plan is too complex to explain, so we need to elect them and let Congress work out the details. Walrus wings, I say!
Amusingly to the intimate gathering of 5,000, we saw differences even during the photo-op before the show, then again during the break and afterward. The self-presenting nice guy was cold and avoided engagement. Warren in contrast tried to chat him up, smiled at him, the moderator and the audience, waved to her husband, and, well, was the nice guy. The difference was she wasn't pretending.
Watching Brown relatively closely was better than on TV, with the many cutaways. I thought throughout of the younger version. He's big on smirking and being pleased with his perceived cleverness. Likely he fell into one of those three classes that teachers and parents praise:
- Fast answer. Kids conditioned to respond with the quickest reply tend to be partially wrong or shallow in analysis.
- Deep thought. The big brains tend to take longer but come up closest to truth.
- Clever. The cute reply, often with a learned grin, may be disarming while really not answering the question.
He often doesn't answer at all, much less quickly. He isn't particularly bright (I'd bet she has 30 IQ points on him). Yet, he obviously has a learned response of going for the light and witty over candid or analytic.
Also, last evening as in the previous kind-of debate it was plain that he does not like being challenged, particularly by a woman. The defining moment was one he clearly had prepared and likely practiced (to the praise of his wife maybe). While he had run long, refused to address the questions the moderator asked, and talked over Warren repeatedly, when she tried to cut in with a point, he whipped out his big quip of the night, "Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom."
That was not the only condescension of the 50 minutes, only the most graceless. He actually performed better near the end. She scored first answering an inane hypothetical from Gregory about why it might be that MA has never elected a woman as its US Senator. She said she didn't know, but she was working to change that.
Shortly after, he got in his best of the night by responding to a pointed question about whether she was qualified, as in earned her way, to her Harvard Law tenured professorship. The implication seemed to be an effort to return to the ancestry/affirmative action opening where Brown has yet to show any evidence she got an advantage by listing herself in a directory as having Native-American background. Instead, he made his best feint of the show saying she likely was an excellent professor and he was working to make sure she stayed one. Point and counterpoint.
Unfortunately, Gregory was only a tiny bit sharper than the rumpled of clothes and mind Jon Keller in the first meeting. He too not only opened with the ancestry non-issue, but let it consume over a quarter of the show. We were robbed of substance again.
Yet that was another benefit of being there. Brown's supporters clapped, stomped and cheered wildly at even his dumbest responses. While Gregory urged everyone before starting not to interrupt with such responses, both sides ended up ignoring him. I listened carefully and figure that perhaps Warren supporters outnumbered Brown ones by 50% or so, at least by oral volume, similar to the crowds outside before it began. Both sides made plenty of noise.
I don't have a whole lot of hope for more substance in the remaining, staged for TV sort-of debates. The format stinks and leads to the shallowness we've seen in the first two, particularly under two lame moderators.
Without question, Warren is smart, knowledgeable and substantive. Brown isn't going to become forthcoming or honest in the next three weeks. We'll continue to have inequality with avoidance on one side.