by David Benjamin
GREAT NECK, NY - While joining the minority on the Senate's 63-37 vote to confirm Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Scott Brown had this terrific chance to blow some fresh air into American politics.
Instead, he choked - on his own words.
This was all the more unfortunate because, until the actual vote on Thursday, Brown played cunning politics with the nomination. Dangling the possibility that he might vote "yes," Brown teased and flirted with Democrats - who still believe, against all evidence, in the dream of bipartisan comity with the Shiite Republicans in the Senate.
This was pretty good tactics, because if there ever was a guy who needs to play both ends against the middle, Brown's the one. He was elected to the Senate in January on a fluke, beating an arrogant and slothful Boston Democrat, Martha Coakley, despite Massachusetts being the "bluest" state in the U.S.A. Having achieved this bizarre victory after an almost invisible 15 years in the Massachusetts House and Senate, Brown became an automatic lame duck.
He has no hope of retaining his seat in the 2012 election. The Democratic machine in Massachusetts is certain to unleash an unprecedented avalanche of spending and vituperation on the upstart Brown as it battles to reclaim the historic "Kennedy seat" in the U.S. Senate, probably by running a Kennedy. As a man with no discernible future in politics, Brown deserves all the limelight he can grab in the time he has left. Hence, no one can begrudge him the grandstand play he pulled with the Kagan nomination.
However, having weaseled all that attention, Brown owed his audience something far better than the dreary little snatch of GOP boilerplate that he recited just before voting "no." In insisting that Kagan lacks the "experience" necessary to a Supreme Court justice, all Brown did was hew the party line, as though he might actually harm himself by irking his fellow Republicans.
Realistically, he has nothing to lose. Politically, he's a dead man walking. He can be - if he chooses - the quintessential loose cannon, or even the conscience of the GOP. He can say whatever comes to mind, do whatever he wants and wander, politically, as far afield as his fancies - or his principles - will carry him.
In announcing his vote, rather than revisiting every known confirmation cliché, from "absence of prior judicial experience" to "decisions... that affect the day-to-day lives of American citizens," Brown could have made some headlines, had some fun, and pinched his GOP godfathers on their big fat ass.
Here's what, in Brown's place, I would've said:
"I'm voting ‘no' because the Republican Party closes its eyes, holds its nose and votes ‘no' on everything Barack Obama does.
"I'm voting ‘no,' because Mitch McConnell told me to vote ‘no,' and - at least on this issue - I don't want to piss him off.
"But really, folks, who am I to judge a woman who is currently Solicitor General of the United States, who clerked for Thurgood Marshall, who was dean of Harvard Law and legal counsel to President Clinton. I'm in no position to seriously criticize this distinguished, brilliant woman - or almost anybody - for lack of experience. Experience? What have I got to brag about? The most effective political years of my life were spent on the Board of Assessors in Wrentham. Compared to Elena Kagan, I'm chopped liver.
"So, here I am,voting on Elena Kagan - and voting the way I was told to vote - against her, at the risk of looking ridiculous. But frankly, this woman deserves better than me and most of the clowns I'm working with right now.
"I might've voted ‘yes,' if the Democratic leadership had offered me a sweet enough deal - say, a weak opponent in the 2012 Massachusetts primary. Fat chance of that, huh? But they obviously didn't need me. They already had the two broads from Maine, and they even got Ben Nelson to risk a stroke and vote with his own party.
"Some of my Republican colleagues were critical of Elena Kagan for dodging questions and walking an ideological tightrope during her confirmation hearings. They accused her of being political by avoiding any hint of political leanings as she answered the politicized questions posed by polarized senators from both political parties.
"In that sense, Ms. Kagan and I are soulmates. As a moderate conservative from a liberal state, I'm a past master at reading my audience and telling people exactly what they want to hear, regardless of what I actually believe. In situations where I'm not sure, I simply drone on meaninglessly, spouting platitudes, wrapping myself in generalities and mentioning God from time to time. Even if people aren't moved by my eloquence, they go away saying that at least I seem like a nice guy.
"That's exactly what Elena Kagan got out of her interrogations by the Senate. Even the right-wingers who voted against her tend to agree that, well, at least she seems like a nice gal.
"Bottom line, my fellow Americans? I really don't care who the President nominated to replace Justice Stevens. My vote didn't change a thing for Elena Kagan. I voted the way I did for purely selfish reasons. By voting ‘no,' I've done what I can to ingratiate myself with a GOP power structure that's still a little suspicious about me.
"They may be a gang of reactionary old poops, but I'm gonna need the all the help I can get from these nay-saying nabobs in a couple of years when Billy Bulger and the boys up in Boston paint a bulls-eye on my chest and start wheeling out the big guns."
David Benjamin is a novelist and journalist, originally from Madison, Wisconsin. He now divides his time between New York and Paris. His latest book, recently released by Tuttle Publishing, is SUMO: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport.