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Brian McGrory

American idolized

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / January 22, 2010

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WASHINGTON - He is now the star of his own reality show.

Six months ago, Scott Brown was the essence of irrelevance in Massachusetts politics, one of just five Republicans in a chamber in which he didn’t exactly enjoy an outsized amount of clout. A month ago, as a Senate candidate, he could have held his campaign press conferences in a walk-in closet and still had plenty of room for his suits.

When he proposed things like a state sales tax holiday, there were often just two reporters and a remote camera in the room. There’s no polite way to put this, but it didn’t really matter what he had to say.

Not anymore.

Brown was mobbed in the Senate Russell Office Building yesterday morning by 80 or so reporters, cameramen, and photographers, pushing and prodding to record his every word and move. There were boom mikes and strobe lights, sergeants-at-arms and harried security guards. Republican aides lined the hallways and cheered.

Rock stars are probably saying today, “Wouldn’t it be great to be Scott Brown.’’

And for good reason. Never has a member of Congress, indeed, any political figure aside from a newly elected president, so immediately and suddenly tilted the balance of power in Washington and completely altered the national agenda. If Brown’s election was a huge event for Massachusetts for what it said, it’s almost incomprehensible in the capital for all that it means.

Brown owned this town yesterday, and for the foreseeable future. He was shuttled from one Senate leader’s office to the next. He was the star attraction at a Republican lunch. He was the source of some very public presidential angst.

At one point, sitting with John McCain in a photo-op, Brown said, “The reception has been extremely gratifying and made me feel special.’’

Gratifying? Special?

In the glare of attention, that seems to be Brown’s practiced persona - the master of understatement, the consummate everyman. On Capitol Hill, he approached each police officer with the phrase, “Hi, I’m Scott.’’ He bantered with a tall bystander about basketball, then asked a group of clean-cut collegians, “What are you doing here, just hanging?’’

Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, announced at a photo-op that he had already given Brown a pet name - “41,’’ as in the 41st Republican vote. Senate majority leader Harry Reid gushed that the two men both had children with athletic prowess.

McCain said, “He won this campaign because of who he is.’’

John Kerry had, by far, the trickiest task of the five senators who received Brown yesterday. Kerry joked that the two may take part in a triathlon together, but then delivered a minilecture on the importance of health care reform, a program that Brown famously opposes in its current state. Brown smartly kept quiet.

By afternoon, you got the sense Brown could have popped in on the White House if he wanted. If Brown made an utterance about the economy, yesterday’s declining stock market might have reversed itself on the spot.

But he did none of that. Brown was oddly serene at the center of the storm. He used words liked “overwhelming,’’ even while he seemed anything but overwhelmed. He summed up his philosophy as follows - “If I see a bill that’s good for my state, I will vote for it.’’ He said the best advice he’s received is, “Just be myself.’’

Which gets back to the reality show part. It is not outrageous to say that in the annals of US politics, never has one elected officeholder gone from so powerless to all-powerful in a single day. It’s like the pauper who wins the lottery, and sometimes that story doesn’t end so well.

This isn’t normal. The attention may not prove particularly fair. We’re about to learn a lot about this man in a very short time. Right now, he’s being treated like an American Idol. It may end up seeming more like Survivor.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. His email is mcgrory@globe.com.