As some research has suggested about debates, they may not do much to actually move an election. They certainly can, but not always. To that end, they are an opportunity for challengers to be an equal footing to the incumbent. In any of the Senate debates, that plays to Elizabeth Warren’s favor, although her celebrity already puts her on equal footing. Beyond that debates are an opportunity, especially for local television, to produce short pithy clips that make the candidate look good.
(Before you think this too cynical, it must be mentioned that they are also opportunities to actually challenge candidates and extract answers.)
Two of those shout-outs Scott Brown did last night stand out and both betray both cynicism and at times dishonesty on his part.
The first is Brown’s mention of being a card-carrying union member. This union card is said to be with SAG-AFTRA, which was formed by the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Actors. It dates back to his time as a model. The entertainment industry remains a stronghold for unions, but they were almost certainly stronger in the 1980’s, which probably necessitated Brown’s signing up.
In any case, Brown makes this claim to be a union member, but does not clarify it. The only point is to throw it out there for union members and union households who ignore their leadership, but nevertheless still care about their union and/or solidarity at work. While SAG-AFTRA has a Boston local, the line would probably not be as effective as if Brown advertised it was an actors union as opposed to construction or machinists. This is especially true, if not ironic, since the state Republican party has demonized Warren’s Hollywood supporters, who, too are largely SAG-AFTRA members.
This is not a dig at union actors or SAG-AFTRA, not at all. But the point of Brown claiming union status is to show a connection to union workers. Yet, as cannot be said often enough, Brown has voted to hurt union members. He did so most directly by voting to neuter the NLRB and to void an NRLB rule that would end union election delays that violate the spirit of the Labor Relations Act.
However, there is another question to be asked on this that could undercut Brown further. Is Brown actually a member is good standing? He very well could be, but we do not know. SAG-AFTRA’s communications director, Pam Greenwalt said they could neither confirm or deny membership, calling it a personal and private matter. However, Greenwalt did say that to be a member in good standing despite probably twenty years without work in the industry, a member would need to be current with dues. Has Scott Brown been paying his dues and if so can why and can we see proof?
Even if he has been current, it does not change the fact that Brown is intentionally misleading by implying a solidarity and, of course, his trademark everymanhood that simply is not reflected in his record. By not being forthright about it, he insults union workers, both actors and non-actors alike with such a canned, vapid statement. I say that coming from a union household that just got through very stressful and tumultuous contract negotiations.
The other point that Brown threw out into the universe, perhaps under pressure in the debate or possibly as a scripted escape hatch, is his non-committal stance on Mitch McConnell being majority leader.
Brown said he would not commit to Republican Senate Leader and that he has made clear that he is not happy about the way McConnell runs things. Brown of course gave no indication what he has demanded from McConnell and in all likelihood never will.
However, whatever Brown can or would demand in exchange for his “vote” for McConnell as Majority Leader, may be immaterial. To being, it is shamelessly dishonest to say Brown will not vote for McConnell (McConnell has more leverage as he could easily give Brown poor committee assignments given Brown’s relatively low seniority). More importantly, however, there may not be any vote that Brown can actually leverage.
According to one Capitol Hill staffer I emailed, there is no formal vote for majority leader. Rather, senators line up according to party affiliation and/or party with which they caucus. At that point, the Vice-President, the Constitutional “Leader” of the Senate, recognizes the leader of the majority party as the majority leader.
Brown has done this dance once at the beginning of 2011, so it is not new to him. However, it is likely different from Beacon Hill, where he would have voted for his party’s leader in the House and the Senate. The winner of that vote then becomes the formal head and face of the respective body in addition to the majority party’s leader.
Whatever Brown is thinking, there will only be one opportunity for Brown to actually hold McConnell to account: before the Senate gavels into session and leaders of the parties are selected. At that vote, informal and in caucus, Brown would be laughably outnumbered by other Republicans and would competing with others, like Rand Paul and Jim DeMint, who would probably want McConnell to go further right and more nihilist.
In other words, unless Brown actually threatened to quit the Republican party and then caucus with Dems (unless he wants to pull an Angus King), he would have almost zero leverage with McConnell.
All together, this exposes Brown for tossing out a comment that was intended to be digested by the “moderate middle.” However, like many of his statements, actions, and votes, it is an empty gesture to voters, and in this case, an impotent threat to McConnell.