Scott Brown's Shameful Campaign

Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, left, shakes hands with his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren prior to debate sponsore
Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, left, shakes hands with his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren prior to debate sponsored by the Boston Herald at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, Mass., Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Scott Brown may be the best-looking guy running for office anywhere in the country. He's got a compelling personal story rooted in economic hardships he overcame with a cum laude degree from an elite university and a JD from Boston College.

He's also a Republican with a record of bipartisanship at a time when our partisan Congress has a public approval rating lower than Bobby Valentine.

In an era of cool media, Brown has what it takes to be red hot, which makes the campaign he's running against Elizabeth Warren puzzling if not downright disgusting. But let's start with puzzling.

Instead of stepping up to champion mainstream Republican values like economic growth and strong national defense, Brown has crafted a grand theme for his campaign that blends two ugly ideas: race baiting and anti-intellectualism.

It's a defensive political crouch that appeals to an aging, small-minded electorate. It's also the type of thinking that worries traditional conservatives who know it could marginalize the Grand Old Party into a regional caucus dominated by uneducated whites in the Old South and High Plains states.

The surprising thing about Brown's strategy is that it lacks nuance. Personal attacks like this typically come in ways that give the candidate plausible deniability -- as whisper efforts from the state party office or as direct mail or push polls funded by a special interest group.

Not this time. Brown is throwing these punches himself.

His charge in the debate this week that Warren is "taking something that is really meant for somebody who has been truly disadvantaged" builds on the allegation he used to open their first debate, when he claimed Warren "checked the box claiming she was Native American, and [pause... stare in her direction] clearly she is not."

(For the record, Warren stands by her claim, and Brown doesn't dispute it. Brown's beef seems to be that we all should be able to look at her -- just look at her -- and be able to tell that enough generations have passed, enough remarrying has occurred, that she's white now, and she's used that ancestral fluke unfairly to get ahead of the rest of us, because we aren't lucky enough to have a box to check.)

It's the same filthy fire Jesse Helms stoked in 1990 with the ad against Harvey Gantt that featured a set of white hands crumpling a rejection letter as a narrator claimed: "You needed that job, and you were best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority."

America is bigger and better than this, and Brown should be ashamed -- ashamed to question a fellow citizen's family and heritage without proof something is demonstrably wrong, and ashamed that members of his staff went to a Warren rally to disrupt it with racist fake war hoops and tomahawk chops.

Immature stunts like that -- even when the candidate distances himself from them afterward -- have their intended effect. They push the offensive narrative deeper and more concretely into the consciousness of the voters, and Brown knows it.

They also divide Americans and stoke race-based resentment that does nothing to create one more job or educate one more child in the state he serves.

Which brings us to Brown's anti-intellectualism.

Needling Warren by calling her "professor" over-and-over is about as juvenile as his staff's fake-Indian antics. It's the kind of teasing that hormone-driven junior high boys use to get attention from smart girls they have secret crushes on.

It's also a subtle way Brown is reinforcing his message that Warren is "the Other," someone who probably has some strange ideas the rest of us don't understand. Someone we can't quite trust. Someone who might secretly check that box.

There's a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in American politics. Demagogues portray intellectuals as arrogant eggheads or as foreigners with radical ethnic politics and little empathy for average working-class folks. Journalists treat them with suspicion and scorn. And fundamentalists argue that they are mentally instable and that a casual organic connection exists between genius and atheism.

Karl Rove may not be Brown's consultant, but Brown is running a classic Rovian campaign. He is going directly at Warren's strength and trying to put her on the defensive. Warren's academic background and the professional work she's done for consumers give Massachusetts voters a sharp contrast to the affable conservative Brown has a reputation of being and the disappointing campaigner he has become.

We saw in the debate this week that there are sharp differences on issues like the DREAM Act, Supreme Court appointments and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Unfortunately, the low road Brown has taken has overshadowed the debate on real issues that affect the lives of real people.

Scott Brown should be ashamed of himself. And Elizabeth Warren should be the next senator from Massachusetts.