Incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown is hell-bent on branding his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor of bankruptcy law, with a scarlet letter: H — for hypocrisy.
Brown's beef? Appeal-court work Warren performed for two corporations: LTV Steel, a conglomerate with coal interests, and Travelers, an insurance giant with a sprawling portfolio that includes asbestos settlements.
Brown charges that Warren abandoned her flock of little people for billable hours: $212,000 for her Travelers' work alone. He caresses this number as if it's a magic amulet, a talisman that will conjure Warren's defeat. "Nearly a quarter of a million dollars," Brown says, breathless at the prospect.
There is a question implicit in Brown's outrage: what's a European-style, Obama-loving, tree-hugging, non-laundry-folding, socialist law professor like Warren doing representing upright, capitalist job creators such as LTV and Travelers?
An equally fascinating question would be: why did a bunch of hard-headed executives hire a non-pickup-driving, pinko lawyer? Could it be that Warren is good?
No one is asking that question.
A shrewd politician, Brown intuited that Warren's professional competence would not be part of any answer, only that she appeared to play against type. Complexity is alien to our attention-deficit culture.
Those of us who savor Brown's skills as a retail politician fear, however, that in pursuing Everyman perfection — pleasing most of the people all of the time and all of the people most of the time; selling himself as just a regular, basketball-playing former male nude model — that the senator may be oversimplifying.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence," F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
To this, Warren must plead, "Guilty. Guilty. Guilty." She's functioning. With luck and a big Bay State win by Barack Obama, Warren may snuff Brown's 25-year political run.
Warren is guilty of acting like a law professor, finding the complicated LTV and Travelers cases sufficiently interesting to take a stab at influencing precedents that shape the law.
That she was well paid was frosting on the cupcake. Prejudice aside, Harvard Law is a hotbed of the profit motive. Despite Warren's inflated claim to have been an inspiration for Occupy, she is a reformer, not a revolutionary.
As such, Warren is broad minded. She has played for both teams. A progressive who doesn't hate capitalists, Warren only wants to reform them.
The heat of the campaign has Brown hot and bothered. As someone who is a bit "bi" himself — as in bipartisan — you'd think that Brown would sympathize with Warren's tendency toward duality.
When Brown committed bipartisanism in plain view by voting to allow gays and lesbians the right to die for their country in uniform, and when he voted for Dodd-Frank financial reform (after making sure it was watered down), Brown was denounced by his Tea Party pals as a RINO — a Republican in Name Only. Ouch.
These days, Brown dodges even the "name only." In the recent debate, he called himself an independent. Is a Volvo in the offing? Does he want to save the trailing arbutus? Are Birkenstocks next?
You would think that Brown's sessions in the family laundry room (memorialized in his television commercials) or the frank discussions Brown held with his crusty Senate boss, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, discussing Washington's abject negativity, would have sensitized Brown, opened his heart.
No. Brown is resolute, virtuous, stoic, a modern-day Seneca, who wears — no doubt — Jockeys under his toga. Rectitude should be his middle name.