AGAINST ALL ODDS: MY LIFE OF HARDSHIP, FAST BREAKS, AND SECOND CHANCES
By Scott Brown
HarperCollins, $27.99, 325 pages
“I was always in trouble, at home, in school,” writes Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown. “I seemed to gravitate to it, as if it had tentacles that it could unfurl and draw me in … .” Well, yes, come to think of it: shoplifting; arson, if of an accidental nature; a father who abandoned the family; an emotionally unstable mother; abusive stepfathers; poverty. “By the time I turned eighteen, I had moved seventeen times and lived in at least twelve different homes.”
The hard-times memoir is something of a modern literary staple: the struggle for life and meaning bringing about self-realization, growth and, at last, success. The story of Scott Brown, who last year, to a nation’s amazement, won the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated upon Edward M.Kennedy’s death, out-Algers Horatio. You think folk like Frank McCourt had it tough? Try, for instance, Mr. Brown’s account of daily pursuit by a teenage boy whose sexual advances he had spurned. It became a routine. The kid and his fellow pursuers “should have gotten me, but they never did. I became a runner then, and every afternoon became a race that I had to win.”
It was possibly a more dramatic race, if possible, than the one Mr. Brown ran years later for the Senate against Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general whose ultimate victory everyone seemed to take for granted. Apart, that is, from Scott Brown, a Cosmopolitan-posing truck-driving ex-basketballer and National Guardsman - a bloke handsome and chiseled enough that the magazine, so to speak, unveiled him in a photo shoot as “America’s Sexiest Man.” Mr. Brown’s tales of the Cosmo hurly-burly are unlikely to brook comparison with the reminiscences, should any be forthcoming, of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch.
The guy, who was the guy he was because of the odd and turbulent life he led, clicked with voters just when they were ready to be clicked with for reasons that doubtless varied but may have had disillusionment as a common denominator. He worked his derriere off, driving the state in his own truck: “working two phones, stuffing a piece of pizza into my mouth, sometimes even maneuvering the steering wheel with my knees.” The voters ate it up. The seat he wasn’t supposed to win, he won by 100,000 votes. “You ran a hell of a race,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden said in a congratulatory phone call. Thereby hangs a tale - of what?
The memoir of a politician with barely a year of service to his credit is almost by definition a dicey proposition - though Barack Obama managed to pull it off. I think we pass over authorship questions as irrelevant to the main point, which is, in the present instance, what’s the meaning of Scott Brown?
The first thing to say is that “Against All Odds” has an appealingly racy quality to it: some naughtiness but not too much; nothing to make you wish Ms. Coakley had won or might the next time around. The book is well-constructed, and it moves, never wasting the reader’s valuable time. Parts, I judge - maybe a number of parts - would make a pretty good TV series.
A memoirist may come under suspicions of gilding particular lilies, but Mr. Brown comes across here as a regular guy, a nice one: capable, perforce, of outreach to generic nice guys at the electoral level waiting to reward a candidate with genuine affection. One doubts that Ted Kennedy, the last couple of decades he served, was that candidate - but, of course, it didn’t matter. He was Ted Kennedy.
The reason the Brown phenomenon titillates nonresidents of the Bay State is the question it provokes: Does such a guy show the way for linking the party of Wall Street to the pool hall, the basketball stands and the PTA meeting? Because, if it does, Mr. Brown, with his very weird background but also his dash and charm, could prove transformative in the sense for which Mr. Obama was believed to yearn. The more so because of Mr. Brown’s ideas. The last part of the book is where to harvest these. They are genuinely conservative ideas:
“I’m a staunch fiscal conservative, a committed tax cutter, tough on national security” - though not to be counted on for lockstep marching with the party.
“We have too many laws, and we don’t need more of them. I have always felt that we need to get rid of some of our laws and streamline the ones we keep, and we need to better enforce the laws that we have.
“I believe in a strong military. I believe that Americans are a dynamic, vibrant people and nation. We are a force for good at home and abroad.”
Perhaps inevitably, therefore: “I … think often of the man who shaped my youthful decisions and still deeply inspires me, Ronald Reagan. He possessed confidence, uncommon vision, and most of all, optimism.”
Ahead for Scott Brown lies … what? Well, of course, the challenge of winning re-election. The odds seem pretty good at that. And then? Republicans as they plot their post-2012 course likely will keep very much in mind the appeal of a conservative senator - proved in one GOP-unfriendly venue already - who once posed for Cosmopolitan and wants to cut taxes. Not even the formidable Ted Kennedy could ever have imagined such.
William Murchison is a syndicated columnist.