As a politician, about the only thing Scott Brown was really, truly good at was working a room.
He wasn’t a policy wonk. He wasn’t a gifted orator. And if he had any deeply held political beliefs, they remained largely a mystery. This made “US Senator from whichever New England state happened to have a vacancy” a bit of an awkward fit.
But Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa? Hosting fancy banquets and glad-handing bureaucrats in countries we were almost certainly not going to start bombing? Surely, this was in Scott Brown’s wheelhouse.
It took Brown literally one day in Samoa to botch the job President Trump had appointed him to do. On Wednesday, in a video interview with New Zealand news outlet Stuff, Brown acknowledged that the State Department had investigated his behavior during a Peace Corps banquet he attended during his first visit to Samoa in July.
The specific allegations are pretty hard to parse, and unless something more damning emerges, it’s difficult to view Brown’s actions as much more than mildly embarrassing. Brown said he and his wife were welcoming people to the gala and both remarked on how beautiful and handsome everyone looked. Even in a world that is rightly and hearteningly more attuned than ever to sexual harassment, it’s difficult to see how that’s offensive. (If anything, Brown’s explanation — that in the receiving line outside, people had been “all, like, dirty and kinda grungy” — made things sound worse.)
Another complaint, Brown said, involved his attempt to compliment a member of the waitstaff by telling her she could make hundreds of dollars working overseas. It’s somewhat easier to see how this could be problematic. Telling someone in a foreign land that they could make a lot of money in the modern metropolis where you’re from sounds like the sort of paternalistic plantation mindset that has always rubbed the world the wrong way. But in Brown’s telling, which is all we really have to go on here, it sounds at worst like typical oblivious tourist buffoonery.
The problem is that you don’t want an oblivious tourist from New Hampshire (or was it Massachusetts?) bumbling his way through diplomatic relations — even in parts of the world that don’t pray for our destruction. If given the choice, you’d rather not have someone wandering around Samoa asking everybody if they’ve seen “Moana” or met The Rock. But that’s Scott Brown, and he’s just doing Scott Brown things: Hosting parties, shaking every hand, telling everybody they look nice. Nobody imagined that he’d suddenly morph into a graceful statesman willing and able to embrace local customs.
In the video, Brown suggested that politics drove the complaints against him, which is certainly possible, given his boss’s less-than-auspicious standing around the world. But he also expressed a reasonable understanding of the notion that different cultures, even those that share a language, receive things in different ways.
After the investigation, he said, he was told: “‘You know, listen, you’re not Scott Brown from Rye, New Hampshire, anymore. You’re an ambassador and you have to be culturally aware of different cultures and different sensitivities.’”
Ideally, an ambassador would know this before being appointed, but here we are. At least he’s not telling people he’s from Massachusetts.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.