It was going so well at the Senate debate in Springfield on Wednesday night. It really was.
The moderator was doing this bizarre thing, only asking questions about policy. Elizabeth Warren acknowledged that Scott Brown had cast some good votes, but he wasn’t a dependable vote for women and the middle class. Scott Brown looked infinitely improved, saying he didn’t want to raise taxes on anyone in these tough times, especially not the vaunted “job creators.”
The tone was fairly civil. The differences were crystal clear. The voters could feel reasonably good about both choices.
And then along came Brown with this little gem: “When I served in Afghanistan…”
Served in Afghanistan? Scott Brown?
Yes, technically, Scott Brown is right. He is a longtime member of the Army National Guard, and as a United States senator, in the summer of 2011, he requested that his annual two weeks of guard training be done in Afghanistan, where he would be located “in the rear with the gear,” according to one analyst at the time.
So Scott Brown “served” in Afghanistan. For less than two weeks. Let’s be honest, it was more like a visit.
His rise through the Guard is something that should earn him respect and appreciation, yet that’s not quite enough for him. He had to stretch reality, to try to put himself on the same plane as thousands of other guardsmen and women who have been called to active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Problem is, he’s not.
Too many of those soldiers have been killed. Others have suffered life-altering injuries. And for those with the good fortune of getting out in the same physical shape that they arrived, there has often been a deep emotional and financial toll. Spouses have been left to raise children on their own, to deal quietly with a war that looms over every part of their life.
These kinds of questionable claims are becoming all too much the norm. When talking about the Dodd-Frank act in the same debate, Brown said, “It never would have passed if I wasn’t the deciding vote on financial reform.” He added, “As you know, I actually made it better.”
Again, technically, yes, he was the deciding vote, though he attempted to loosen the regulations on banks before and after he cast it. But he was on stage with a woman, Warren, who has dedicated years of her life and staked her entire reputation to these kinds of reforms.
It’s like the electrician who installs the decorative switches grabbing credit for work done by the guy who wired the whole house. Who among us hasn’t had somebody take our hard labor, shift some commas, or add a colored chart and claim brilliance?
I want to like Scott Brown, I really do. I respect his moderation, even accepting that his record on important votes is nowhere near as bipartisan as he claims. I like that Massachusetts has a Republican in the delegation. I admire him for rising up from humble and troubled roots.
But then he pulls this stuff so often that you have to think he actually believes it himself, that he served in Afghanistan, that he is responsible for Dodd-Frank, that kings and queens are always waiting outside his door. And in that, there is something decidedly unsettling about the man.
This race is unfolding at two levels. Front and center, it’s about taxes and the role of government. Warren wants the wealthiest to pay more, and for the government to be more active. Brown believes that taxes should be lower for everyone, including the wealthy, and the masses will benefit from that. But the shadow of questionable claims hangs heavy over the campaign. Warren damaged her credibility by her unproven claim to Native American heritage in school directories, the timing of when she listed herself, and why she stopped. Brown, well, Brown shoots himself in the toes constantly with his inflated sense of self.
Voters crave authenticity with their policy. In the final month, the candidate who delivers that will win this race.
McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.