Scott Brown can't win.
That is not to say that the first-term Republican senator from Massachusetts can't win re-election in November—although demographics alone make the race a tough one for Brown. But the man who shocked the political world by winning the seat held by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is unfairly being the victim of an environment in which he can do no right by the people who want him replaced.
The issue for Brown is the "recess' appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog agency created under the Dodd-Frank financial services regulation law. The appointment is controversial because Republicans contend (rightly) that the Senate is not actually in official "recess, so President Obama can't make a recess appointment, circumventing Senate confirmation. The White House contends (rightly) that Senate Republicans have been threatening to filibuster any nominee to the post, even someone as well-qualified as Cordray, since they don't like the idea of the agency and don't want anyone to run it. The matter gets more complicated for Brown, who represents a still-very-Democratic state, and who is expected to face in November Democrat Elizabeth Warren, Obama's initial pick to run the bureau. Senate Republicans thwarted her nomination, and now Brown may end up running against her, if she wins the primary.
Brown, bucking his GOP leadership, backed the appointment of Cordray, even though he penned a letter in 2010 urging Obama not to bypass the Senate confirmation process. In a statement, Brown said:
I support President Obama's appointment today of Richard Cordray to head the CFPB. I believe he is the right person to lead the agency and help protect consumers from fraud and scams.
If we're going to make progress as a nation, both parties in Washington need to work together to end the procedural gridlock and hyper-partisanship.
Democrats could have said thank you to Brown. They could have said, gee, we still want a Democrat in your job next year, but it's encouraging that while you are still in your job as a U.S. senator, you are helping to advance the work of an agency we think it critical to protecting consumer rights. Instead, party re-election officials questioned whether Brown's decision was really about political expediency. (Warren's campaign, in a statement to the Boston Herald, declined to take a direct shot at Brown for his decision.)
Maybe it was a political decision. Who cares? You can't have it both ways, railing against the opposition for voting in a way you don't like, but then condemning them for agreeing with you, calling it a political calculation.
Brown is hardly the only victim of this mentality. President Obama is frequently the target of opponents who refuse to credit him with achieving things they themselves wanted. Osama bin Laden is killed by Navy Seals under Obama's order, and opponents slam him for daring to use the word "I in his low-key speech announcing the development. Unemployment goes down substantially between November and December, and GOP officials say the numbers aren't real, since the hires were seasonal. Unemployment, somewhat surprisingly, went down again from December to January, and critics say that isn't real, either, since discouraged people have stopped looking for work. Can't we just have a nonpartisan party over the fact that bin Laden is dead and unemployment is creeping down?
Democrats want to beat Scott Brown, and they don't need to apologize for that; that's politics. But Brown should not be slammed.