Ah, Scotty, the tea party hardly knew ye.
After he won the late Ted Kennedy's seat and broke the Democrats' lock on the U.S. Senate, Scott Brown was hailed a hero by his backers in the anti-tax tea party movement. But that was then.
More recently, tea party pots have been boiling with rage against the Massachusetts Republican by way of blog posts, editorials and messages to his Facebook page.
"His career as a senator of the people lasted slightly longer than the shelf life of milk," Shelby Blakely, executive director of the New Patriot Journal and host of an Internet radio show affiliated with the Tea Party Patriots, told the Boston Globe. "The general mood of the tea party is, 'We put you in, and we'll take you out in 2012.' "
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How quickly the bloom is off the rose. What did Brown do that was so wrong? He voted for bills backed by President Obama to stimulate jobs and overhaul financial regulation. For the conservative hard-liners, just voting for anything backed by Obama would be enough.
Brown says he's only being what he promised, an independent-thinking conservative. But, like other hard-liner movements, tea partiers want independent thinkers who do not think too independently.
As a result, Brown is being punished for doing the right thing, trying to serve his constituents in ways that can help him get re-elected without hurting the rest of the country.
The backlash against Brown says a lot about how seriously the tea partiers want to deal with real problems. Or perhaps, as Rush Limbaugh famously declared, they simply want Obama to fail.
Brown won in an unusual surge against incumbents in a special election at the height of the health care debate. But now that the dust has settled, he votes like a Republican senator who hopes to be re-elected in a state so liberal that conservatives call it "Tax-a-chusetts."
The Globe reported recently that he voted 84 percent of the time with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, which was about the same as his record as a state legislator. But when issues like jobs and the financial reform bill came up, he refused to simply vote "no" as a partisan reflex.
He sided with Democrats on the jobs bill, much to the consternation of conservatives. He opposed the financial reform, at first, as too costly and even joined an unsuccessful Republican filibuster to stop Democrats from starting debate on it. But he also submitted amendments to improve it.
In the end, he voted in favor of it after negotiating changes with the help of Democrats like Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. John Kerry. Both come from his home state, but neither has a name that will bring cheers at a tea party rally.
To his credit, Brown asked for changes that would help his state without being specific only to his state. He avoided the sort of special targeted favors that brought ridicule and outrage upon some Democratic senators during the health care debate. He did open himself up to the charge from some wags that he was "just another Washington politician" cutting deals, but it is doubtful that his deals will upset many of his constituents.
As a result, the Brown backlash shows how partisan ideology is at odds with something commonly known as "common sense," although the meaning of that term is too often distorted by various partisans.
Common sense tells us that working across the aisle in the public's interest is no vice. Common sense says the country needs jobs and Wall Street needs to be regulated like any other major casino.
Common sense also says that New Englanders don't vote like, say, Georgians. That makes the Brown backlash an important test case for national Republicans. After Obama's victory, GOP leaders like McConnell openly complained that they were becoming a regional party. Brown helps to bring new hope.
Now Republicans want to benefit from tea party energy without being dragged back into isolation as a regional Party of No — or as Sarah Palin puts it, "the Party of Hell No!"
About a third of the electorate nationally describes itself as independent, unwilling to declare allegiance to either party. Most voters, I would argue, care less about who's right or left than about what works. That's common sense. Or at least it should be.