Brown-Warren debate: ‘I’m not a student in your classroom,’ or how not to zing

Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) did himself no favors in last night’s debate with his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, but he might have done Mitt Romney one.

Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, left, gestures as he answers a question during a debate against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, right, sponsored by the Boston Herald at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, Mass., Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. At center is moderator David Gregory. (AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Matt Stone, Pool)
Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, left, gestures as he answers a question during a debate against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, right. (AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Matt Stone, Pool)

According to the New York Times, Romney has spent months polishing and rehearsing some of the “zingers” he hopes to spring on  President Obama in their first presidential debate on Wednesday.

And on Monday, Brown helpfully provided an example of how not to zing: After Warren gave a long, three-part answer, plus “icing” for a total of four, about how Brown has been less bipartisan than advertised in voting against jobs bills, he let loose with this: “Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom. Please let me respond.”

Brown routinely addresses Warren as “Professor,” and misses no opportunity to remind voters that Warren teaches at Harvard, but that line seemed both churlish and defensive. In asking, in effect, that she stop patronizing him, he put himself in the role of a subordinate demanding to be taken seriously by the boss. And worse, he again undercut the “nice guy” image that has been such an asset.

The verbal equivalent of stomping his foot, it was an interesting reversal of a gender stereotype, but not too senatorial.

Neither Warren nor Brown could or would name someone on the other side of the aisle they could actually work with in the U.S. Senate; Warren named Indiana Republican Dick Lugar, who lost his primary to tea party favorite and state treasurer Richard Mourdock, and won’t be there next year.

And Brown appeared to show he has catholic taste in Supreme Court justices, at first naming Antonin Scalia as his idea of the ideal, then when that drew boos, adding that “Justice Kennedy is obviously very good, and Justice Roberts, Justice Sotomayor — I think they are qualified people who actually do a very good job.”

Encouraged to pick just one, he declined: “We have plenty of justices up there, and I’m proud of the ones we have.”

Warren’s answer mostly showed that she’s not afraid of flying her Harvard flag; she named Elena Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law.

 Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

 

 

 

 

 
Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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Diana Reese | October 1, 2012