The Naked White Obama

With his election to the Senate in a staunchly Democratic state, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) has quickly become the Republican Party's presumptive new savior. Even though he is just assuming office, his improbable victory already has people talking about whether he could run for president in four years. The Drudge Report quickly splashed a banner across its homepage reading, "Now... Will He Run for President?" And Brown's rapid rise, natural charisma, and huge number of fans—combined with a nude spread he did in Cosmo almost 30 years ago—led Wonkette to joke that he might be "the naked white Barack Obama." But could Brown really challenge the actual black Obama in 2012?

Sen. Brown may have a future on the national stage. His rise would be no more rapid that Barack Obama's or Sarah Palin's. His ability to win in a Democratic state—and attract the vote of both movement conservatives and moderate Democrats—certainly suggests he has a great deal of potential. But there is also something premature about talk of a Brown presidency. He is like a baseball player who has been tearing up the minor leagues—and a short election against a weak opponent is really the political minor leagues. We don't know if he can succeed at the national level against better opponents who will expose his weaknesses. Remember Bobby Jindal?


Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight sees three possible scenarios for Brown. He might be able to become a enduring partisan anomaly in the Senate, a Republican version of retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who managed to survive as a Democrat in a Republican state. Or Brown might be able to use his current fame to become a national star for the Republican Party. He is, after all, young and telegenic, on top of having won a huge symbolic victory for the party. As Schaller says, Brown just has the look of a presidential candidate. But third possibility is that Brown could be a flash in the pan who fumbles on the national stage and loses his seat in 2012 when a capable, well-prepared Democrat runs against him.

My guess is that Sen. Brown won't be just a flash in the pan. As I wrote yesterday, Sen. Brown enters the Congress as a pivotal figure who can either block the Democrats' agenda or cut a deal with them in exchange for political concessions. That makes him a player on the political scene right away. And while he could easily stumble, he has so far shown himself someone able to avoid major mistakes. Still, what it takes to win in Massachusetts—which, believe it or not, is still a liberal state—is very different than what it would take to become the standard-bearer for the Republican Party. He was able to attract tea party support as a candidate for the Senate in Massachusetts, where anyone further to the right wouldn't have much chance. But, as Boris Schor argues, Brown is will easily be one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress. If he were to run for president, he'd have to move dramatically to the right or conservatives would attack him for being a RINO—a Republican in Name Only. Conservative Glenn Beck has already expressed his doubts about Brown's character. Alluding to that nude photo shoot, Beck said that Brown ought to wear a chastity belt, adding, "This one could end with a dead intern. I’m just saying, it could end with a dead intern."

Sen. Brown could well be the Republican nominee for president someday. But in the end he'll almost certainly have to choose between Massachusetts and the national Republican Party.

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less