The Atlantic

The Throwback Democrat

Sherrod Brown could help his party win back white working-class voters—but he’s out of sync with the mercilessness of American politics.
Source: Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Ordinarily, Senator Sherrod Brown isn’t given to high rhetoric. He speaks in a guttural rumble that acts as a physical restraint on flights of oratory. His graying, incorrigibly unruly hair imposes a check against self-importance. He tosses out self-deprecatory throwaway lines that show an appreciation of political absurdity (“If you go to Nevada and you say Ne-vah-da, you’re disqualified”). His manner—open, unpretentious, amused—reflects his political values, which have something to do with individual dignity and human solidarity.

When we spoke recently, he explained those values by quoting three sources. The first was the Bible, Matthew 25—the story of the sheep and the goats, in which Jesus separates the righteous from the unrighteous according to whether they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, tended the sick, and visited the imprisoned: “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Brown has always loved this passage, but in one way it troubled him. The notion of “the least of these” offended his egalitarianism. He couldn’t imagine a great religious leader,

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