Scott Brown's glad that Elizabeth Warren didn't pose nude like he did. Sexism, or just stupid?

Photos: Getty ImagesPhotos: Getty ImagesTechnically, no one threw the first punch. But now Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and his likely Democratic rival, financial reform watchdog Elizabeth Warren, are dodging the blows.

In 1982, as a college student, Brown posed nude for a photo spread in Cosmopolitan magazine, a decision he said he has never regretted since it helped pay for college, helped him meet his wife, and helped him mend his relationship with his father. In a Democratic primary debate on Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, a student panelist asked Warren: "To help pay for his law school education, Scott Brown posed for Cosmo. How did you pay for your college education?"

Warren replied, "I kept my clothes on."

Brown's response came the next day, when he was on a WZLX-FM radio show. After chatting on air about hot tub hopping, Sarah Palin, and unemployment, radio host Kevin Karlson asked: "Have you officially responded to Elizabeth Warren's comment about how she didn't take her clothes off?"

"Thank God," Brown said, laughing. (You can listen to the broadcast here.)

Though Warren herself brushed off the remark ("You know, I'll survive a few jabs from Scott Brown over my appearance," she told The Boston Herald), others were outraged.

"This is the kind of sexist misogynistic attack that we have very sadly come to expect from politicians whenever there is a strong woman who is capable and really dedicated to the betterment of all the people," Terry O'Neill, president of National Organization for Women, told Politico, adding that Brown should consider giving up his Senate seat and issue "an apology to the women of Massachusetts."

The joke didn't sit well with conservatives, either.

"What a dumb thing to say," said Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, told the Boston Herald. He says that Brown, formerly a Tea Party favorite, has alienated many of his former supporters because he's been too moderate.

Brown tried to backpedal immediately, telling Karlson: "Bottom line is, you know, I didn't go to Harvard, you know, I went to the school of hard knocks, and I did whatever I had to do to pay for school.... Mom and dad married and divorced four times each and some real challenges growing up, you know, whatever. You know, let her throw stones."

But the issue isn't about elitism. (Besides, Warren didn't go to Harvard either, though she teaches there now. She earned her bachelors degree from the University of Houston and her law degree from Rutgers; Brown went to Tufts University and then to Boston College Law School.) It's not about liberalism versus conservatism, though it'll be fodder for all of them as well.

The issue, really, is about double standards.

If Warren had been the one in a racy magazine spread, it would have been held up as an example of her bad judgement, it would have been considered representative of her morals and values, it would have been scrutinized for flaws, and it if it didn't get displayed during a debate it certainly would have appeared, delicately blurred, in a political ad or two.

Was Brown's quip sexist? Sure. Was the question posed to Warren unfair to Brown? I think it was. Should a candidate's physical appearance even be an issue at all? Of course not.

Can we get back to the politics, please?

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