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My Top Five Best Bostonians

Last year I had a stroke of genius, as I often do. There should be a web site, I thought, where everybody can collectively rank the greatest Bostonians of all time, by voting on a battle-generator web site like the Boston Phoenix used to use.

I thought, and still think, that this is just a brilliant, fantastic idea — which does not mean that I thought anybody else in the world would enjoy it. I just thought that I would.

Fortunately for me, the person who most frequently supports my brilliant ideas, even when they might not actually appeal to anybody else, had become editor of Boston Magazine. Thanks to the fantastic Carly Carioli, who I cannot thank enough, and the efforts of many others at BoMag, that site was eventually brought forth into existence.

And now, the official Boston Magazine ranking of the 100 Best Bostonians of all time is out, in print and online. 

I’m pretty damn pleased with the whole thing.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the official list matches my own personal opinions. So, below is my own Top 5 (which will probably also be posted at BoMag).

Feel free to comment or question!

Oh, and go spend some time voting at the site — it’s still up and running, and a lot of fun. At least, it is for me


1. Louis Brandeis
Boston’s greatest have always been about the active pursuit of community justice, and the Kentucky-bred Brandeis exemplified this — against considerable odds, as a Jew.

2. Josiah Quincy III
Boston’s Great Mayor laid the groundwork for the city to become not only highly functional, but tight-knit and intermingling. That has been the basis for much of what has emerged from the city since.

3. Lewis Hayden
If you believe, as I do, that William Lloyd Garrison is a no-brainer Top 10, then what about the black abolitionists who risked far more and received far less recognition? Hayden — another Kentuckian by birth who thrived in Boston — stands out to me as the greatest of a remarkable generation of reformers.

4. Elizabeth Peabody
Advances in education have been among Boston’s greatest contributions to the world — and also one of the foremost reasons that the city has produced so much greatness. With all due respect to her mentor Horace Mann and so many others, Peabody shines brightest of Boston’s education pioneers.

5. James Otis
Of all the revolutionaries, Otis stands out both for the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries in the movement, and how impressive his beliefs and actions look from our 21st century vantage point. (He declared the inalienable rights of blacks in 1764.) His sanity, unfortunately, did not last to the actual revolution, but it might never have happened without him.

Hating On The GOP, From The Right

It’s still too early to say how they’ll actually vote, but so far Republican voters seem to be even more intent than usual on liking an outsider, anti-GOP-establishment Presidential candidate.

To be sure, the Republican rank-and-file have long lusted after a pure-hearted conservative warrior, untainted by the compromising realities of governance, willing to feed the preferred belief that moderation leads the party to certain defeat. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson are politically superior to Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and others before them, but are essentially selling the same thing.

I think their greater success to date stems at least in part to the movement-conservative marketplace’s fundamental incompatibility with a successful Republican Party — which the national GOP has taken great strides towards becoming, in the past few election cycles.

For about a decade I’ve written and talked about the effect of what I call the “movement-conservative marketplace,” which is the vast industry making money off of right wingers. Some of it is familiar to those outside of its influence: FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, the National Rifle Association’s political committee, and the like. But much of it you are less likely to stumble across if you’re not among its consumer base. There is a wide-ranging, multi-billion-dollar industry of political committees, think tanks, publishers, web sites, newsletters, and more. (See this 2009 article for more description of how this works.)

That marketplace thrives on discontent. It requires dangerous enemies to warn against at all times, because that’s what the market rewards. That includes Mexicans at the border, Muslims on the attack, and anti-Christmas warriors; it also must include the politicians failing to protect you against these evils.

It is demonstrably true that this marketplace thrives when Democrats have control of the government; they are the easy and obvious opposition to fight against. The marketplace had a massive growth spurt during the Bill Clinton Presidency, stagnated or declined during the George W. Bush years, and exploded during the 2008 Barack Obama campaign and his subsequent years in office.

But that success — via Republican failure — has been blunted as the GOP has made gains. Since 2010 Republicans have held the majority in the House of Representatives (no more fundraising off evil Speaker Nancy Pelosi!), and most of the state governors’ offices.

And, beginning in January 2015, Republicans held a majority in the US Senate as well. Even the Supreme Court remains majority Republican-appointed.

The only Democrat left with any power, it seems, is Obama. And in his lame-duck final year, even he has a diminished power to generate money-making levels of fear and loathing.

As a result, I would argue, the movement-conservative marketplace has increasingly trained its hyperbolic hatred against Republican politicians (and Justices), for betraying their conservative voters. The vitriol against so-called RINOs is not new by any means, but my sense is that it has increased significantly within the marketplace this year — a year in which the greatest celebration in that marketplace came at the ouster of one of the most successful GOP party-builders of my lifetime, John Boehner.

Consumers of the movement-conservative marketplace have been buffeted all year with animus against the feckless establishment Republicans, who are blamed for failing to stop same-sex marriage, ObamaCare, Planned Parenthood, Syrian refugees, Common Core, debt increases, illegal immigration, the Iran nuclear deal, and any other bogey men in the arsenal.

So, no wonder those same consumers want to be seduced by those standing athwart that Republican establishment.

And, naturally, that same marketplace has been, for months, praising those anti-establishment candidates. Of course they are. Not only do Trump and Cruz better fit the narrative they’ve been weaving all year, but as noted above, the marketplace has a strong vested interest in seeing the least electable Republican seize the nomination.

They’re likely to fare far better, financially, with Hillary Clinton in the White House than with Marco Rubio there.

Again, this is partly just an accelerating trend. As recently as 2010 GOP National Committeeman Ron Kaufman could argue to me with a straight face (though I wasn’t convinced) that Southern Republicans tend to respect the “next in line” order of selecting a nominee. By 2012, Kaufman’s man Mitt Romney was struggling to get 30% in those states, against Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul.

But I think it’s accelerated in part because of the GOP’s success in 2010 and 2014 — and the resulting anti-GOP reaction from the movement-conservative marketplace.

That doesn’t have me convinced that an anti-establishment candidate can actually win the party’s nomination. That remains to be seen. But I think it’s worth considering  as we contemplate the current state of the race.

Quick Look Around

Should be a slow campaign news week — with Christmas coming, the whole week is pretty much a news-dump opportunity.

But slow news weeks mean that those who are paying attention will focus excessively on what little is available. Thus we have much ado about schlonging, Trump’s dickish verbification of a Yiddishism that probably shouldn’t have be thrown in a female candidate’s face.

Trump’s attempt at potty humor also crapped out, as he tried to make sport of Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break and instead offended all peeing voters.

Something tells me this too will pass.

That was more interesting, though, than Lindsey Graham dropping out of the 2016 Presidential race yesterday, to nobody’s surprise. He had pretty clearly run just to get to speak in a few nationally televised debates, and last week’s (early JV warm-up debate) was almost certainly the last he’ll be invited to.

Probably more important: CNN’s Teddy Schleifer tweets that “Steve Chartan, the chief strategist for the House Freedom Caucus, is joining Ted Cruz’s official staff as Legislative Director.”

Cruz is doing a very good job of consolidating the evangelical and Tea Party conservatives, which should make him a very strong force in the delegate-heavy Southern primaries.

And, no surprise in this news about Clinton’s oppo research , but I just need to say that Team Hillary’s limitless devotion to sleezy David Brock baffles me.

Least edifying thing in the 2016 Presidential campaign yesterday: World Net Daily asked Phyllis Schlafly whether Donald Trump is the last hope for America.

Oh and the FDA came out with a less-discriminatory but still discriminatory rule on taking blood from The Gayz.

Anything else you want me to comment on?

Back To Blogging

Hey folks, I’m going to really try to get back to blogging for 2016. Aren’t you lucky! (Maybe I’ll even get around to redesigning it to look decent. We’ll see.)

Be sure to let me know what types of things you’d like to see me use this space for. I’m sure I’ll be commenting on the Presidential campaign, other political action, and policy matters.

And, I’ll point to where you can read or hear my verbiage elsewhere. For example, today you can read my latest “Dateline DC” column at WGBH News. I wrap up last week’s passage of the omnibus and tax extenders package, from the perspective of the New England delegations.

By the way, some of you may have already received the January, 2016 issue of Boston Magazine, with the “Best Bostonians” feature that I’ve been working on for quite some time. I’ll have more to say on that, but let me know your thoughts!

Anyway… watch this space, as they say.

Today In Mitt: Misunderstood

Lots of digital ink has been spilled today about Mitt Romney’s new stab at authenticity, in the afterglow of his speech last night at Mississippi State University. Denizens of Romneyland are lamenting that, last time around, voters never really got to know the real Mitt, and rejoicing the appearance of the genuine article.

That’s nothing new: the same refrain has played after every one of his campaigns — including his 1994 run for US Senate, in which Ted Kennedy portrayed him as a cruel-hearted job-killing plutocrat. Even his one successful campaign, for governor in 2002, was later re-invented as a misunderstanding: a conservative mistaken for a moderate.

Repudiating the previous Romney is always part of the media strategy for re-branding the product for new times and circumstances. Sometimes, the new Romney marketing rings true to those who know him, for a while. That only lasts until the marketing strategy shifts again.

My favorite example came in early 2011, with the campaign-oriented release of the paperback version of No Apology. When the hardcover came out the previous year, Romneyites were thrilled at what they thought was a shift back to the Mitt they know. But, that was before the Tea Party movement shook up the GOP, routing establishment candidates in 2010 primaries, and signalling that the successful Republican Presidential nominee would need to embrace the hard populist right, which Romney had distanced himself from a year earlier. As I wrote at the time:

Romney certainly appears to be targeting those voters in the paperback’s new introduction, in which he bemoans the “elite” liberals’ destruction of everything the Founding Fathers stood for — especially “freedom,” a word that appears 25 times in the introduction. “Constitution” shows up 11 times. The Tea Party gets mentioned by name, as does the Glenn Beck–promoted 9/12 movement — even Joe the Plumber gets a shout-out.

The friends of Mitt who had been seeing the real Romney a year earlier could only shake their heads and shrug their shoulders when I asked about this new language coming from him.

It’s worth noting, as Romney rolls out more of his anti-poverty platform, that the original No Apology, supposedly a great insight into his true priorities, has almost nothing to say about the problem. The book includes exactly one paragraph noting that, despite the poverty-busting effects of free-market capitalism, “our record is not perfect.” He notes that “Far too many American families live below the poverty line,” especially racial minorities. He even observes “a growing gap between the highest-earning households and the lowest” — which he partly attributes to college education.

In another section of the book, he goes on at length about the cultural harm done by out-of-wedlock births. In that section he seems to imply a link with poverty, though he doesn’t make it explicit  and clearly doesn’t quite believe it. Elsewhere (in rejecting the link between economic circumstances and need for higher school spending) Romney argues that “child poverty has actually declined and child health has improved” in recent decades — the same time frame over which out-of-wedlock births surged, to his dismay.

In any event, poverty is addressed nowhere in Romney’s 64 action steps for America, listed at the end of the book. Nor is poverty mentioned anywhere in his “Index of Leading Leading Indicators,” which he puts forward for identifying the country’s strength and progress.

Poverty, simply put, has never been a high priority of Romney’s until now. Does that make his sudden interest in it inauthentic? No more than anything else candidates prioritize on the campaign trail. But it’s at least a little telling that its absence from his rhetoric in 2010 didn’t strike anyone as inauthentic.


Today In Mitt: I Was Nice To The Poor Once

The front page of Tuesday’s Washington Post has the latest take on how Mitt Romney hopes to achieve, in his 2016 Presidential campaign, the “authenticity” that has eluded him for his entire political career. As this and other reporting has made clear, Romney is sad that last time out,voters perceived him as indifferent to the sufferings of those less well-off than he. To convince them otherwise, he intends to emphasize the good works he did as bishop of his local Massachusetts ward of the Mormon church.

He demonstrated that approach in his only big public appearance since jumping into the 2016 fray: a speech aboard the USS Midway, at the Republican National Committee gathering in San Diego.

It’s a telling approach. Here you have a man who has been in the public eye for many years, forced to hark back to a period of his life some three decades ago for evidence of his concern for the disadvantaged.

Romney’s pastoral role with his Belmont congregation ended in 1986; he then served as president of the Boston Stake until 1994, when he ran for US Senate.

Observers, who are likely to view Romney’s anti-poverty crusade cynically as an attempt to re-brand from the 2012 “47%” disaster, may understandably wonder what the man’s been doing for the poor lately. Surely a man with his wealth, power, influence, and prestige — and, let’s face it, free time — could have started some sort of charitable foundation or institute or something. If Bill Clinton and George W. Bush could do it…. heck, even John Edwards did it, and he took inauthenticity to heights even Romney couldn’t scale.

There is, in my view, a fundamental barrier here. Romney, I would argue, can be very compassionate and generous to those in need. There are plenty of illustrative stories; he has also, to the best of my understanding, given great sums of wealth to charitable causes.

But, those efforts are directed almost exclusively toward those with whom he has a clear connection — one of his own, you might say. That usually means members of his church, although occasionally the connections are through his place of residence, or his workplace, or his friendships.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, or even terribly unusual. But I believe it has long made it very difficult for him to convince people that he cares about anybody outside of his personal circles.

That’s problematic, but especially so when those circles — the extremely wealthy, and members of the Mormon church — are viewed as quite small, atypical, and somewhat foreign to most people.

Welcome To My New Blog Site

This here is my new personal blog site, and welcome to it. Please do whatever it is you do to ensure that you come back to read stuff here. I’ll try to make the site a little more visually and navigationally appealing, I promise.

My previous personal blog site has disappeared, along with the posts, due to some nonsense with my site host company. Ah well. At least I still have hard copies of throwaway items I wrote for long-defunct publications two decades ago.

After nearly 30 years in the Boston area, I have recently moved to Richmond, Virginia, where I will continue to stumble my way through another phase of my journalistic career. The results of that stumbling will likely dictate my use of this site; for now, I intend to give links to my work elsewhere, and to post thoughts and observations that have no other outlet.

In part, I hope to use this site to continue what I’m told is called “community-building.” In this process I try to suck people like you ever further into my orbit, in hopes that you will then follow my directional prompts around the Internet, which will somehow bring monetary remuneration to me.

But really, I just want to try to get a little bit closer to the truth about things that I find interesting or important, and try to pass that along to as many people as I can get my words in front of.

So please, join my community, read my words, and of course send me all your hot tips and juicy rumors.