July 2, 2017

Mariano: Choose your words carefully; obscene, crude language is bad enough without making it worse.

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Wikimedia Commons / Tim Pierce

Jim McGovern (seen here with Elizabeth Warren and Tim Murray at a 2012 Warren campaign event in Auburn) is as far from a "corrupt" politician as it gets, says Ray Mariano.

Editor’s note: Please continue to enjoy this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor, and be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.

Ray Mariano

When I think of some of the colorful names I have been called by readers of this column who have disagreed with something I wrote, I almost don’t know where to start. Some of those names include the “f-word” followed by words like stupid, moron and retarded.

Who knows, maybe they are right.

Unfortunately, this kind of crude language has become all too commonplace. When I first started in politics, almost no one would ever use language like that – especially in writing. Today, there seems to be no line people are not willing to cross. Anything goes – the more inflammatory, the better.

But even if you believe that obscene, crude language is acceptable, you should draw the line when it comes to calling someone a crook, a criminal or corrupt. Those words have a legal meaning and if used often enough can ruin a good person’s reputation.

Last week’s Mariano: Breaking down District 5 council candidates

Of course, we have all seen and read about some incredible and obvious examples of corruption by public officials. One of the most outrageous was a Massachusetts state senator caught on camera stuffing $100 bills into her bra. She went to jail.

There have certainly been numerous other examples of public corruption — of elected and appointed officials finding ways to stuff money into their pockets and violate the public’s trust. But these criminals are a tiny fraction of the honorable men and women who serve in government. I spent nearly 40 years in public service, and I can honestly say that most of the people I have served with are decent, honorable men and women.

But that has not stopped people from throwing the words “corrupt” or “corrupt politician” around without regard to the consequences. In almost every instance, when these words are used, they are used inaccurately.

It is disheartening to read the posts on social media that scream about corruption and conflicts of interest when what people really should be saying is, I cannot believe that guy just voted for X, Y or Z.

And as far as “corrupt career politicians” go, who the heck do you think put these people in office? They certainly did not get there on their own. The people put them there – those of us who actually took the time to vote.

When someone is found to have violated the law, people have a right to be angry. But no one has the right to accuse someone of being a “corrupt politician” just because they do not like the way that person voted, or because someone has been in office for a long time.

In 2010, state Sen. Harriette Chandler’s opponent, Republican Bill Higgins, falsely accused the senator of corruption, bribe-taking and other campaign-related crimes. Unlike most people in office, Chandler happens to have a brilliant trial lawyer she has coffee with in her kitchen every morning. Immediately following the election, Chandler’s husband, attorney Buddy Chandler, slapped Higgins with a defamation lawsuit and forced him to get a lawyer to defend his baseless charges.

State House News Service

Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler sits with other ranking senators during ceremonies marking the new legislative session.

The lawyer representing Higgins said the terminology used by his client during the campaign was largely symbolic and “metaphorically” accurate, whatever that means. Fortunately the voters saw through these baseless charges, and Chandler crushed Higgins at the polls on Election Day, 62 percent to 38 percent.

Even with her overwhelming victory, specious claims like the one Higgins leveled at Chandler cause damage.

Mayor Joe Petty, like almost everyone else who serves in government, is familiar with such high-powered charges. He has had opponents talk about the “corruption at City Hall” without a scintilla of evidence to back it up.

“What bothers me most,” Petty said, “is the impact things like this have on good people who want to run for office. They are scared off.”

Topix.com

Mayor Petty

Petty also noted that over time, even though there is no evidence whatsoever, people start to believe what they read and hear. “If you say something enough, even if it’s totally false, people start to believe it,” he said.

And then there are the charges of corruption leveled at Congressman Jim McGovern by people who dislike his political ideology and associations. He is also accused of running “the McGovern Crime Family.” I find these terms highly offensive and grossly inaccurate.

When I was mayor, Jim and I had a good working relationship. But I am not Jim McGovern’s favorite Democrat. To be honest, I do not think he likes me very much. I say this simply to illustrate that I am not in the McGovern inner circle.

And over the past several years, the congressman and I have repeatedly butted heads over his opposition to the Worcester Housing Authority’s “A Better Life” program – a program that I developed that requires able-bodied public housing residents to go to work or school.

But having observed him in action for many years, there are several things I know about Jim McGovern. First, Jim is a good family man. There has never been a hint of scandal in his personal life.

Second, Jim is among the most liberal members of Congress; a true believer in liberal causes. He tilts so far left that I’m surprised he doesn’t need a cane to hold himself upright. However, his progressive positions make him a target for those who disagree with him.

And third, Jim McGovern is an honorable man.

Let us examine the facts. There has never been a single charge that Jim has acted dishonorably, accepted money inappropriately or done anything that would put him in violation of federal ethics or election laws. Not one. Yet some have recklessly characterized him as “corrupt.”

And as for “the McGovern Crime Family,” give me a break. The accusation here is that McGovern has allies in key positions throughout government. What the heck is wrong with that?

Who wants a congressman who does not have allies or friends? When I started out in public life, those kinds of associations were considered an asset. Those relationships help an official get things done.

When the city of Worcester got into a major jam because it did not properly administer some of the federal community development block grants it received, it was forced to pay the federal government back hundreds of thousands of dollars. The city manager turned to his friend, and McGovern got the city the money back the same day.

If you want to oppose Jim McGovern because you do not agree with his political positions, do it. If you think he is too liberal, say it. But choose your words carefully.

There is a reason why good men and women are reluctant to run for office these days. Ask any spouse of an elected official what it feels like to have their partner referred to as corrupt or dishonest. Ask their children.

The dictionary definition of “corrupt” is “having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.” If you know of such an act, you have a duty as a citizen to let the proper investigative authorities know.

If your argument is with the way that we finance campaigns, I certainly agree. But simply taking campaign contributions, in accordance with the law, does not make someone corrupt. We should take all of the big money out of politics. But it is unfair to call someone corrupt simply because he or she follows the existing rules.

If you dislike the voting record of someone or do not like something else about them, campaign against them, vote against them, post on social media, but choose your words more carefully. The good people that you slander do not deserve it – and it demeans our democracy.

As for calling me names when you disagree with something I have written, knock yourself out.

Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.

21 thoughts on “Mariano: Choose your words carefully; obscene, crude language is bad enough without making it worse.

  1. Thank you so much for speaking truth. We all need to move towards having conversations not screaming at each other and being respectful of the people you don’t agree with is a big step in that direction.

  2. Well said! Is is so common place now to be rude-disrespectful-blunt… what a shame. I follow politics and will honestly say “I would never (sorry) put myself and my family out there!”…. I know you should and that’s what gets the job done but…. scary times!… hold your head up Jim McGovern.. you’re one of the good guys!!

  3. Amen to Eileen Bernier’s nod to Congressman Jim McGovern. And thank you Ray Mariano for supporting us in taking time to think critically about how we use/misuse the power of words. If our baseline intention is to improve our experience and quality of life, we all may be well served by “taking a page”
    from your commentary. There is enough conflict in life without creating more by firing off attacks/accusations fueled by unharnessed anger. Is this what we want to teach our children?

  4. Mr. Mariano,
    Your thoughtful, well expressed comments are refreshing. I especially admire how you characterize Congressman McGovern as an impeccably honorable man despite your disagreements with him.

  5. Mcgovern crime family? Then how in the world did Augustus, a man without any background in municipal government, get the CM job? That Holy Cross or State Senaotr can hardly be considered the right experience for the CM job. Maybe it was connections? Why did Petty go to bat for EA? In the real world (corporate world) Augustus would never ever had gotten a position at that level.
    As for Petty, when people say corruption they mean how Worcester city hall works to the detriment to the individual/business. Ever try getting a city councilor or a city dept. to listen? You personlly wouldn’t, but the rest of the people do. Mariano seriously, on what planet do you live?

  6. Instead of pointing the finger at the electorate Ray, you should have zeroed in on the so called local media. For example, Womag and its personal attacks on private persons and Gaffney. Or the vicious attacks by Williamson and Clive of the T&G on private persons and Gaffney. And how about Williamson’s recent personal attack of a tow truck driver. Or the overt political action of members of city boards and commissions?

  7. Ray, Mcgovern crime family? A figment of the imagination of a section of the local population? It doesn’t exist? Then how in the world did Augustus, a man without any background in municipal government, get the CM job? That Holy Cross or State Senator can hardly be considered the right experience for the CM job. Maybe it was connections? Why did Petty go to bat for EA? In the real world (corporate world) Augustus would never ever had gotten a position at that level.
    As for Petty, when people say corruption they mean how Worcester city hall works to the detriment to the individual/business. Ever try getting a city councilor or a city dept. to listen? You personally wouldn’t, but the rest of the people do. Ray seriously, on what planet do you live?

    • I live on the same planet as everyone else. I never wrote that people don’t have connections that help them. I wrote that calling it a crime, criminal or corrupt is wrong. If you don’t like what an elected official does you are free to say it. But calling it corrupt is, in my opinion, way out of bounds.

      • Calling the local democratic party corrupt is out of bounds? Surely you jest. Anyone not infected with the McGovern virus (and you clearly are) is a target of the McGovern crime family assassins. Their target has been Mike Gaffney.
        Fact is, nothing happens in Worcester without McGovern’s say so. To deny that is delusional. You think Petty is his own man? Hardly, Petty is incapable of leadership, can’t think for himself, never could, he’s a certified bureaucrat. The same with Joe Obrien (worked for McGovern) and Tim Murray – he reeks of corruption. You think he’s an anomaly? As harsh as it may sound, they all licked McGovern’s boots, but your kind call it party loyalty but it looks like mafia to me.
        And so here you are decades after your stint at city hall and environs, now retired, intent on playing the elder statesman to a audience of democratic zombies, unable to think for themselves. They really should take your punditries with a grain of salt. Maybe a boulder of salt.

        • Clearly you did not read my column. If you had you would have noticed the paragraph which spells out that McGovern and I have strongly disagreed on issues and that my best guess is that he does not like me much. My objection to the use of terms like corrupt and crime is that they have a legal definition. None of what you mentioned fit that description and, in my opinion, is way out of bounds.

  8. Ray, As one who has always admired your work ethic, public service and of course as a father, I now can add columnists to the list. You bring up a major point that is being lost today that is the simple notion that it’s ok to disagree!
    But, there is a roll that needs to be played by the media and that is to only print accusations if backed by sources.
    As a college professor, my students know it’s a fast track F if you state something without proof.
    So, thank you for your service and your insights.

  9. McGovern is, indeed, a good man. He was no doubt influenced by his close friendship with a great man: Joe Moakley. There aren’t many cast in the Moakley mold but McGovern is one.

  10. It’s not the inappropriate language that’s the real issue, it’s the fact that Womag and T&G use their positions as political and personal bully pulpits, yet they call themselves journalists and hide behind a wall of self-righteousness, afraid to deal with criticism. Womag and T&G block critical comments. How about this, Womag and T&G, their “journalists” are either inexperienced minimum wage kids rehashing the same time worn themes or geriatrics desperately trying to stay relevant in a world they no longer are a part off. And they’ll all do anything to get clicks. You and Worcester Sun also add nothing new to the local media market, just rehashing the same ole…

  11. Ray, In case you were not aware, I coined the expression “McGovern Crime Family.” I am thrilled it has caught on. Feel fee to use it any time, but please remember to attribute the apt expression to its author, me. Thanks, Jim

  12. “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag,” Dooley proclaimed. “Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists’d do well to keep out iv it.” Mr. Dooley 1895

    I think many people would prefer a more genteel and refined style of politics. This is akin to saying many people love their mothers and prefer warm sunny days. But the fact of the matter is that our politics is rough and has been markedly rougher. And may become even more so in the foreseeable future.

    Mr. Mariano does nothing in this posting but express his desire for decorum. That’s nice. It shows he’s a nice man. But his writing is neither persuasive nor effective. He has chosen examples of his friends and fellow party members being offended but has no mention of them giving offense. If he included such examples some he may persuade readers that this is a critique of political hyperbole. As it was published if reads as a thinly veiled attack on his media competitors and political opponents.

    Mr. Mariano sets lines he wishes others not to cross but does little explain why staying within those lines is worth the effort. An argument could be made that taking the high road is a surer path to political victory. Such an argument would have to show benefits to all political parties. But currently the opposite is demonstrably true.

    All of us would like a great many nice things. Wishing won’t make it so. To change what is wrong will require effort and hard choices. That may not be nice to hear but it is true.

  13. I just found you column and began exploring. I’m not familiar with its content suffiently to offer comment, but have long wanted to offer you (Mr. Mariano) my warm regards and heart felt thanks for all you’ve done for our community. You are a man of honor. A decent person in a world that no longer seems to value those things.
    Should you ever decide to run for office again please put me down as a source for support.
    Jack McClintock

  14. Ray
    Accurate article.
    But personally, I believe McGovern is way too far left (as you stated). The entire Ma House delegation voted against Kate’s law this week. I find this disgusting. Maybe some of those non-citizen criminals he seeks to protect should move beside him in D.C.

  15. Too bad Worcester Sun. I opened your page anticipating that I would purchase a subscription. This ridiculous piece by Ray convinced me that I should spend my money elsewhere. I can get Democratic far left political dribble for free just about everywhere and expected more from those who run this paper.

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