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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.
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.”
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.