The old adage about politics making strange bedfellows hit me twice last week as I snuggled up under the covers with both Pat Buchanan and Billy Bulger. I did not seek out these relationships, but I woke up in them. Despite the discomfort that these relationships instill in me, I won't be taking any political walks of shame. A broken clock is right twice a day, and Pat Buchanan and Billy Bulger were right last week in their public statements. Buchanan was right when he exposed the "War Party" in the Bush administration, its exploitation of 9/11, and its failed policies. Bulger was right when he defended the University of Massachusetts against elitism and budget cuts.
Please don't get me wrong. I believe Buchanan is an anti-Semite and question anything he says in connection with the state of Israel and Americans of Jewish descent. I was pleased when my community shouted down his ugly rhetoric in front of the Minuteman Monument on Lexington's Battle Green a few years back. I disagree wholeheartedly with Buchanan's desire to build a fortress around the United States and his targeting of minorities and foreigners for much of what ails America. However, writing in the March 24, 2003 issue of The American Conservative, Buchanan simply states much of what is wrong with the Bush Administration's policy in Iraq and the neoconservatives who formulated it. Many supporters of the administration struck back at Buchanan, comparing him to the likes of Father Coughlin and dismissing his entire commentary as un-American and anti-Semitic. Those retorts are too simplistic. Let's breakdown some excerpts from Buchanan's piece and decide for our selves whether they are true or untrue.
- A cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars.
- The polemicists are colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords.
- The polemicists are deliberately damaging American relations with every state in the Arab world.
- The polemicists have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity.
- Not in our lifetimes has America been so isolated from old friends.
- On September 11, 2001, neoconservatives seized on that horrific atrocity to steer America's rage into all-out war to destroy their despised enemies, the Arab and Islamic "rogue states."
- The War Party's plan had been in preparation far in advance of 9/11.
- On September 12, 2001, Americans were still in shock when Bill Bennett told CNN that we were in "a struggle between good and evil," that the Congress must declare war on "militant Islam," and that "overwhelming force" must be used. Bennett cited Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and China as targets for attack. Not, however, Afghanistan, the sanctuary of Osama's terrorists.
Buchanan's understanding of the world devotes far too much emphasis on collusion with Israel and not enough on America's need to justify economic and cultural imperialism, but there is an element of truth in what he writes. One need only to have listened to President Bush's last press conference to realize that the questions raised by Buchanan are not even being asked by the Washington press corps. When Tim Russert, the host of "Meet the Press" and the Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief for NBC, opaquely questioned Richard Perle on the subject, the administration's defenders called the question illegitimate. By broaching the topic, Russert was lumped with Buchanan and Representative Jim Moran in an axis of anti-Semitism by Buchanan's old friend Tony Blankley and by other supporters of the "War Party." It's a sad day when hate-mongers are the only citizens willing to ask tough questions and that legitimate inquiries are tainted by their association with the politics of the questioner. It says much of Israel's democracy and media that the views expressed by Buchanan are part of the debate in that country. Americans are served fluff pieces on White House personalities from a press corps that, at some level, must be ashamed of its role in the false advertising of presidential candidate Bush.
In the late 1970s, while I attended the University of Massachusetts, at Amherst, William (Billy) Bulger controlled the Massachusetts state Senate with an iron fist. For those of us who lived our lives in a university setting and believed in democracy with a small "d," Bulger represented what was wrong with state government. I was young enough to believe, like our current president, in a black and white world of good and evil. I placed Bulger in the "evil" category. Then I grew up.
In a state where attacking public higher education is as much a public sport as praising the local private universities with world-class endowments, the University of Massachusetts has persevered despite its second-class citizenship. Today, the champion of the University of Massachusetts is a man who grew up in South Boston, a "triple eagle" (Boston College High, Boston College, and Boston College Law), a man with a FBI Most Wanted Man mobster for a brother, and a man with a Republican target on his back. That man is Billy Bulger.
Republicans charge that Bulger is a lifelong political hack and a man who does not have the moral character to lead the university as its president. Before taking office, Governor-elect Mitt Romney criticized Bulger for refusing to testify about his contact with his brother, James "Whitey" Bulger, when questioned by a congressional committee investigating the FBI's handling of mob informants. Shortly after taking office, Romney, the former Bain & Company venture capitalist, proposed a reorganization of the state's higher education system. Not surprisingly, Bulger's office was earmarked for elimination under the plan, ostensibly to help the new Governor eliminate a projected $3 billion gap in the state's budget.
According to Romney, abolishing Bulger's office and the administration system would save $14 million. Romney targeted Bulger as a symbol of waste and largesse. Romney may be used to breaking up companies and selling off the pieces, but there will be no segments to sell off in this reorganization. The University of Massachusetts trustees hired Bulger to lead the five-campus system in 1996. After his hiring, the former Senate president consolidated operational oversight of the five-campus system in an off-campus location in downtown Boston. Bulger used his political connections and savvy to increase political support and private fund-raising for the five university campuses, not just the flagship campus in Amherst. He also instituted a schedule of online courses, new research programs, and an honors program to recruit students with the highest academic credentials.
Since when does an icon of corporate America approach a reorganization by doing away with centralized control, firing the most politically connected executive, and dismantling the office that has generated significant increases in revenue? In fact, executive payroll under Bulger is at market rates and the executive offices are leased at well-below market rents. Bulger shines in comparison to local private college presidents, including John Silber of Boston University and Larry Summers of Harvard University. Both of them have seen their endowments make politically embarrassing investment decisions and have shared a penchant for putting their feet in their mouths.
I am told that Governor Romney is a man of faith. Well, Governor, when it comes to providing access to public higher education, this resident of Massachusetts has more faith in Mr. Bulger than in you.