Yesterday, the mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, made a boo boo -- or, rather, two boo boos -- that just reinforced the notion that he is nothing more than a buffoon who happened to land in the right spot.
Sadly, Mumbles -- as he is known -- seems ready at all times to reinforce the notion that he's nothing more than a buffoon who happened to land in the right spot.
Problem is, he's been in the right spot since 1993, when Bill Clinton tabbed then-mayor Ray Flynn to be the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. The next time a mayoral election in Boston rolls around, Mumbles will have been on the job for 20 years.
He is called "Mumbles" because his diction is horrible. Listen to him speak and you can't understand him. It's a fairly common cliche around here that, in Boston-ese, if you ask someone how he is, the proper term is, "hihowahya?" All one word. Slurred together. Want some chowder? You say "Can I have a cuppachowdah, please?"
John F. Kennedy referred to the land hijacked in 1959 by Fidel Castro as "Cuber," and -- had he remained alive through the natural course of his life -- would have undoubtedly grooved to the fabulous music of Teener Turna.
Well, Mumbles makes "hihowahya" and "cuppachowdah" sound like Shakespearean English.
Now that we've had our fun with Mumbles, let's get to the point here. To what degree do we hold politicians accountable for their gaffes when they're made in areas that don't have much to do with their areas of expertise? Do we hold Menino to the same degree of accountability for saying "ionic" when he meant to say "iconic," as he did yesterday (one of the aforementioned boo boos) when talking about hockey great Bobby Orr? Is that the same type of blunder as screwing up a budget that leaves the school system with a shortfall?
The simple answer, of course, is it depends on whether you're in agreement, in general, with said politician's agenda. It was easier, for example, not to cringe when George W. Bush mangled the language if you happened to agree with his agenda. If you didn't, you got embarrassed that the country elected a man to such an exalted position when he had such a a casual -- careless, even -- appreciation for the language.
And, of course, if you despise everything Barack Obama stands for, you're going to be similarly offended at every seemingly insignificant gaffe he makes, such as when he talked about visiting 58 states, or compared his bowling ability to those who took part in the Special Olympics.
John F. Kerry, while he was running for president, was pressed into a conversation about the Red Sox, and he referred to a player by the name of Manny Ortez. It's difficult to begin counting all the mistakes here. Even if, out of absence of mind, you combined the names of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, how do you mispronounce Ortiz?
(Not to mention the fact in that in Boston, in 2004, the names Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz rolled off the tongues, nimbly, of people who didn't even know what a baseball was.)
Kerry seems to be an equal opportunity doofus when it comes to making idiotic pronouncements, but he has nothing on Joe Biden, who, sometimes, makes the vice president in "My Fellow Americans" look like a Rhodes Scholar. My favorite Bidenism, of course, is when he said the following about the man who would ultimately pick him as his running mate: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."
Apparently, until he met Barack Obama, Biden thought all blacks sounded like Gangsta rappers.
When Martha Coakley ran her disastrous campaign for the U.S. Senate this past winter, she made the horrible mistake of referring to Curt Schilling as a Yankees fan. I remember thinking, at the time, that, man, this woman is clueless. But I didn't want Scott Brown to win, so I overlooked it. Yet, I had to ask myself whether I'd have been as easy to forgive such an egregious transgression had I been pulling for Brown, or, worse, had Brown made it.
Brown, of course, had his day of buffoonery when he asked whether the Buffalo Sabres, whom the Bruins were in the process of eliminating from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, were from Washington.
Uh, no, Senator. That's why they're called the Buffalo Sabres.
Even Ted Kennedy, who has been lionized since his death last August as a man who prepared arduously before he even put his socks on in the morning, managed to slip up. In 1998, when Mark Magwire and Sammy Sosa were both chasing Roger Maris' home run record (Magwire ultimately won the title that year with 70), Kennedy got up on the floor of the Senate to celebrate their accomplishment.
In a typical Teddy voice (which is to say loud, drawn out, and overly exaggerated) he sang the praises of Mike Magwire and Sammy Souser. Talk shows -- generally hosted by people whose political opinions differed from Teddy -- had a field day with it, playing it over and over (and over) again.
I like to think that some Kennedy staffer, somewhere, had his ears pinned back, but good, over that one.
It seems to me that when politicians want to come across as "regular guys" (in the general sense), they talk about sports. They all seem to have this ingrained feeling that the easiest way to connect with the public is to appear conversant in the most plebeian things imaginable, and that would include sports.
Myself, I detest such pandering. I don't see why we have to suffer through politicians' painful attempts to connect with the "common man." I think it's condescending. As a sports fan, I'm well aware that there are other, way more important, endeavors in life, and I'm comfortable with the fact that my senators, or presidents, have to devote their energies to those weighty matters.
So if Tom Menino says that Jason Varitek (as opposed to Adam Vinatieri) kicked the field goal that gave the Patriots their first Super Bowl championship, I may think it's a riot ... but at least I can say, "hey, he at least had the V right."
My real feelings are that politicians should be smart enough to stay out of conversations when they're unsteady about the subject matter. I'd rather have had Mumbles say, "congratulations to the Orr Family. The Orr era was a special time in Boston sports, and I'm happy to be able to take part in a ceremony that celebrates it today."
What is wrong with that? It's simple, heartfelt, and it doesn't make him look like an idiot.
I just don't think it's necessary for politicians to wade into waters that naturally set them up to look stupid. I know it's a tradition, and has been since the days of William Howard Taft, for presidents to throw out the first pitch of the baseball season ... or an all-star game ... or a World Series. But if the president can't throw for shit (sadly, for an athletic looking guy, Obama doesn't have the best arm ever) is it really that big a deal if he doesn't?
I can think of only once -- in my lifetime -- where a president throwing out the first pitch in a World Series game made any impact on me at all ... and that was in 2001, when George. W. Bush threw a strike to Jorge Posada before Game 3 in New York. I think we all know why. It was a night where, even if you didn't have a particularly high opinion of George W. Bush, you had to have a lump in your throat. It was a clear symbol that, despite being savaged by 9/11, the country was making every attempt to pick itself up and live normally.
Most of the time, though, it's a distraction. And if the president ever gets booed (which happens occasionally) it's more than a distraction. It's embarrassing.
Back in 1996 and 1997, Mumbles Menino visibly stood in the way of Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, building a stadium on the Boston waterfront. I have no problem with that, of course. Massachusetts politicians, for all people can't stand about them, seem to have this issue right. Why, they ask (and with justification) should the owners of professional sports teams -- most of whom could buy and sell the cities in which they're located three and four times over -- expect handouts from the city and state for new venues? The speaker of the house at the time, Tom Finneran, called them all "fat-ass millionaires."
But, of course, that is not a universally-held opinion. All anyone who really doesn't pay attention knew is that Mumbles and the boys were holding the Patriots back ... and in a year where they were actually doing well. In fact, that went to the Super Bowl that year.
There was a Boston radio personality that year, Eddie Andelman, who used to say "Jambalaya" on the air all the time ... a reference to the fact that the Pats were looking good to go all the way, and the Super Bowl that year was to be in New Orleans.
Menino, who doesn't always seem to have the best ear for these things, agreed to have a rally at City Hall for the Patriots (even though they're closer in proximity to Providence, R.I., than Boston). Mumbles was roundly booed at this rally for his stance on the Patriots. Among the signs held up by people booing Menino was this one: A simple picture of a Patriots logo, with the term "Mumble-aya" on it.
Sorry to say, the name has stuck. It doesn't sound very ionic now, does it?