Let’s face it: The St. Patrick’s Day political breakfast doesn’t work anymore. It’s embarrassing, a pale imitation of a sparkling tradition that lived years ago when Billy Bulger presided.
It has become a colossal bore as politician after politician lamely tries to inject a little humor into an event that, if not dead, is at least on life support. One by one they rise uncomfortably to deliver their feeble attempts at humor.
Without the maestro, no one has been able to carry an event that now has less real humor than you could find on any evening at the Eire Pub. Bulger owned the occasion. It was his wit and repartee that made it fun. He elevated the game as other participants tried to rise to the occasion knowing they could never best him
The food was not the draw. They could have served broccoli. Folks came to watch a master chef stuff and roast turkeys at the head table to everyone’s amusement.
He threw zingers at his guests as they came up to bat. Aside for an occasional single, nobody could hit him. He mowed them down one after another, always delivering better than he got. They were not in his league and they knew it, but he made them try harder.
It was a political version of the Academy Awards; where instead of receiving an Oscar, you could display your humility after being skewered by Bulger.
Now the event is flat, the material weak, the enthusiasm gone. Bulger was the draw. He could sing, tell a joke, and snap out a one-liner that brought both his target and the house down.
It was his show and those who struggled to replace him knew it was impossible. It was like trying to substitute the Roller Derby for the Super Bowl. When he left office, his colleagues should have insisted he continue to emcee the event. Knowing how important he was to its success, they should have signed him to a lifetime contract.
Life has not always been easy for the former Senate president. He was the target of a lot of unfair criticism, some of it due to his loyalty to his brother, whom he refused to condemn or disavow. Since when has that been considered a failing?
As a young Legal Services lawyer, I did some lobbying on issues that affected the poor. Bulger was always available to help the disadvantaged. I found him to be compassionate and understanding.
A complex man, I believe in his heart he was reserved, perhaps even a bit shy. A scholar, he was more comfortable in the world of ideas and with family and close friends than in the public world he so deftly occupied.
A fine actor, he developed a public persona that permitted him to operate successfully as a lawyer and politician. His wit was a feature of the public face he displayed so naturally.
I hope he can be coaxed out of retirement to breathe some life into an event for which he more than anyone else was responsible. The force of his personality held it together while the supporting cast struggled to catch a little of his magic.
In case you haven’t noticed, politicians are not very funny. They generate more laughs as objects of derision than as performers. A quick wit requires insight, timing, and delivery. Always conscious of a guest’s Achilles heel, Bulger could parry and thrust with the skill of a fencing master.
Who wouldn’t be relieved to step aside to permit him to return to reprise the role he made famous for so many years? I say bring him back, if not permanently, at least for a “last hurrah.”
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.