MassInc shows how humor can bridge the political divide

The unidentified “they” have often said that Boston’s three favorite pastimes are sports, politics and revenge – and not necessarily in that order. Thursday night’s MassInc’s 15-year anniversary celebration at the Kennedy Library brought together media and pols to wallow in a hilarious celebration in a bipartisan spirit of humor and across-the-aisle friendship that, I sometimes think, can only happen here.

The “Serious Fun Program” was hosted by WTKK radio hosts Jim Braude (also of NECN) and Margery Eagan (also of the Boston Herald.) Braude, who, when he started out at TEAM (Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts) and in broadcasting was pompous and self-righteous, has mellowed over the years into someone totally able to take a joke at his own expense and even to dish them out in a self-deprecating way. Eagan, ever his foil, is smart, warm and wonderful.

One priceless video showed Tom Menino, speaking in the low gruff, semi-breathless but threatening tones of The Godfather, doing a riff on someone posing as nemesis developer Don Chiaforo. In another video, Republican consultant Todd Domke’s son acted the persona of a PR consultant cozying up to specific reporters and columnists (unseen and unheard from at the other end of the phone), trying to pitch a story on a footbridge a client opposed. He changed his slithery and sycophantic pitches to meet the style of each identified columnist, from Howie Carr to Brian McGrory and Joan Vennochi. Again, hilarious.

A video showed Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, microphone in hand, walking the Public Garden asking people on the street if they knew who is the lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth. The regular people did not. Former Lt. Gov’s Donald Dwight and Jane Swift did, but they had some humorous words of advice for Murray. The piece was a big hit.

Onstage, various politicians present and past participated in a quiz show, with Scott Harshbarger, Joe Malone, Kerry Healey and others all taking it on the chin as their foibles and failures were mocked.

I kept thinking how nice it would be if politicians in Washington today had the down-to-earth sense of self and insightful humor to interact with each other in this way. It might take us back to the days when Democrat Tip O’Neill and Republican Congressman Silvio Conte could duke it out on the floor of the House during the day, play poker and drink together at night and ultimately work out legislative compromises.

MassInc was founded by business executive Mitch Kurtzman after an unsuccessful run for Governor. His vision of a nonpartisan think tank, looking at public policy in a dispassionate way, engaging Republicans and Democrats alike in the deliberation of issues, was implemented by MassInc’s first president Tripp Jones. A host of talented people over the last 15 years have expanded on those early days, turning out regular issues of Commonwealth Magazine, which add so much depth to the public dialogue. We are all better off for their serious, substantive explorations and analyses. But Thursday night, we were all better off for the opportunity to laugh and be together.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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