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SCOT LEHIGH

Romney and Severin? Go figure

NO FIGURE, not even that towering statesman Pat Buchanan, looms larger in Jay Severin's pantheon of heroes than the WTKK talkmeister himself. And so on Friday, Severin was awash in a double dose of self-delight, holding forth not just about the preternatural political insight he believes himself to possess but about his appearance as well.

Noting that he was dressed in a tuxedo, Jay informed his listeners that a tux was really semi-formal wear and that tails once marked a true gentleman's formal attire. But that, he lamented, was back before society's standards -- indeed, etiquette itself -- had been cheapened and coarsened. Which is where the whole spiel began to strike me as odd -- as odd as, say, Bacchus lamenting an erosion of sobriety. After all, Severin is to gentlemanly standards what the Vandals were to Rome. He has called Al Gore "Al Whore" and said Gore "would murder his daughter" to become president; he has labeled Hillary Clinton "a lying bitch"; and has stated that mere impeachment wasn't enough for Bill Clinton, whom he labeled "a traitor." He once said that Michael Dukakis should be `'executed." Ridiculing Arabs as "towelheads" is one favored trope, labeling illegal immigrants "wetbacks" another.

Sadly, that coarseness seems to be part of what has endeared Severin to some of his listeners, listeners Jay, with a keen feel for audience-building (but an underdeveloped sense of irony) has labeled "the best and the brightest." I certainly can't speak about all of them, but I have heard from scores of them in the last several years. What's noteworthy about them is not their discernment, but rather the vehemence with which they fling semi-literate insults. In that sense, they are an appropriate barometer of Severin's contribution to the local culture.

Indeed, as near as I can tell, Jay's success in the radio world proves the old adage that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king -- with the amusing wrinkle that one regular trick of this vision-impaired king is to flatter his purblind subjects on the acuity of their own eyesight. They, in turn, apparently imagine that in his pre-radio days, Severin was a top-level national consultant, a notion Jay unabashedly promotes, but which is risible to anyone who has actually covered national campaigns.

In fairness, some of Severin's followers do occasionally seem to outgrow him. One afternoon last May, shortly after Jay had tried to weasel out of his remark, offered as part of a discussion about Muslims living in the United States, that "we should kill them," one of his listeners called to say that she had once thought we should just drop a nuclear bomb on Iraqi cities where terrorists might lurk. (Bombing this Iraqi city or that "into a parking lot" is another of the nostrums Jay occasionally recommends.)

But, the caller continued, she had soon realized that that wouldn't be right, because it would mean the death of thousands of innocents. At that point, she had far surpassed Severin in both her sense of morality and her grasp of complexities. As the call ended, Jay asked her how old she was. Twelve, she replied.

Back to Friday. Why was Severin wearing a tux? He had, he announced, been asked to introduce Mitt Romney at a fund-raiser that very night. Asked why Romney would invite someone with Severin's history of outrageous, bigoted, and demeaning statements to play a part in one of his events, Tim O'Brien, executive director of the Republican State Committee, replied: "Although the governor may not agree with Jay Severin on everything, he does defend his right as a member of the press to say what he thinks."

But that's the most transparent kind of dodge. This is not an issue of free speech. Severin is, of course, free to say whatever he wants on his show, no matter how reactionary, invidious, or absurd. And his followers are free to believe they have spotted Socrates in a snake-oil salesman. But Romney is the governor of the entire Commonwealth. By giving Severin a role at his fund-raiser -- a role that, incidentally, no legitimate journalist would ever accept -- Romney is not just respecting his right to speak his mind, he is lending the prestige of his office to WTKK's louche loudmouth.

So here's a word to the wise: Governor, if you spend your evenings with the likes of Severin, don't expect intelligent people to respect you in the morning.

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is lehigh@globe.com. 

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