Boston's mayor these last twenty years, and the longest-serving in the city's history, died on Thursday. From 1994 until he stepped down for health reasons earlier this year, Menino was the public face of Beantown. With his passing, the Boston media are in sentimental mood:
A traditional Democrat in one of the nation's bluest states, Menino adhered to the New Deal philosophy that government's purpose is to serve the people...
That's one way of putting it. He was an old-fashioned gladhander and wardheeler and crony pol, but up-to-the-minute in the constituencies he kissed up to: A devout Catholic who championed same-sex marriage. A gay-pride marcher who did deals with imams who'd gladly stone every homosexual to death. In between pandering to this new if somewhat incoherent rainbow coalition, he spruced up the town with the Big Dig and waterfront redevelopment:
Boston was named one of the greenest cities in the nation with its first-of-its-kind green building code and the hundreds of acres of new parks and miles of new bike paths created under his watch.
I'll come back to those bike paths and trails in a moment. I wrote last night about the parlous state of free speech in the west, which happens to be my great cause - if only because, without free speech, it's harder to fight for any other cause. Menino was a bust on that front - because, as for so many Democrat operators, it was about power and fashion. Once in a while, the thuggishness showed - as, for example, when an allegedly "homophobic" chicken chain was in the news. Two years ago, I wrote:
Mayor Tom Menino announced that Chick-fil-A would not be opening in his burg anytime soon. "If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult," said His Honor. If you've just wandered in in the middle of the column, this guy Menino isn't the mayor of Soviet Novosibirsk or Kampong Cham under the Khmer Rouge, but of Boston, Massachusetts. Nevertheless, he shares the commissars' view that in order to operate even a modest and politically inconsequential business it is necessary to demonstrate that one is in full ideological compliance with party orthodoxy. "There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail," Mayor Menino thundered in his letter to Mr. Cathy, "and no place for your company alongside it." No, sir. On Boston's Freedom Trail, you're free to march in ideological lockstep with the city authorities â€” or else. Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when Massachusetts was a beacon of liberty: the shot heard round the world, and all that. Now it fires Bureau of Compliance permit-rejection letters round the world.
Mayor Menino subsequently backed down and claimed the severed rooster's head left in Mr. Cathy's bed was all just a misunderstanding. Yet, when it comes to fighting homophobia on Boston's Freedom Trail, His Honor is highly selective. As the Boston Herald's Michael Graham pointed out, Menino is happy to hand out municipal licenses to groups whose most prominent figures call for gays to be put to death. The mayor couldn't have been more accommodating (including giving them $1.8 million of municipal land) of the new mosque of the Islamic Society of Boston, whose IRS returns listed as one of their seven trustees Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Like President Obama, Imam Qaradawi's position on gays is in a state of "evolution": He can't decide whether to burn them or toss 'em off a cliff. "Some say we should throw them from a high place," he told Al Jazeera. "Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement. . . . The important thing is to treat this act as a crime." Unlike the deplorable Mr. Cathy, Imam Qaradawi is admirably open-minded: There are so many ways to kill homosexuals, why restrict yourself to just one? In Mayor Menino's Boston, if you take the same view of marriage as President Obama did from 2009 to 2012, he'll run your homophobic ass out of town. But, if you want to toss those godless sodomites off the John Hancock Tower, he'll officiate at your ribbon-cutting ceremony...
As an exercise in sheer political muscle, it's impressive. But, if you're a feminist or a gay or any of the other house pets in the Democrat menagerie, you might want to look at Rahm Emanuel's pirouette, and Menino's coziness with Islamic homophobia. These guys are about power, and right now your cause happens to coincide with their political advantage. But political winds shift. Once upon a time, Massachusetts burned witches. Now it grills chicken-sandwich homophobes. One day it'll be something else. Already in Europe, in previously gay-friendly cities like Amsterdam, demographically surging Muslim populations have muted leftie politicians' commitment to gay rights, feminism, and much else. It's easy to cheer on the thugs when they're thuggish in your name. What happens when Emanuel's political needs change?
Americans talk more about liberty than citizens of other Western nations, but, underneath the rhetorical swagger, liberty bleeds. When Mayor Menino and Alderman Moreno openly threaten to deny business licenses because of ideological apostasy, they're declaring their unfitness for public office. It's not about marriage, it's not about gays, it's about a basic understanding that a free society requires a decent respect for a wide range of opinion without penalty by the state. In Menino's Boston, the Freedom Trail is heavy on the Trail, way too light on the Freedom.