Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "While the Music Lasts"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "While the Music Lasts"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Former Massachusetts State Senate President William Bulger’s autobiography provides readers insights into the inner workings of his state’s politics and legislative affairs. In addition, it provides many personal insights into how a guy from a working class South Boston neighborhood played the political game and rose to be a leading legislator.

Readers learn tales of politics one probably will find in no other book. Such as the time a state legislative candidate hired a horse to give children rides, and the horse was stolen by his opponents and hidden in a second floor apartment. Or how legislative candidate Katherine Craven was rarely quoted in the press because the words she used were not suitable for publication. Or how "Speedy" Freddie St. Germain got his name outrunning police who caught him conducting voter fraud. Or the author’s claim that House Speaker John Thompson was "drunk all the time", and how legislators and lobbyists used his condition to their advantage. Indeed, William Bulger believes people with interests in road construction worked to keep the Speaker in a drunken state.

The primary lesson Senator Bulger wishes to convey is that politicians should be driven by their belief they can make a difference, and they should continue at politics "while the music lasts" and they can still hear that music they can bring the changes for which they fight. Hence, the title of his book.

One of the first legislative lessons Mr. Bulger learned was "the clamorous demands of my constituents-their variety and urgency and sheer volume-were brain-numbing." Another early legislative lesson he learned was that veteran legislators are territorial with their powers and that new legislators face condescension from most senior members. Through the book, we see Mr. Bulger complaining about the powers of legislative leadership through the second part of his career when he became one of those same powerful leaders.

His advice to legislators is to learn facts and data when arguing the merits of their proposals. He believes good research is more valuable than good rhetoric. He recommends that legislators avoid creating divisions amongst their peers and to avoid choosing sides too soon when these divisions occur. For that reason, he followed a rule of avoiding discussing divisions with the media, whom he believes fuels these divisions. Senator Bulger was a practitioner of the art of compromise, although he states that moral principle should always come first.

While a Democrat, Senator Bulger was not a strict partisan. He has praise for Republican Governor John Volpe. He further writes of a Democratic Boston Mayor "I had long been aware that nothing terribly exciting went on between the ears of Raymond Flynn." Within Massachusetts politics, Senator Bulger often found himself in opposition to the Kennedys, which is not always the safest political position to be.

The book provides a good description of the two-year fight Senator Bulger had in passing key child care legislation. Part of his fight included withdrawing his name as sponsor in order to pick up the votes to pass it. The book also provides the author’s insights into the very heated school busing issue.

Senator Bulger was the target of several investigations which he called politically motivated by Republican leaders which found nothing yet were leaked to the press in an effort, he believes, to damage his credibility. He also tells the difficulties he has privately and professionally with a brother who robbed banks and how the notoriety of each brother affected the other.

Being a legislator has its challenges. For instance, Mr. Bulger went to Ireland on vacation, and still found someone in Ireland asking for his help for relatives in Boston. Once, upon reading an unflattering newspaper account of his work, Bill Bulger’s wife turned to him and proclaimed "if I’d known you were so awful, I’d never have married you."

The book contains praise for Pennsylvania for eliminating legislative term limits. Senator Bulger argues term limits gets rid of the best legislators. Any book that respects Pennsylvania similarly deserves our respect.


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