Top of Mind: Mike Barnicle
Is it possible Mike Barnicle is still the most obsessed-about journalist in town? One could make the case: Consider the fuss when he joined Jack Connors and Jack Welch in trying to buy the Globe, and the further fuss that followed his rumored job talks with WBUR. Meanwhile, more than a decade after losing his marquee Globe column for sins against journalism, Barnicle is a fixture on NBC and MSNBC, and fields assignments from Newsweek and Time. On 12/5 at the Charles Hotel, he talked with Boston about those projects—and shared his thoughts on a few other topics, too.
Burnett: You mention the Dow and the financial crisis. What are your conversations about that topic like with your wife [Bank of America marketing chief Anne Finucane], given your role and perspective, and person ideology, if you will.
Barnicle: I don’t speak to my wife about her business. I don’t understand her business. My wife is so much smarter than I am that, you know, I don’t go there. She gives me an allowance every week that I’m very grateful for, and that’s about it. I think I might understand a bit of the social and cultural appendages that spring off of the financial system, but everything else is way beyond me.
Burnett: You combine some of your comments on Obama, and the thought there… It doesn’t sound like you’re particularly hopeful for a quick or easy turnaround.
Barnicle: Actually, I kind of am. I am, if nothing else, an optimist. I think my optimism, along with a lot of other people’s optimism has already been rewarded, you know, in the sense that here we have a President of the United States, who, four years ago, the day after he gave his speech at the Democratic National Convention here in Boston, was pulled out of the line over at Logan Airport, going back to Chicago to continue his campaign for re-election, because of what he looked like and his name. Barack Hussein Obama. And now he’s President of the United States. And that’s a hell of a tribute to this country. It’s an amazing statement both about him and about us as voters. So I am optimistic. I’m not entirely optimistic that things are going to be terrific by Memorial Day, but I think he’ll slowly but surely, and the people around him, will turn the country in a direction that it needed to be turned for quite some time.
Burnett: Interesting contrast, perhaps, with some of the things in the headlines here locally. Couple of questions about local political scene. Who impresses you right now at the state or local level?
Barnicle: Sam Yoon, he impresses me. He’s young. He’s got energy. He’s smart. He looks to me not to be a career guy, in terms of, among the City Council, “What else can I run for?”, although I’m sure that’s within him. I met him once or twice. I like Michael Flaherty. I think he’s bigger than a lot of people think he is, and this is in no way to diminish Tommy Menino, who I think has done a pretty good job, given the increasingly meager circumstances that he has to deal with.
At the state level, I don’t see a whole lot there. Something has happened slowly of the course of 25-30 years to diminish the industry, if you will, of politics. It’s no longer the profession that it used to be. You’d have to be out of your mind to run for public office today. Say you’re 32, 35 years of age. Say you were fortunate, you lucked out, you made a little money, or maybe not, but you have this great interest in public service. You want to be able to get a fire hydrant or a crosswalk, or a little league field in your neighborhood. So you run for City Council or State Rep., you know, but then two or three months over the course of your campaign or maybe after you win, someone like me, or someone like you, is going to come knock at your door, and say “James, we heard you smoked a joint when you were 19 years of age down at Duke University. Can you explain that?” And instead of having the wherewithal to tell people like us, “Hey, go fuck yourself, it’s none of your business,” you know, these poor people stand there and get hounded by us.
So I’ve got to assume there are a lot of other people out there with reasonable IQs who say, “I don’t want any part of that. I don’t want my kids reading about me in the front page of the paper that I smoked a joint when I was at Duke University. What has that got to do with anything?” So I think for that and a lot of other reasons, the level of talent in government is much lower than it has been, for a while. I think in too many cases, both in the State House and in various city councils, not just Boston, various city councils, you have a bunch of people serving, and they are holding the best job they’ll ever have. They’re not going to leave the legislature or the council and take the vice presidency of Google. That ain’t going to happen. And you can see the results. I think some of the results are obvious. The histrionics that we go through to get things done, and the other aspect of it is, once you are in public life today… everything and everyone is part of an interest group. There’s nothing you can say that won’t offend someone. There’s nothing you can try doing that won’t be attempted to be blocked by someone.