In the spirit of the season, let me say to David Brudnoy: God rest ye, Merry Gentleman.
David's agnosticism didn't keep him from celebrating Christmas with his Christian friends, just as the process of dying didn't keep him from celebrating life. If, as Ray Bradbury wrote, enthusiasm for living gets one into heaven, David is there now.
I called WBZ to say good-bye, having been told he was listening from his hospital bed. It was harder than I expected so I just blurted out something about us all meeting again, as if I know for sure. It does seem, though, that all those years of reading, listening, thinking, traveling, and thus accumulating wisdom, shouldn't lead to a literal dead end for his self.
Certainly his legacy continues for the rest of us. Most commentators said that he was a witty, intelligent, genuinely caring person, all of which is true — yet not the entire story. As some liberals seemed last week to be nominating him for their own personal patron saint — Because he was a (usually) soft-spoken, gay agnostic? — I wanted to thank him on behalf of the taxpayers whose banner he carried.
He was one of the Massachusetts libertarian/conservatives who connected in their student years as activists in Young Americans for Freedom (YAF): David, Avi Nelson, Gordon Nelson, and Don Feder, just to mention those who most influenced my life.
Gordon became chairman of the Republican State Committee and recommended me for my job at Citizens for Limited Taxation, where Don was executive director. Avi as a popular talk show host suggested David for his vacation replacement. Then eventually David got his own show. As a newcomer to Massachusetts, I listened to them both to learn about politics — as did many other voters and activists including Grover Norquist, who later became a key player in the ongoing Reagan Revolution.
The influence of the YAF group was far greater than its numbers, especially on state ballot questions like Proposition
David was a consistent voice for freedom. Much has been said in recent days about the softness of that voice, without mentioning the sharpness of its edge. True, he didn't shout, though I've heard him rail against the religious right on occasion. But he could be as adept at imagery as other, less-lionized talk show hosts, referring, for instance, to Bill Clinton as "Bubba" and to Hillary as "Evita."
It's also true that he was friends with people of different political persuasions; including not only liberals, but conservatives who disagreed with him on gay marriage. Yet he never hesitated to express his own opposite opinions with often devastating wit.
In May 2001 David Brudnoy was the commencement speaker at Salem State College. He told the graduates that "we all have an obligation to maintain a minimum level of civility amongst us;" before launching into a civil, yet pointed, attack on political correctness (PC), which he called "political cockamamie — a rigidity of thought that takes hold of people by the intellectual short hairs and absolves them of the obligation to think for themselves."
He continued: "College students sometimes have their brains pickled in a jelly of unfocused nonsense... if we observe the rules of political correctness, we handicap ourselves." David, needless to say, was not handicapped.
Last week a caller tried to embarrass WRKO talk show host John DePetro, who had just made a salient point, by telling him that he would never be another David Brudnoy. The host calmly agreed that he would not, nor would anyone else. But while few have David's intellectual depth, DePetro is a generally soft-spoken Independent who firmly expresses a similarly definitive point of view.
A letter-writer to the Boston Globe used his approval of David's politeness to callers to attack other talk show hosts including Jay Severin and Howie Carr. Yet Howie is a happy host who rarely raises his voice either, though he sometimes "blows up" his silliest callers, and coins nicknames for his opponents that are worse than "Bubba". Though his is a competing station, Howie had a tribute to David the day before he died that was as nice as anyone's. In recent years, Citizens for Limited Taxation gave the two of them, along with Jerry Williams and Avi Nelson, an award for extraordinary service to taxpayers.
John DePetro was right. There will never be another David Brudnoy. But other conservative/libertarian/independent talk show hosts, many of whom were inspired by him, will continue to promote freedom and personal responsibility while attacking political cockamamie of all kinds. Some are louder than others; some are genuinely "nice;" while others do not suffer fools gladly.
My friend Betsy, a soft-spoken talk-show fan, prefers the more outrageous hosts because, she says, "I like people who are in your face and who make me laugh".
No doubt, laughter is our strongest weapon against tyranny. David Brudnoy, who relied heavily on reasoned argument, was almost always as merry as logical.
Perhaps Gene Burns could return to Boston to continue "intellectual talk". Or we could come full circle, and ask Avi to fill in while David does eternity.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.