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Irish president visits (along with bodyguards)

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

Once again this week, several different topics have bubbled to the top.
Normally I hate working on a holiday, but how could I resist accepting the invitation of Congressman Richard Neal - thank you, sir - and attending a luncheon to honor Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland.
Forbes.com named McAleese among the 100 most influential women in the world in 2008.
McAleese made quite a swing through Western Massachusetts last week and Neal had about 150 to 200 local well wishers gathered at the Barney Carriage House at Forest Park for the meal.
Mayor Domenic Sarno of Springfield told me he was very impressed with the president and her husband - who is both a dentist and an accountant - and said that at an event the previous night at the MassMutual Center, she had shown a down to earth quality one doesn't naturally associate with someone carrying the title of "president."
What fascinated me was the mechanics of the event. Well before her arrival there were several Secret Service agents and advance staff members working with Neal's staff. When her motorcade arrived, more staff preceded her entrance and security agents stood around the large tent as well as in the audience.
I recorded her speech with my Kodak flip camera - pardon the shakiness, but I didn't bring a tripod.

I left as dessert was being served - who could imagine the fat man doing that? - and by then, as she ate her own strawberry shortcake, some people were coming to her table to say hello. I didn't feel comfortable doing this, as I knew by speaking with one of her advance staff that she had to be in Worcester by 3 p.m. for an event. She had less than an hour to make it at that point, but I'm sure the state police escort would ensure her swift and safe arrival.
Besides, let the lady eat her dessert!

***

Gov. Patrick's announcement that he is making the availability of broadband access a priority for Massachusetts communities that are presently without such service is an important economic initiative that I think truly ranks making sure people have access to electricity and telephone service.
With so many people looking to the Web as a tool to broaden their business, having access to high-speed connections is vital and one shouldn't be punished just because one is living in a small town.
Giving businesses in small towns access to the Web levels the competitive playing field and could lead to greater growth.
If Patrick can accomplish this, he would leave a positive and significant mark on the state.

***

Speaking of the governor, our caricature of him in three of our four papers offended two readers. One wrote that we made him look like "a vaudeville clown" and that we had crossed the line protecting free speech.
Another reader left me a phone message stating we had made the governor look like a "minstrel" - an image that in the past has been charged with a racist undertone.
What we were trying to do was to play off the famous James Montgomery Flagg image of Uncle Sam stating "I Want You."
Despite what these readers thought, there was no racism behind the image. If you read these papers on a regular basis one would realize this editorial staff is not biased.
Many politicians over the years have been caricatured in this manner. Would it have been racist if Kerry Murphy had been elected governor and I had put her in an Uncle Same pose? Or perhaps sexist?
Over the years when I had the services of cartoonist Marty Riskin - whose work appeared in three of our four papers - we skewered many elected officials. I write "we" because Marty and I collaborated on the ideas for the cartoons.
Acting Gov. Swift and Mitt Romney were certainly the objects of much criticism on this page both in this column and in cartoons.
This was not the first time I asked artist Leo Pilares to caricature Patrick nor will be the last.
I suppose the question to ask is whether or not a caricature of an African-American elected official is acceptable. If cartoonists criticize a black office-holder for his or her actions, are they inherently racist because they are holding them to a standard established for white politicians? If the topic matter is not about race, should the race of the politician matter?
I found this criticism interesting as some people have criticized me in the past for being too much a supporter of the governor.
As I learned many years ago while on talk radio, you can't please all of the people all of the time.


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