Ray Flynn Is a Democrat

I was with some Democratic friends the other evening when the Ray Flynn television ad for Scott Brown came up as a topic of conversation. “He’s not a Democrat, he endorses Republicans” was the consensus reaction. But of course Flynn is a Democrat, a particular kind of Boston Democrat – an Irish Catholic Democrat.

Flynn is out of the working class Catholic tradition that built the Democratic Party into dominance in this state. The Democratic Party elite in this state may now be dominated by progressive urban and suburban professionals with post-materialist concerns but it was built by neighborhood ethnic Catholics like Ray Flynn. He is a populist in the sense that made the Democrats at one time the populist party: fiercely committed on issues of economic justice for the working man and woman; reflective of their fealty to faith and family.

As a child he knew hardship and as an adult he knew hard work. As a devout Catholic I suspect he knew and was guided by the words of Gaudium et Spes from the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

His Catholic sense of social justice meant that he didn’t race bait as so many city politicians did when he came up. Flynn understood the struggles of the poor and vulnerable as few other politicians did. He tended to the homeless. They mattered to him.

Republicans think Barack Obama is a socialist? Hah. Flynn may not have been a socialist (some of his aides were, probably) but in Ray Flynn’s Boston real estate developers and bankers gave back through “linkage” so the neighborhoods would be able to share in the prosperity of a modern downtown.

He was straight forward about his beliefs and simple in his tastes. He worked hard because that’s what you do. After hours you might find him with a beer in his hand at J.J. Foley’s unwinding and telling a few stories.

Of course his Catholic beliefs on social and economic justice are outweighed in many people’s minds by his advocacy of Catholic teachings on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. On those issues he is far from present day Democratic Party orthodoxy (but pretty close to the Democratic Party he grew up in).  These issues seem most important to him now. And so he has become a habitual endorser of Republican candidates.

As my colleague Professor Ubertaccio pointed out in Ray Flynn Enters the Fray his endorsement may be helpful in helping Senator Brown make the case with urban Catholics. More likely, his electoral pull in the state has evaporated with the passage of time.

Either way Ray Flynn is a Democrat, a Boston Democrat.


About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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11 Responses to Ray Flynn Is a Democrat

  1. Frank Doyle says:

    Professor Cunningham has captured the essence of the man, his politics and his legacy with great insight in his comments above. I would remind folks as well that in 1992, it was Ray Flynn’s sense of social justice and belief in Catholic teachings such as Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (which has long guided Flynn’s compasionate understanding of the working class) that made him an important supporter and national surrogate for then preseidential hopeful Bill Clinton – certainly not a Republican. Flynn has never been one to conform to blind Party loyalty. His endorsements have always been about the character of the candidate not the Party – that’s why they mean something to people. To those of us Democrats privileged to have known and worked with him, Ray Flynn has always personified the phrase “lunch pail democrat”, faithful to his bedrock core beliefs unlike many who call themselves Democrats today. Perhaps one day the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s left wing leaders will be as committed to a set of core working class driven beliefs, guided by a true understanding of social justice not political expediency that has long attracted voters (and candidates) to Flynn.

  2. Jimmy Carl Black says:

    Nope, sorry. This is the kind of vague, rhetorical piece that’s typical of 21st-century right-wing politics. Flynn is not a democrat. Stupid is as stupid does, and one can’t call himself a democrat and support the likes of Scott Brown. Flynn is “a populist in the sense that made the Democrats at one time the populist party: fiercely committed on issues of economic justice for the working man and woman”? Really? Then, how does he justify endorsing a man who advocates undoing nearly every social program for the poor and working class, while supporting tax breaks for the rich, a group that is already paying the lowest tax rate they’ve seen since before the Great Depression? How does he justify supporting a man who is on the take from big oil, big health care, and big business? A man who fought against extending unemployment benefits to those laid off by an economic implosion caused by his parties negligence in oversight of the banking industry.

    Scott Brown is a right-wing, big-business, tea-party shill who has done and will do nothing to help support “economic justice for the working man and woman.” Ray Flynn’s support of him shows one of two things has happened: either he has sacrificed everything he once claimed to stand for because he’s become a single-issue voter and has let his feeling about abortion laws cloud his regard for “economic justice” for those who have actually been born OR he’s sacrificed everything he once claimed to stand for because he’s been paid off. I’m not sure which is worse, but in either case he’s NOT a democrat. To say one is a democrat and supporting Scott Brown is like someone claiming to be a Jew supporting the Nazi party.

    • rich heckmann says:

      Well stated. I just wanted to say that I could not have said it as well. I am disgusted by this man who is betraying every principle that he ever purported to support. Scott Brown is a card carrying Grover Norquist republican nut. Ray Flynn just disgusts me.

  3. Mo–well stated but I wonder if Flynn’s electoral pull has “nearly evaporated.” He couldn’t win a race and can’t bring a significant number of supporters with him any more. But in a close race, can he bring along just enough Democrats like him in key precincts around the state to keep the race close or give Brown an edge where a Republican wouldn’t ordinarily have one?

  4. “To say one is a democrat and supporting Scott Brown is like someone claiming to be a Jew supporting the Nazi party.”
    Um hyperbole…and that comes from a democrat.
    I think Ray Flynn’s endorsement of Brown will have about as much net effect as a notional endorsement of Warren by Former Governor Bill Weld. Other than shocking the lingering pro-Weld columnistas on Morrissey Blvd of course….


  5. Arthur Pennesi says:

    I’m afraid Ray Flynn must have had one too many Bushmills and has totally lost his mind to dementia, senility or both. I have met and worked beside Democrats for the best part of 36 years that stand by the working man and you Ray Flynn are no democrat. You are a disgrace to your Irish heritage, like a dirty cop on the take. I hope you get your ambassadorship to Ireland or whatever the Brown camp bribed you with, so you can drink away whats left of your liver in peace and quiet. You make me vomit, just a bit, every time I hear your ad.

  6. MichaelC says:

    No, Democrats do not endorse Republicans over members of their own party in this race and remain Democrats in good standing. Your praise of Ray Flynn is as foolish as his endorsement of Scott Brown. The former Mayor became the mayor because he was the last white guy standing. Mel King never had a chance, and Ray Flynn was the recipient of the Louise Day Hicks vote. When President Clinton appointed him to be U.S. envoy to the Vatican, everyone in Boston breathed a sigh of relief because he had become such an embarassment. All that aside, Flynn would never have endorsed Scott Brown unless he believed Brown is more likely to oppose a woman’s right to choose. In the end, Flynn has endorsed Brown because “he’s a regular guy” — emphasis on “guy.”

  7. John says:

    Scott brown voted with the republicans 78% of the time, and the other 22% he was allowed to vote Outside party lines on meaningless votes for the republicans in order to give him cover in MAl He is not independent, he is a shill for big business, oil, and the tea party. We need to defeat Republicans everywhere in order to put down their plans to turn this country into a theocracy of the stupid. just think how Brown would vote on a progressive for the Supreme Court… Ray Kelly is a Dino…. Ignore his stupidity.

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  10. Mr.Payne says:

    Mr.Flynn was always co-opted, why is anyone surprised? As for Colonel Brown, he made some strategic but mostly penny ante votes to try to placate voters who his sycophants consider rubes, but when the big money was on the line, he voted with which ever community of interest had the most skin in the game (certainly not the populous). As a republican I am amazed how much traction the operationally discredited policies of Randian-Friemanism and Neo-conservatism still get just because a drift of self styled autocrats toss money at them. What’s going to happen when the people they consider dupes and rubes realize that they have been passing water down their back and telling them its raining.

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