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.