Opinion

Hacks, flacks, and yoots

byDwight G. Duncan
5/24/2013

On the 40th anniversary of Watergate, we once again face the prospect of billowing scandal in the Executive Branch, what with the I.R.S. targeting taxpayers for their political opposition to the administration, cover-ups about the Benghazi attacks, and the Justice Department fishing through journalists' phone records to try to stop media leaks.

Whether done by Republicans or Democrats, the politicization of law and facts is a deplorable feature of modern American life. Politicians, who should be serving the common good, are all too often serving themselves. They seem more interested in advancing their careers and their perks and exempting themselves from the generally applicable rules they impose so readily on others. Hacks are what we call them.

But in a democracy hacks need to get re-elected, and thus fool a significant number of people concerning what they are really about. And so, hacks needs flacks, which the Urban Dictionary defines as "one paid to represent the views of an individual, group, or organization." Flacks give us "spin."

And so, when Dr. Kermit Gosnell was rightly convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for slitting the spinal cords of three newborn infants, the Planned Parenthood spin was that this horror was an argument for keeping abortion legal. Lest what? Lest people go to back-alley abortionists like Dr. Gosnell? But I thought Roe v. Wade meant an end to the back-alley abortions. To paraphrase Stalin, three infant deaths are a tragedy, but the millions Roe gave us are a mere statistic.

If all we had in this country were the political and chattering classes, full of hacks and flacks, there would be grounds for a deep pessimism about the future. But fortunately, the people are sovereign in this country, and politicians are supposed to be public servants, not their masters. In that regard, last week I witnessed two events here in Massachusetts which fill me with hope for the future.

Both involve young people, "yoots," in the memorable phrase of ''My Cousin Vinnie.'' The first was the funeral at St. John the Evangelist in Clinton of six-year-old Sheila Beirne on May 14. Sheila and her eight-year-old brother Thomas had Leigh's disease, a genetic neurometabolic disorder that results in early death. She died a holy death on May 11, a week after making her first holy communion, and surrounded by her parents, Sheila and Gerard, who have deep and luminous faith, and her numerous siblings.

Sheila was a beautiful child, by all accounts all sweetness and light. Her family went to Lourdes in March to ask for a miracle cure for her and her brother. I know because, as a friend of her parents, I was praying for them at the time and following their pilgrimage on Facebook. A physical healing was not to be, but I was struck at the funeral with not just the physical beauty of her large family, but their spiritual radiance in the midst of such heart-rending sorrow. Everyone there seemed blown away by the palpable reality of having a young saint in heaven. I can imagine no greater grief for parents than losing a child. But I can also imagine no greater joy than believing their child to be in heaven, helping the rest of the family (and, hopefully, friends of the family) on their way home, too. Let's pray to Sheila for a miracle cure for Thomas.

Last Saturday, and obviously at a different level, I went to my first Eagle Court of Honor for Boy Scout Troop 333 at St. John Neumann's in Freetown. The two oldest sons of Mark and Debbie Perry, friends of mine, were becoming Eagle scouts. The amazing thing is that Daniel is 13, and Anthony is 15. I felt this had to be some kind of record for making Eagle at a young age. Both had been boy scouts since 2010, for three years. I was in the boy scouts for three years back in the 1960s, but I never made it past tenderfoot. I was a failure at boy scouts, and couldn't tell sassafras from shinola, and didn't (don't) like camping.

In witnessing the ceremony, and the achievements of these wonderful boys, I saw the kind of civic virtue and spirit of service that once made our country great. It seemed like everyone from the past two presidents of the United States to Cardinal Sen O'Malley and the baseball commissioner sent them well-deserved congratulations, which they took with humility and good humor. Anthony had created a beautiful Rosary Garden behind his parish church, and Daniel had mapped and re-signed the old fire and Indian trails near Great Quitticas Pond. Their families, and the rest of us, should be proud. With young people like Sheila Beirne and Anthony and Daniel Perry, there's great hope for a bright future, the hacks and flacks of my generation notwithstanding!

Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.