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Keller @ Large: We Could Use More Of John Silber’s Candor

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John Silber in 2011. (Photo credit: Jacob Villanueva/ The Texas Tribune)

John Silber in 2011. (Photo credit: Jacob Villanueva/ The Texas Tribune)

WBZ-TV's Jon Keller Jon Keller
Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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BOSTON (CBS) – My sympathies go out to the family and friends of John Silber, the former Boston University president, 1990 Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and chairman of the state board of education.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:


Full disclosure, I was not a friend of Dr. Silber’s.

I was one of many journalists he disdained, and he made quite clear his contempt for my critical journalism on his run for office, his oversight of the Chelsea schools, and his tenure at the board of ed.

I didn’t like his explicit scorn any more than he liked my reporting, but that’s fair enough.

And I’m glad to say that our last couple of encounters were quite cordial, including our final interview a few years ago in which he delivered a blistering and quite accurate critique of the architecture of One Western Avenue, the hideous concrete Harvard grad-student dormitory along the Charles River in Allston.

But among his many gifts as an academic leader and thinker, Dr. Silber practiced what sadly appears to be a dying art – the art of candor.

The great novelist Tom Wolfe eulogized Silber yesterday by calling him “the last candid man,” and while I hope that’s not true, there is some truth to it.

You may recall that Silber was not anyone’s choice when he ran for governor in 1990. The Democratic establishment didn’t want him, and the media sure didn’t either. But he won the nomination largely on the basis of his so-called “Silber shockers,” candid statements that were deemed politically incorrect by opinion-makers but embraced by voters.

Among these were his statements that excessive health-care spending on sustaining very ill elderly patients should be reassessed because “when you’ve had a long life and you’re ripe, then it’s time to go”; and his comment that Massachusetts welfare benefits had unwisely become so generous and easy to get that the state was “a welfare magnet.”

Twenty-four years later, we are still wrestling with the issues he sought, however inelegantly, to address.

There’s something to be said for candor. And while John Silber’s practice of it clearly had its political limits, we could surely use more of it today, not less.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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