They haven't been banned in Boston yet, but the Boston Herald's twice-weekly columns by opinion writer Don Feder are raising the hackles of government employees and pro-state partisans throughout Massachusetts.
Feder doesn't mince words. In a typical column he writes: "No one has to teach us to detest public workers. It comes naturally, by a process of observation and experience." He cites as an example the "arrogant pickpockets of the IRS."
One of Feder's favorite targets is the Postal Service, a topic invariably eliciting outraged replies from postal workers. A sampling: "Real men tote mailbags," and "Journalists just sit on their butts"—and those are just the letters the postal service actually managed to deliver!
Every columnist comments upon the passing holidays, and Feder is no exception. Celebrating April 15, he observes, "If taxes are the price we pay for civilization, then Russia must be the most civilized nation on earth." As for July 4, he wonders why collectivists in America celebrate it and cites the anti-state attitudes of Founding Fathers such as "that venerable guerrilla leader, George Washington"—who, along with Jefferson and company, was pro-private property, and was a "gun nut" to boot.
Writing is the ideal occupation for Feder. "It all comes down to ideas. Ever since I was a student in high school I was fascinated by ideas. I did a lot of reading, joined the debate team. I came of age in the mid-'60s, a time of intellectual ferment. I was at Boston University, majoring in political science, during the '60s, at the height of the anti-war protests and New Left hysteria. I was the token free-market columnist for the Boston University News."
After getting his law degree from Boston University in 1972, he returned to practice law in Johnstown, the small community in upstate New York where he grew up. The practice of law in a small town provided neither excitement nor an outlet to express his political views, so in 1976 he returned to Massachusetts.
While studying for the state bar there, he took what he assumed would be a temporary position—it in fact lasted three years—as executive director of the fledgling Citizens for Limited Taxation, a group formed in opposition to a ballot proposition that would have made the state income tax graduated. Feder and others spoke to civic organizations, participated in radio and TV debates, and organized mailings and the distribution of literature. The campaign was successful: the measure lost by a two-to-one margin.
Feder was then instrumental in getting the group to champion the Massachusetts equivalent of California's Proposition 13. The victory at the polls in November 1978 of "Proposition 2½" limited property taxes to two and a half percent of a property's value—a significant relief in "Taxachusetts," the state with the highest property taxes in the country.
In 1979, Feder moved to the state of Washington and became executive director of the Second Amendment Foundation, a group with about 250,000 contributors nationwide. It was the only educational (as opposed to lobbying) organization supporting freedom of gun ownership. Under Feder's leadership, the foundation published literature, put out a newsletter, and developed a lawyer referral service for gun owners who were being harassed ("denied permits on spurious grounds, arrested for technical violations of gun laws, etc."). Feder also traveled across the country doing talk shows and newspaper interviews, making over 100 media appearances in two years.
While at the Second Amendment Foundation, he began writing a column for the Journal-American, a daily paper in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Washington. "One evening," Feder relates, "I ran into the editor at a cocktail party. I sent him copies of my B.U. News columns." The editor was not interested at first, but five months later he called and asked Feder to do a weekly column.
Writing the column whetted Feder's taste for journalism and allowed him to deal with a wider range of topics than just those pertaining to gun ownership. Also, he and his family missed New England. So in 1981, he returned to Massachusetts and, with writer-economist friend Mark Isaacs, spent two years publishing On Principle, a biweekly newsletter providing coverage of political and economic issues from an individualist, free-market perspective. One of their subscribers was a businessman who, dismayed by the perceived liberal bias of the news media, had bought WEEI, Boston's all-news radio station. Feder accepted a position as WEEI's editorial director.
The original promotion for On Principle offered copies of Don's Journal-American columns as a premium. A Heritage Foundation staffer who thus acquired them sent them to the publisher of the Boston Herald, who asked Feder to do occasional pieces for them. "Occasionally" led to weekly, which in turn led to twice-weekly, which is in turn leading to wider circulation: the column is also carried by Chicago Sun-Times and the Orange County, California, Register and sometimes appears in Human Events and Conservative Digest.
"The real focus of power in this country," says Feder, "is in newspapers, radio, TV, and book publishing. Not government, but the idea industry." And Don Feder is making sure that at least some of those ideas are pro-liberty.
John Dentinger is a free-lance writer.