Monday, February 18, 2008

Deval Patrick: A Cautionary Tale For Obama

From on February 13, 2008:

“It’s time to put our cynicism down. Put it down. Stand with me and take that leap of faith. Because I’m not asking you to take a chance on me. I’m asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations. Take a chance on hope.”

Barack Obama, right?


These are the words of Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, the first African-American to move into the Governor’s Mansion in the commonwealth’s 218 year history after defeating his opponent, a woman, Kerry Healey, the former Lieutenant-Governor of the state under Republican Governor Mitt Romney.

Deval Patrick and his good friend Barack Obama have much more in common than their prosaic words, the depth of the color of their skin, their Harvard backgrounds, and their female political opponents. Neither man can/could claim a mountain of legislative experience prior to their runs, although Patrick’s credentials were far more impressive than those of Senator Obama’s.

Patrick had served as an assistant attorney general in the Clinton Administration, best-known for heading the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Still, he had no experience in Massachusetts politics, and since all politics is local, and Patrick was seeking the Massachusetts governorship, his inexperience should have been an issue in the campaign. It wasn’t.

The electorate was too mesmerized by Patrick’s charm offensive, his promise of the politics of hope, and his “Yes we can,” campaign slogan to care about the particulars.

Where have we heard that before?

It is no coincidence that Patrick’s rhetoric is eerily similar to that of Democratic party presidential contender, Barack Obama. Both men's campaigns were/are conducted under the genius of political operative David Axelrod.

Studying the genesis of Patrick’s win has to be disheartening for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Patrick not only won the election through a grassroots campaign that touched the people’s hearts but he won big, seducing the party apparatchik into his camp as he manipulated the delegate count in ways it hadn’t been played before.

And, much like Senator Obama is doing, Patrick campaigned under little if any scrutiny, the electorate jumping on his soaring train of roaring rhetoric and inspiring message of hope for a better tomorrow, exactly the same style grassroots campaign that Senator Obama is mounting today.

Here’s a description of Patrick’s primary campaign from Frederick Clarkson of The Daily Kos posted September 2, 2006:

“While Reilly (Patrick’s opponent in the primary) continued to raise massive amounts of money, Patrick patiently played his own game; defied the odds and the tsk tsking of The Conventional Wisdom. He inspired people to get serious about electing someone different -- someone who could and would make a difference.

"He was and is a candidate who actually talks with you when you meet him; not just serving up premasticated sound bites. Out of the initial enthusiasm, he forged an effective grassroots organization that won more than enough delegates to be the official nominee of the Democratic state convention. He gave an oration at the convention that brought people to their feet, cheering.”

But it is what happened to Governor Patrick following his election that is relevant to the story. It is a cautionary tale of an unvetted candidate getting his win and then finding himself woefully unprepared for the position he secured in a brilliantly run campaign. America take heed.

Patrick’s first year in office has been a train wreck. But that’s what happens when a politician runs as an “idea” as much as a “human politician,” these the words of journalist Charles Pierce in his must-read piece The Mis-Education of Duval Patrick in The Boston Globe.

Pierce goes on to say: “Because of the nature of the campaign he ran. Patrick has spent his entire first year walking a thin line between two cliches of the established political narrative.

"There is the reformer who spends all of his time at loggerheads with the culture of The Building, watching his cherished proposals vanish in the Legislature like a bowling ball dropped into a vat of oatmeal. And then there is the reformer who "sells out" to the established power against which he ran, thereby disillusioning the primary base of his support.”

I point this out for the obvious reason, and more. I am thinking of Senator Clinton’s big win in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on Super Tuesday, when everyone was certain that Barack Obama would win Massachusetts having the weight of his friend the Governor, the Kennedy machine and the Commonwealth’s junior Senator John Kerry behind his candidacy.

I’m wondering if Senator Clinton’s stunning Massachusetts victory wasn’t only a vote for her but equally a redux of the vote for Governor Patrick. And a warning, a cautionary tale, for America’s voters, not to fall prey as Massachusetts did to the empty rhetoric of inexperienced but charming and poetic politicians.