January 24th, 2008
GREENHORN GOVERNORS AND PRESIDENTS
IN 2006 my home state of Massachusetts elected a new Democratic governor, Deval Patrick. I had never even heard his name until the summer before his November election. He was a veteran of the Clinton administration’s Justice Department, articulate in a most disarming way, Chicago born, educated at Harvard, and to make every liberal’s heart beat just that much faster, was African-American. It had been sixteen years since a Democratic governor led our Commonwealth. Veteran political figures who had served years in the Bullfinch designed statehouse were tossed aside as progressives gave their hearts to this new self-anointed savior. His stump speech blew us away as he invoked the founding fathers words like freedom and justice for all, ending each litany of what makes us proud to be Americans by softly referring to our birthrights as, “just words”.
It was a Sidney Poitier screen moment come to raise us up, expand possibilities, enlarge our minds, shrink our prejudices and do what leadership is supposed to do, but so seldom delivers—make us what we were born to be: Free men and women working for the common good. We were inspired to carry him into office on our shoulders, and did. Deval Patrick became our first Democratic governor in sixteen long years. He ran as an outsider who would bring a new day of enlightened polices, backed up by competence, to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
His campaign themes echo again in 2008, this time voiced by a charismatic Senator, also from Chicago, Barack Obama. “Yes we can” is a crowd-catcher phrase that inspires without any effort. I remember how a similarly young and inspirational Senator, Jack Kennedy, built his campaign week after week by asking audiences to rise up and “Get America moving again.” We were all young then and he became an idealized mirror of America’s inherent energy. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” campaign harked back to the nation’s beginnings, even as he looked ahead to space exploration: “This a new ocean and we must sail upon it.” No president since has been his rhetorical equal; we need leaders who identify with a people struggling to break with the past on their way to brighter tomorrows. Like Obama, Kennedy’s words offered the politics of hope.
Unfortunately, Governor Patrick got off on the wrong foot by making a series of mistakes in judgment and in actions that tarnished his reputation. As a supporter and taxpayer I blanched as he was jumped on for 1. Trading his Ford for a Cadillac. 2. Buying new office drapes for $12,000. 3. Hiring a chief of staff for his wife. 4. And, worst of all, making a “private citizen” phone call to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin an executive at Citibank on behalf of Ameriquest Mortgage, a subsidiary of ACC Capital Holdings. Patrick once served on ACC’s board of directors. Even liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D. Mass) decried the governor’s phone call as “a mistake in judgment.” To my mind that boo-boo was nothing compared to Gov. Patrick’s call to authorize three large “Casino Resorts” across the breadth of Massachusetts in hopes of garnering increased taxes and create 20,000 casino jobs. We already have the nation’s most successful state lottery, plus world-class educational, high technology, and health care underpinnings to our economic future: why would anyone back this shell-game gambling proposal?
My point is that new governors, and new presidents, are prone to rookie mistakes. Bill Clinton made some beauties. At any rate, they’re elected to four-year terms and we can’t send them back down to the minors to season their skills. Massachusetts, or any state, can survive a greenhorn governor. The failed G. W. Bush experiment is disaster enough for me to proclaim America needs veteran leadership from day one. That’s why I’m not ready to back Barack Obama come the Massachusetts primary, February 5, 2008.
Nonetheless, I believe that his day will come.