Barack Obama, Deval Patrick and a $46,000 Cadillac

Posted: Nov 23, 2007 3:38 PM
Barack Obama, Deval Patrick and a $46,000 Cadillac

Here’s a quiz: Which prominent African-American politician famously said: “The politics of fear is no acceptable alternative to the politics of hope.”

If you answered Barack Obama, you’re wrong …

Just two years after Obama’s now-famous Democratic National Convention speech in Boston where he asked: “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope” --Deval Patrick uttered the aforementioned phrase in a statement to the press.

Barack Obama went on to serve in the U.S. Senate in 2005, and Patrick was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 2006. And while Obama’s impact as a senator is harder to evaluate, Patrick’s already disastrous tenure in the executive branch may serve as a microcosm of things to come if Obama were to be elected president. Regardless of their racial similarities, the politics of hope is not the only thing that the junior Illinois senator and presidential candidate and the then-future Governor of Massachusetts have in common.

Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency and Deval Patrick’s campaign to become Governor of Massachusetts in 2006 share many remarkable similarities.  And as someone who lived in Red Sox Nation during that campaign, I can attest to how the Deval Patrick playbook is now translating into Obama’s campaign and how that playbook ultimately translates into action or lack there of.

            In 2005, Patrick slowly emerged as a little-known gubernatorial Democratic candidate who gained traction by meeting with individual voters and even speaking at small college classes like at my alma mater Emerson College. In those speeches, Patrick began promoting a grassroots movement in the state that supported his idealistic values in a state that had been governed by Republicans for sixteen years. With two Democratic rivals who had stronger name recognition (one was the state’s Attorney General, the other had unsuccessfully run for Lieutenant Governor four years previous), Patrick built his campaign on young volunteers, grassroots supporters and strong persuasive rhetoric about the politics of possibility.

            In late 2006, because of that campaign, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seemed to be composed of large blue signs and bumper stickers that had the name Deval Patrick on the top of them and “Together We Can” (his slogan) underneath them. Citizens of the state were standing together to support a candidate whose major claim to fame was his work as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights for President Bill Clinton.

            In a state that supported John F. Kennedy’s meteoric rise to the presidency, voters were intrigued by “the politics of hope” throughout the gubernatorial race. In the general campaign, several negative ads by the GOP candidate misfired and Patrick easily won the Governorship declaring in his acceptance speech that “This was not just a victory for me. This was not a victory just for Democrats. This was a victory for hope.” He went on to say to his audience that “This has never been my campaign. It has always been yours. “

            Deval Patrick’s anti-incumbent, grassroots-focused, resume-lacking campaign directly mirrors Barack Obama’s presidential campaign (not surprisingly, Barack Obama visited Massachusetts for several well-publicized events for Patrick during the gubernatorial campaign).

            As Deval Patrick ran for office with the backing of grassroots hardcore volunteers to turn the tide against his two better-known Democratic opponents, Barack Obama finds support from a massive network of people who do not accept the ‘inevitability’ of  his stronger Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. As Deval Patrick devalued his lack of a political resume in the campaign, Obama undermines the experiences of his more well-known rivals arguing that experience does not matter if it is not the right kind of experience. As Patrick’s biggest rival was the female Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, Obama’s greatest rival is former Goldwater girl and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

            As Patrick preached grandiose rhetoric about the politics of “Together we Can”, Obama theorizes about the “politics of hope.”

              With the similarities between the two campaigns so blatant, it was not a great surprise (except maybe to Clinton enthusiasts) that Patrick would endorse Obama which he did in late 2007.

            Deval Patrick may have worked for Clinton but he pledged allegiance to the politics of possibility.

            As Patrick said in his endorsement, “I don’t care if the next president is a Washington insider. I care about what’s in his heart. I don’t care whether the next president has experience in the White House. I care whether he understands life in your house.” Aside from the obvious presidential references, Patrick’s speech could have been about the Governor himself and his own campaign.

            The Boston Globe article about the endorsement states that Patrick and Obama share more than just the “politics of hope”. The Globe notes that “Patrick is the second black Governor in the nation’s history and Obama is trying to be the nation’s first black president.” Additionally, “the two also share roots. Patrick grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where Obama lives. The two were also black student leaders at Harvard Law School.”

            The Deval Patrick and the Barack Obama models of campaigning mirror each other directly and indirectly but the major question that Obama supporters and independent voters should ask is does this type of campaign translate into true leadership.

            If the Deval Patrick model is followed, the simple answer is “no” judging from the mediocre opening act of Governor Deval Patrick’s political experience.

            After the “Together We Can” campaign, Patrick held a major public inauguration to celebrate the new open leadership. At the event, he proclaimed, “Today we join together in common cause to…extend a great movement based on shared responsibility from the corner office to the corner of your block and back again.”

            In the beginning of his first term, that ‘shared responsibility’ meant that all Massachusetts taxpayers would be relied on to accommodate Patrick’s February financial missteps (at a time when the state was experiencing major fiscal issues). In his first full month in office, according to Fox News, Patrick leased an expensive $46,000 Cadillac, spent approximately $10,000 for new curtains in his office and hired a scheduler for his wife (which had not been done since Dukakis was in the corner office.) All of those decisions he later regretted. At least publicly. With that regret, Patrick paid back the state for the extra money for the curtains and the Cadillac and the position of scheduler quickly vanished from the payroll.

            Then a month later in March, according to the Boston Globe,  Governor Patrick pleaded, ‘“Don’t give up on me’…following revelations that he called a top executive at Citigroup, which does extensive business with the state, on behalf of a controversial mortgage company.” After the original story broke, “Patrick issued a statement…that said he regrets calling a top official at Citigroup and interceding on behalf of the owners of Ameriquest Mortgage, a subprime lender where he was a board member before taking office.”

            In less than two months, the “Together we Can” and “politics of hope” candidate was turning into the poster child for the politics of hopelessness.

            One can only imagine what blunders Deval Patrick would have been making if his first major foray into public policy was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

            Or perhaps one does not have to imagine if Barack Obama uses the style and the “audacity of hope” to become the next President of the United States.