Would that Gov. Deval Patrick heeded his own advice.
In one of the most stirring speeches of the Democratic National Convention, the Massachusetts governor exhorted his party to embrace its own liberal values. “If we want to earn the privilege to lead, it’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe,” he bellowed, eliciting a roar of approval from delegates gathered this week in Charlotte, N.C., to launch President Obama’s fall re-election campaign.
If only he would.
Certainly, Patrick could not have meant the spinelessness he demonstrated just last month when he signed a popular “three-strikes bill” that removes judicial discretion from the sentencing of habitual offenders? "I understand the concerns of those who worry we have taken judgment out of the justice system,” he said sheepishly, signing a piece of pandering legislation that he had rightly vowed to veto because those mandatory sentences will compound prison overcrowding, disproportionately impact minorities and do nothing to stem the real causes of crime in the commonwealth.
After losing his presidential bid in ’80, Ted Kennedy was free to do what so many Democrats rarely do: risk public ire to stand on principle.
Neither could he have meant the cuts that, under the guise of fiscal responsibility, he and an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature made to homeless shelters and a 40-year-old program that provides formula and food to tens of thousands of low-income pregnant and breast-feeding women and their young children. As preschoolers, many of those first graders at Orchard Gardens relied for sustenance on that now-shrunken nutrition program to grow into the eager Boston students Patrick so enthusiastically described to the nation on Tuesday night.
Patrick’s paean to the party’s progressive roots followed a moving tribute to Ted Kennedy, the late Massachusetts senator who embodied those values across a 47-year career in the United States Senate. The fires of his own presidential ambitions banked by his failed challenge to President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Kennedy was free to do what so many Democrats rarely do: risk public ire to stand on principle. It was Kennedy, not John Kerry or Hillary Clinton, who denounced the flimsy rationale for a preemptive strike on Iraq and both Kerry and Clinton paid a steep price for basing their 2002 vote for war on political calculation instead of political courage.
National political conventions are no more than extravagant infomercials designed to rally the faithful. If political courage were on the agenda, Patrick would have risked alienating the powerful National Rifle Association, to ask how Mitt Romney can now oppose a ban on the kinds of assault weapons that caused carnage in a Colorado movie theatre and a Wisconsin Sikh temple, after he signed just such a ban in Massachusetts in 2004. Wiser to leave that issue alone, just as Obama has cowardly done for four years.
No one expects reality to intrude on the fun or on the oratory at a party convention. But Patrick made a miscalculation if he did not think that even the casual viewer back in Massachusetts might see some pretty obvious parallels between his own governorship and that of the Republican predecessor he was so keen to mock.
Mitt Romney is “a fine fellow and a great salesman, but as governor he was more interested in having the job than doing it.” Patrick sneered, a reference to Romney’s frequent out-of-state excursions when, two years into his first and only term, he began stumping for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. It was a good line and it got an even better response than it did when he used it the first time during his second inaugural address, telling that audience “we have had too many years of leadership more interested in having the job than doing the job.”
But how different is that from how things are shaping up for Deval Patrick two years into his second term? He has earned more than a few frequent flier miles himself. Trade missions to China, Britain, Israel, Chile and Brazil. Multi-city national tours to promote his autobiography “A Reason to Believe.” Even more time on the road this year acting as a surrogate speaker to advance the re-election bid of President Obama.
Nothing untoward about all that travel. Patrick’s publisher paid for his book tour. Patrick’s Together PAC pays for his political trips. Every governor, no matter his party affiliation, seeds his official schedule with trade missions of dubious value. Calling one’s predecessor out for wanderlust when he becomes his party’s presidential nominee is certainly fair game. No one, however, will mistake it for political backbone.
This program aired on September 7, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.