November 7, 2016 will mark the tenth anniversary of Deval Patrick’s election as the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. The former Clinton Administration Justice Department official trounced his Republican opponent, then-Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, by 21 points, becoming the first Democrat to serve as the state’s governor since Michael Dukakis left office in 1991.
The 2006 Patrick campaign is still talked about in the Bay State as a triumph of optimism and hard work over cynicism and conventional wisdom. At the start of Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign in mid-2005, it was generally assumed that Patrick wouldn’t be able to go the distance; he would up proving all of his critics wrong by building a grassroots campaign that served as a template for the US Senate campaigns of fellow Bay State Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey.
Patrick became governor by defending the progressive vision and reaffirming that government was a good and necessary thing, with the ability to do right by its citizens. At a time when many Massachusetts Democrats were reluctant to openly support same-sex marriage, Patrick boldly backed marriage equality. He refused to be intimidated by right-wing attacks on his record as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Clinton Justice Department. He made it clear that he was not ashamed to be a man of the left.
Above all, he was positive. He often talked about how his life was a testament to the American Dream, and how his journey from Chicago’s South Side to the elite Milton Academy demonstrated that anything was possible if society invested in its citizens. He spoke of government’s power to remedy the scourge of income inequality. He pushed back against those who had turned compassion and empathy into punchlines. He summoned the best of FDR and JFK.
As he noted in his 2011 memoir, A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life:
Idealism was the theme of my first race for governor. I found I couldn’t make a case for changing our policies without also talking about changing our broken politics, about fixing our “broken civic life.” Acknowledging how disillusioned so many of our citizens had become, I urged those who had lost faith in their public leaders to return to the political process and to renew their belief that they could make a difference. Against the urging of many of my own supporters and political advisers, we shunned negative ads and maintained a positive message of hope and change…The night I was elected governor, I began my acceptance speech by saying that the people of Massachusetts had taken back their government. Then I said, ‘This was not just a victory for me. This was not a victory just for Democrats. This was a victory for hope.’
Now that he’s out of office after two successful terms, I wonder if the lessons of Deval Patrick are being forgotten. Those lessons shouldn’t be. The hope and the optimism of Deval Patrick are needed now more than ever.
NEXT: Accentuating the altruistic.