"This was not a victory just for me. This was not a victory just for Democrats. This was a victory for hope."
— Deval Patrick, November 7, 2006.
Next weekend, the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, will travel to South Carolina to campaign on behalf of Barack Obama.
The purpose behind Mr. Patrick's stumping, the Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness reported, is to demonstrate to South Carolina's black population that a largely white electorate will vote for an African-American candidate.
Mr. Obama's campaign is correct to put forward its ally, Mr. Patrick, to rebut the notion that white voters will not cast their ballot for a black candidate, an explanation desperately latched onto by political analysts befuddled by Senator Clinton's victory in New Hampshire last week. Massachusetts, which elected Mr. Patrick by a tidal wave of more than 20 points, 56–35, ably refutes that old canard.
The campaign and the analysts are looking at the wrong man when it comes to figuring out how to deal with the race factor. The track record of Mr. Patrick demonstrates what happens when a candidate like Mr. Obama, buoyed by the strengths of a biography, a stirring campaign rhetoric, and a platform of change, faces the tedious and sometimes boring work of actual governing.
For those who see the candidacy of Mr. Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate and Chicago native, as sui generis, Mr. Patrick's biography and 2006 campaign may come as some surprise. Also black, Chicago-born, and a Harvard Law School grad, Mr. Patrick defeated an organizationally-stacked party insider, the state's attorney general, and a wealthy businessman, on his unlikely path to his party's nomination for governor. Although he did boast national experience, having served as the head of the civil rights division in the Department of Justice. A chief adviser to Mr. Obama, David Axelrod, worked on Mr. Patrick's campaign for governor.
In the general election, Mr. Patrick crushed Mitt Romney's lieutenant governor. On the night he was elected, Mr. Patrick paid homage to his supporters, many who had embraced him with a zeal that transcends ordinary politics, in words that today sound similar to Mr. Obama, who came to Massachusetts to endorse him: "You are the ones who transformed this from a political campaign to a movement for change, and I am honored and awed by what you have done. You made a claim on history, and I thank you for letting me be a part of that."
Two months later when Mr. Patrick took office things didn't flow so smoothly. During the early months he faltered especially in comparison to Governor Spitzer, who was flying high at that time although it's hard to remember now.
For the first month, no news came out of the governor's office. So, in the meantime, the press exposed a number of the governor's faux pas ranging from his use of a Cadillac to get around the state, his decision to purchase new curtains for his office, a telephone call made to a mortgage company in trouble. The last mistake amounted to more than peccadillo, which drew criticism from even his liberal base.
To his credit, Mr. Patrick stopped the bleeding. He brought in a new communications team and began to assert his own agenda. He made the case for closing corporate loopholes (an agenda of his campaign), unveiled an ambitious $1 billion biotech plan, and participated in a series of incremental announcements, the type of appearances he had earlier described as "government by photop."
Even so, a little more than a year into his governorship, Mr. Patrick's term has delivered only a fraction of the excitement of his insurgent campaign. In a relentless search for much-needed revenue, Mr. Patrick has taken up the cause of legalizing gambling in Massachusetts, an endeavor that has enveloped a significant part of the administration's energy.
Mr. Patrick has also tangled with the legislative leadership, especially the savvy speaker of the state legislature, Salvatore DiMasi. And, like all chief executives, he has been subject to events outside of his control, such as a blizzard that stranded thousands of motorists stuck in traffic for hours on state highways.
Mr. Patrick was even scapegoated for Mr. Obama's loss in New Hampshire, where the governor made an appearance on behalf of the junior senator. But prior to the that critic Howie Carr likened Mr. Patrick to Mr. Obama in the Boston Herald: "Now, in Massachusetts, we have a governor who believes in hope and opportunity. Just not snowplowing." A WBZ-TV analyst, Jon Keller, theorized on his blog that Mr. Patrick's failures, not his race, contributed to Mr. Obama's defeat in New Hampshire: "Could it be that southern-tier NH voters were reluctant to back Obama in part because of their familiarity with the ineptitude of yet another candidate of hope and togetherness since he got elected?"
Although the worst days of his administration likely have long passed, Mr. Patrick's first year in office hints at what the beginning of an Obama administration would be like. It would likely be filled with stirring speeches but missteps, bold initiatives but embarrassing mistakes, and a certain amount of naivete. Most of all, the beauty of the dream of hope, would be replaced by the grinding, sometimes banal reality of dealing with Congress and running administrative agencies and departments.
Governing is never the same as running for office. That should not be forgotten as we try to imagine Mr. Obama as president.
Mr. Gitell (gitell.com) is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.