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Look Back in Anger

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Republicans in Massachusetts often say that Deval Patrick's 2006 gubernatorial campaign served as a template for Barack Obama's presidential campaign two years later. What they won't tell you is that the conservative template of attacking Obama with unrelenting invective was also created here in the Bay State, and used against Patrick.

I should know.

I helped create that template.

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I certainly wasn't thrilled to read the following in the January 17, 2005 Boston Globe:

Deval Patrick, the nation's former top civil-rights enforcer and an experienced legal executive at two multinational corporations, is laying the groundwork for a possible campaign for governor, a move that would make him the first major African-American candidate for governor in the state's history.

Luckily, the Globe article suggested that his chances for victory were slim:

Although he has no experience in electoral politics, his background, professional experience, and his race would offer Massachusetts Democrats a nontraditional choice. Whether he can generate the kind of excitement to be an effective statewide candidate is not clear. As a first-time candidate, Patrick has a sharp learning curve as he tries to navigate the treacherous back alleys of Massachusetts politics. Patrick will plunge into a world where he has no proven skills of hobnobbing with voters, jockeying with skilled political leaders, handling an aggressive media, and dealing with the party's powerful and demanding special interest groups. Patrick must also take a crash course on the mechanics of campaigns. He has no political base or organization, and he would have to raise millions of dollars.

The Boston Phoenix was also skeptical about Patrick's chances, but I had absolute confidence about what would happen if Patrick ran. So did a friend who shared my disapproval of Patrick's actions during his tenure as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights during the Clinton administration. The day the Globe piece ran, I called him and asked if he saw it.

"Yeah," he replied. "He doesn't have a prayer in hell."

For most of 2005, it seemed our prediction would be correct. It was hard to envision Patrick getting past Attorney General Thomas Reilly, the apparent choice of the Democratic Party establishment. It was virtually impossible to envision Patrick overcoming the likely criticism of his Justice Department work.

In December, Mitt Romney announced that he wouldn't run for a second term as governor, clearing a path for his capable lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, to become the state's next leader. Surely, I figured, she'd have a clear path to victory.

However, in early 2006, Patrick took advantage of a series of gaffes by Reilly to become the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The prospect of a Governor Patrick worried me. Didn't we have enough progressives in positions of power in this state?

On March 11, I attended a Patrick campaign event at Faneuil Hall. I couldn't make it inside the packed building, so I stood outside with about 200 attendees who watched the event on malfunctioning monitors. Patrick was introduced by his wife, Diane, and veteran Democratic congressman Jim McGovern, who was nursing a foot injury. Patrick delivered a nearly half-hour speech filled with progressive talking points; the speech did nothing for me, but virtually everyone around me ate it up.

After the official rally ended, a limping McGovern came out and addressed the outside crowd, stressing the supposed importance of returning a Democrat to the corner office and making a lame Dick Cheney joke: "Last week in Washington, they had a 21-gun salute, and Cheney returned fire!" McGovern then introduced Patrick, who again received thunderous applause. Patrick promoted his website and stressed the importance of raising money for the campaign before speaking to reporters.

Seeing the intensity of Patrick's support at that rally began to unnerve me. Didn't these people understand the importance of having a Republican in the Corner Office to offset the Democrat-dominated legislature?

I knew I had to do something to directly attack Patrick and his overly enthusiastic supporters. Already, there were two anti-Healey sites in operation, in addition to the high-profile liberal site Blue Mass Group, whose founders were staunch supporters of the Patrick campaign.

Someone had to put things back in balance.

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I launched "Deval Patrick Watch" on April 19 with the following mission statement: "Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick has run a campaign marked by unrestrained scorn for those who disagree with the liberal/progressive vision, and unrestrained glorification by members of the Bay State press corps. The intent of this site is to present the case against Mr. Patrick..."

It was only a matter of time before Patrick's fan base caught wind of the site, and sure enough, four days later a Patrick supporter denounced Deval Patrick Watch for polluting the political atmosphere. His criticism only emboldened me to go even harder against Patrick and his supporters (or, as I would later brand them, "Deval's Advocates" and "Devaliens"). Any attack was an asset. After a May 11 post accusing Patrick of excessive pandering to liberal Catholics, I received an e-mail from a Patrick supporter who accused me of not "getting" the motivations of socially liberal Catholics and concluding, "...[Y]ou seem awfully convinced that your role is to bash liberals and/or [Deval Patrick] regardless of careful thought, analysis, or the insight of others." Another progressive, objecting to my cracks about Patrick's speeches, wrote: "DR, I get it that you support Kerry Healey. What I don't get is why you are obsessed with fear and loathing of Deval Patrick. It's one thing to be opposed to his campaign but commenting on the sound of his voice? This seems weird to me. What is behind the hatred???"

In the May 2006 edition of Boston Magazine, Jon Keller explained what fueled the contempt so many Bay Staters on the right had for Patrick. The piece, "Saint Patrick and His Devils," summarized the Clinton-era controversies that led conservatives to label Patrick a "quota king." Keller's piece gave me new purpose, and I ramped up the anti-Patrick rhetoric on the site, even going so far as to cite the Justice Department cases Keller mentioned as proof that Patrick had a chip on his shoulder regarding white people. I also began to aggressively promote other anti-Patrick bloggers and talk radio hosts, praised every reporter who wrote an article even mildly critical of Patrick, and repeatedly slammed the progressive bloggers who sang Patrick's praises.

In mid-July, I met a regional coordinator for the Healey campaign for lunch in Faneuil Hall. I explained my willingness to do anything to help the Healey campaign stop Patrick, who I condemned as a radical-left hyper-partisan. I mentioned that I would be willing to appear in commercials for the Healey campaign to offset likely allegations that she only appealed to reactionary whites, but he seemed cool to the idea. The coordinator thanked me for my enthusiasm and stated that he would be in touch. He also stated that the Healey campaign needed volunteers more than anything at this point, to offset the Democrats' union advantage.

A month later, a Patrick supporter e-mailed me after I wrote a post suggesting that Patrick was jealous of those who had "undeserved" financial success, and wanted to tax the hell out of them because of that jealousy. He asked me if I was jealous of the Democratic candidate. Did I resent the fact that Patrick had galvanized the state with his charisma, his rhetorical polish, and his compelling life story? Was I simply unable to accept Patrick's popularity?

I never responded to his e-mail. In fact, I immediately deleted it.

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On September 19, Patrick won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, easily outpacing Tom Reilly and businessman Chris Gabrieli. I then went into maximum overdrive attacking Patrick and praising Healey. The Healey campaign needed all the help it could get, since polls consistently showed Patrick with a significant lead over her -- even though most voters agreed with her on "hot-button" issues.

Healey's campaign was not only hobbled by Romney's negative, gay-baiting image, but also by the independent candidacy of Christy Mihos, a convenience store magnate and onetime Romney supporter who later had a falling out with the governor and his second-in-command. Mihos pounded Healey during the debates, characterizing her as an incompetent lightweight and making a better case against her than even Patrick did. Mihos wasn't a bad guy by any means, but he really had it in for Healey.

Healey was further injured by the negative reaction to a harsh ad she ran criticizing Patrick's past advocacy on behalf of convicted rapist Ben LaGuer, who had alleged that jury racism played a role in his conviction. After Patrick acknowledged his past skepticism about the fairness of LaGuer's conviction, Healey ran an ad showing a woman walking at night in a parking garage, presumably being stalked by a potential rapist, while a female narrator attacked Patrick for once saying that LaGuer's letters to him were "eloquent and thoughtful." The narrator asked, "Have you ever heard a woman compliment a rapist? Deval Patrick. He should be ashamed, not governor."

Patrick's supporters attacked the ad as old-school race-baiting from a desperate, fear-mongering, right-wing politician. I didn't believe the ad was racist, but the allegation was out there, and it stuck to Healey.

For weeks prior to the election, I was convinced that all the polls showing Patrick ahead of Healey by a wide margin were fabricated, that the Bay State simply would not vote for Patrick, that Healey would somehow keep the Corner Office in GOP hands. However, the Sunday before the election, it finally dawned on me that Healey didn't have a prayer in hell.

On November 8, a day after Patrick's historic victory, I shut down Deval Watch, declaring:

What can we say? He proved us wrong. We admit it. We were the first in line to doubt his ability to win this election. We believed that he was too liberal even by Massachusetts standards to go over. The voters felt otherwise, and we accept their judgment...We tried as best we could to present the case against Patrick. The jury came back with a different verdict, and again, we accept their decision. We congratulate Mr. Patrick on his victory, and hope that he will serve the state well. He proved us wrong last night. Now, it's his duty to prove his critics wrong over the next four years.

Just before Thanksgiving, a fellow Patrick critic, blogger Aaron Margolis, e-mailed to say that he and his brother Matt had planned to start their own version of Deval Patrick Watch on the morning of Patrick's inauguration. They wanted me to be a contributor. I responded, "I'd be honored to contribute, and I hope that I'll be able to be effective in the role. The site was very difficult to maintain, but I enjoyed attempting to make the case against Patrick. You guys do an EXCELLENT job, and I hope that I'll be able to make an effective contribution. Together, we can!"

In early-2007, I was having a ball with the new Deval Patrick Watch; the Margolis brothers and I relentlessly ridiculed Patrick for spending thousands of dollars on new drapes for his office, leasing a Cadillac DTS for state business instead of a less expensive Ford Crown Victoria, and hiring a personal assistant for his wife Diane. I enjoyed giving it to Patrick, especially over a highly controversial proposal to allow casino gambling in Massachusetts and a highly bizarre speech commemorating the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, in which Patrick referred to the event as a "failure of human understanding." <Boston Phoenix reporter David Bernstein actually a href="http://blog.thephoenix.com/blogs/talkingpolitics/archive/2007/09/12/Failure-Of-Human-Understanding-Indeed.aspx" target="_hplink">gave me credit for fueling the controversy over Patrick's speech in the conservative blogosphere.

Michael Graham, the Boston Herald op-ed columnist and talk radio host, pummeled Patrick two days after the speech:

Perhaps that's Patrick's problem. Maybe he's living in another world, an imaginary liberal land were every Muslim radical is just one hug away from Methodism, and every criminal can be rehabilitated by a proper diet and midnight basketball. The rest of us, alas, are trapped in the real world.

Graham's piece reminded me of me.

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By the summer of 2010, I knew I was going to defeat him. Or, more accurately, Charlie Baker was going to do it for me.

Some of my conservative friends weren't thrilled with Baker, the former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and an aide to previous Republican governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci; as early as February, they had expressed concerns that Baker couldn't go the distance, that he lacked Senator Scott Brown's charisma, that he had no experience running a major campaign. I wasn't buying any of it. I figured Baker's win was a foregone conclusion.

I wanted Patrick gone. I had spent the last four years denouncing the governor on Deval Watch, mocking virtually every aspect of his administration, fantasizing about his landslide loss in 2010, lamenting the impact his policies had on the Commonwealth. I highlighted every critical op-ed I could find about Patrick, particularly emphasizing criticism from progressive-leaning writers. I spread my contempt for Patrick to other conservative sites. I couldn't wait to see Baker push Patrick's face into the sand.

However, the Baker campaign seemed not to know how to deal with the independent candidacy of state treasurer Tim Cahill, an ex-Democrat whose campaign appealed in theory to right-leaning Democrats and independents. The Republican Governors Association went after Cahill, presumably on Baker's behalf (though not at his official behest), with a series of humorous ads mocking Cahill's tenure as treasurer. While I loved the ads, I couldn't help thinking that the RGA, and the Baker campaign, probably should have just ignored Cahill.

Right before Labor Day, Michael Graham suggested I start a "Deval of the Day" feature on Deval Watch, a "This Day in History"-style page that would count down the days until the governor's defeat by chronicling his past gaffes and outrageous statements. I reviewed a ton of news stories and Youtube clips, including the footage of his speeches from the first campaign.

I was struck by Patrick's November 7, 2006 Election Night speech. As the speech began, I found myself annoyed by his voice, irritated by his catchphrases, vexed by the cheers of the throngs at the Hynes Convention Center. I tried to figure out just what it was the enthralled audience saw in the guy. Why did they think he was so compelling, so thoughtful, so gifted?

Then, another thought popped into my head: what if this guy had been a Republican?

I continued to watch the speech with this particular thought in mind, and then it hit me. If Deval Patrick had been a Republican, the hope and change stuff would have actually meant something to me. If Deval Patrick had been a Republican, I would have been in that audience, cheering and clapping right alongside his enthusiastic supporters.

If Deval Patrick had been a Republican, I would have crawled over broken glass to volunteer for him and to see to it that he became governor.

I got it. I understood it. It took me some time -- a long time -- but I finally figured it out.

I thought back to that e-mail that Patrick supporter sent me in August 2006, the one that asked me if I was jealous of Patrick, the one I never responded to.

I knew now why I couldn't respond.

The answer was "yes."

I was jealous as hell of Deval Patrick. I resented the fact that his charisma and talents were being used to promote an agenda I had profound disagreements with. I hated the fact that this American success story wasn't on my side.

As Patrick concluded his speech, the sound of his theme song -- Heather Small's "Proud" -- filled the Hynes Convention Center. The song's chorus seared my ear: "What have you done today/to make you feel proud?" I couldn't help thinking that over the last four years, I hadn't done a thing to make me feel proud.

I still wanted Baker to win, so I pilloried Patrick and Cahillon the right-leaning Red Mass Group, declaring that a Baker victory was necessary for the state to regain its economic footing. But my heart wasn't in it.

Two weeks before the election -- when it was obvious that Baker, despite his effective commercials and strong performances in debates with Patrick, Cahill and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, just wasn't going to seal the deal -- I e-mailed a blogger who had been critical of Patrick in 2006 but had undergone a change of heart and announced that he would support Patrick's re-election. "If he gets re-elected," I wrote, "I hope there are enough people on my side who will concede something that, only now, I've come to realize: that Patrick may, in fact, be one of the most effective political figures in Bay State history. I hope Republicans in this state study how effective he is, and why he is such a compelling figure.

"I fear they won't."

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November 2 may have been a great night for Republicans in other parts of the country, with the GOP regaining control of the House after four years, but for Bay State Republicans it was awful. Not only did Charlie Baker fail to unseat Patrick, but Tea Party-backed challengers to the state's all-Democratic House delegation lost across the board. Sixteen Republicans won seats in the state legislature, but that was the only thing the elephants could raise their trunks about.

A libertarian friend was horrified by the Bay State results: he was convinced that the Cahill campaign and the Globe's attacks on Baker helped Patrick win. I didn't share his sentiment. Baker was a good candidate overall, but his team let him down, trying to position him as a Bay State version of Chris Christie when there was no evidence whatsoever that Massachusetts voters would support a Chris Christie-style candidate. Baker's campaign promise to lay off 5,000 state employees if elected went over like the proverbial lead balloon; those who didn't have an ideological grievance against state employees recognized that Baker's promise would simply jack up the state's unemployment rate. (A libertarian-backed ballot initiative to cut the state's sales tax in half also frightened voters who feared that social services would be slashed if the ballot initiative passed.)

In addition, Patrick ran a flawless campaign, emphasizing that the state was doing much better than other states with regard to weathering the financial crisis. Patrick was simply a more empathetic candidate than Baker, and empathy counts for something in politics, a reality Republicans in this state and elsewhere often refuse to recognize.

In a Red Mass Group post the morning after the election, I begged Bay State Republicans to study what made Patrick effective. A few days later, I appeared on WRKO's Pundit Review Radio to discuss the piece. One caller wasn't thrilled with my argument and trashed Massachusetts as a "dumb state" and a "ridiculous state."

"I profoundly disagree with the notion that this is a dumb state," I responded. "Despite my disagreements with the outcome of Tuesday, I love Massachusetts, and I'm proud to be from Massachusetts."

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I was wrong to let my own hyper-partisanship get the best of me. So much invective, so many attacks, and for what?

I found Patrick's 2011 memoir, A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life, to be a fascinating work. For all my political grievances with Patrick, I cannot possibly deny that his life is a testament to American exceptionalism.

In the book, he notes:

I am hardly the only product of Chicago's South Side to have gone on to better things or the only kid from a hardscrabble background to have had a measure of success. That 'rags to riches' story is distinctly American, and though it is not told often enough, it is still told more often in this country than anywhere else on earth.

Every word of that is true. As is this: if I had a child, and that young man or woman viewed Deval Patrick as a role model, a symbol of how to come from nothing and become something, I'd say he or she could not have made a better choice.

Back in 2006, not only did I hate Patrick, but I also hated Republicans who had crossed over to support him. One Republican in particular was Rev. Peter Gomes of Harvard Divinity School. I spent years loathing Rev. Gomes for his decision to back Patrick, feeling that he had abandoned the GOP in the name of political correctness and raw racial solidarity.

It wasn't until after he died in February 2011 that I reconsidered my contempt for Rev. Gomes. He wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe in the fall of 2006 explaining his decision; at the time, I refused to read the article, since I regarded him as beneath contempt for his refusal to support Kerry Healey. Now, five years later, I decided to read the piece.

Rev. Gomes wrote:

[As] a native of Massachusetts, I was brought up on a very simple political syllogism: Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves; Abraham Lincoln was a Republican; therefore, vote Republican. With few exceptions, I have done so. It was always a matter of pride to me to belong to the party of Coolidge, Lodge, Saltonstall, Herter, and Sargent, men of probity and good government -- or 'Goo-Goos,' as James Michael Curley used to call them--and I was proud that the first black senator in Congress since Reconstruction was Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts.

Thus, it was no small thing to abandon the party of Lincoln, and I did so not simply to vote for Deval Patrick but to affirm that the values I have always held, that stood for the best in Massachusetts, are now to be found in this non-Yankee from Chicago. Ronald Reagan, at whose second inauguration I offered the benediction, once said that he hadn't left the Democratic Party but that it had left him; I must say I feel the same way about the Republican Party.

Fortunately, I changed my registration before the nasty tone of the final race had been set, moved to do so by the conviction that words matter, ideas count, and an articulate vision is no small thing in the important matter of public discourse and public policy. When I think of some of the finest public utterances in our American experience -- Lincoln's second inaugural, Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural and fireside chats, and, most significantly, Governor John Winthrop's sermon aboard the Arbella about Massachusetts as the biblical 'city set on a hill,' I realize that we have been starving for words that move and inspire us, instill hope and not fear, and suggest the highest purposes for the common good.

Thus, for me, rhetoric is important, for it suggests ideas and ideals, and they become the foundation for sound policies that restore confidence in government as an agency for good.

The dead man's words had new life. I understood now why Rev. Gomes left the GOP, why he found merit in the Patrick campaign, why he found a reason to believe.

I'll never have a chance to tell him I'm sorry. I'll never have a chance to tell him I get it.