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Deval Patrick: Just Words

It’s been a while since Your Humble Blogger featured a political speech, here in this Tohu Bohu. In fact, I’ve made it almost all the way through this political season without paying much attention to speeches. I’ve paid attention to some of the ads, since for whatever reason three out of four ads during Jeopardy! are political ads and have been for a month, but I haven’t gone out of my way to hear or read a stump speech of any kind. I’m grateful, though, to The American Prospect’s Jason Sokol, who alerted me to Deval Patrick’s wonderful speech of October 15th, on the Boston Common. For those Gentle Readers who are not resident in the Commonwealth (no, not that one, Matt) (no, nor Kentucky, not that I think there are any Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu resident in Kentucky at present), Deval Patrick is a name from nowhere who crushed the favorite (and the second favorite) in the Democratic Primary for the nomination for Governor, and is one his way to crushing the Republican candidate. The Republican candidate was a name from nowhere who was plucked from deserved obscurity to be a trophy running mate for Mitt Romney, and has spent her time as lieutenant governor as a punching bag for the Phoenix. Still, there’s been a Republican in the corner office up on Beacon Hill for donkey’s years, and it wasn’t obvious (to me, anyway) that Mr. Patrick was the one to break that streak.

Shatter it.

Seriously, read his October 15 speech. It’s masterful. You can watch and listen, too, by clicking through the DevalPatrick.tv link, and finding the full speech under the speeches tab. It’s a half-hour speech, and it’s worth the time. I don’t know if they make audio available for download, to stick in your player and listen to whilst driving or walking the treadmill, but somehow, make time for it. Or, if you’d prefer, read it aloud to yourself, or to your spouse. If you can’t make the whole half-hour, my advice is to start around 12:30 in, more or less at “The point is this”, but even in the duller opening part, there’s good stuff.

Mr. Patrick has three themes that I pick out as organizing the speech and his message. There’s the theme that the campaign is part of a larger movement, and that he himself is only part of that movement, that the credit for its success goes to his supporters. I might call that a grassroots theme, or an us theme. There’s the theme of work, as opposed to voting. “Hope for a better tomorrow and a willingness to work for it” is how he phrases it. There’s a sense in which this is part of the grassroots theme, placing the election in the context of a larger task, but there’s also a sense in which this is emphasizing the work that needs to be done just to win the election. At any rate, he starts the speech by asking “Are you ready for a change? Are you ready to work for it?” and finishes it by asking the audience to “Go out and work for that.”

The third theme is the utter unsuitability of Kerry Healey (the sitting Lt. Governor) for the corner office. Is that negative? Yes, I think it is. And a good thing, too. People whinge about negative campaigning, and I should probably rant separately and in greater detail, but for here let me say that it is an essential part of representative democracy to say why the other guy is a bad choice. I’m agin lying about the other candidate, and I’m agin irrelevant attacks on personal attributes or history, but I’m also agin ignoring the other candidate. The voter has a choice between A or B, and if one is better, then the other is worse. I’ll be voting for Ned Lamont, but not because I think Ned Lamont “deserves” my vote, or because I think he’ll be a particularly good Senator. No, I think he’d be a better Senator than Joe Lieberman—not because he’s terrific, but because Senator Lieberman is awful. That’s a legitimate criterion for decision-making, and I’m happy to see Deval Patrick tell people that Kerry Healey is awful.

So. Let’s look at how those three themes play out. The first, introductory stretch is mostly devoted to the movement language—“They underestimated you”, “Yes we can”. “We built from the grassroots up. And that is not just a strategy for winning. It’s a strategy for governing.” Then there’s a series of repetitions of “No business person tells me ...” No one from biotech tells me...” “Seniors don’t tell me...” “Students don’t tell me...” “Police and prosecutors don’t tell me...” “Crime victims aren’t asking...” “Working people want...” These allow Mr. Patrick to combine the movement image, where he is a conduit for the masses, with some policy stuff and the anti-incumbent message. Notice, too, that in the policy stuff he rarely says ‘I will do this’ but ‘We will do this.

Then there’s the magnificent attack on Ms. Healey’s record, with the recurring comment that “If I had that record on [the economy/public higher education/health care/the Big Dig/leadership/crime], I would change the subject, too.” I love this figure. Why don’t more people write like this? My only complaint is that in the delivery, he doesn’t slow down enough to let people chant it. People love being included like that. Notice, too, that he at least appears to be fair in his complaints. I don’t mean that everything he complains about is actually Ms. Healey’s fault, or that he doesn’t distort her record a bit; I have no idea. But there isn’t anything in there that smacks of the cheap shot. There isn’t anything that sounds nasty. Well, he puts finger quotes around “criminologist”, which is a dig at the ... exaggeration of Ms. Healey’s criminology credentials during her election to her current post. Not a vicious dig, though, and it seems to me like fair game.

There some deeply weird stuff about his sister and an attack ad, which I don’t understand or want to, but it seems like he wound up on his feet afterwards. And he comes back, crucially, to the movement talk—“let me worry about the attacks and the slanders. You do what you need to do.” He takes an attack on himself as the candidate and turns it into an attack on his supporters, and on the voters. Again, I love this, and I think people should use it far more often. In a nearby Congressional race, Rep. Nancy Johnson is running an ad that suggests her opponent’s supporters are drug-dealers or morons. The candidate should be able to use that, but I don’t think he will. Mr. Patrick does.

Finally, there’s some stuff you really should read in its entirety:

Meanwhile, I will not engage in the politics of fear. Because fear is poisonous. All through history it has been used to hold back progress and limit fairness. Only hope defeats fear. It always has.

At a candidates forum last week, the moderator asked each of us to say something nice about the other candidates. Kerry Healey rather grudgingly said, “Well, he can give a good speech.” She would know this not because she has ever attended a speech of mine but because she has them filmed by this fine fellow here. But her dismissive point, and I hear it from her staff, is that all I have to offer is words. Just words.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Just words.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Just words.

“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Just words.

“I have a dream.” Just words.

Let me say it before you do: I am no Dr. King, no President Kennedy, no FDR, no Thomas Jefferson. But I do know that the right words, spoken from the heart with conviction, with a vision of a better place and a faith in the unseen, are a call to action. So when you hear my words, or speak your own to your neighbors, hear them and speak them as a call to action.

Because the victory is not just what we did on primary night. It’s not just what we will do on November 7. It’s not even when—with your help and Gd Almighty’s—I take the oath of office next January. The victory comes when every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth has a reason to hope.

Go out and work for that. God bless us all. Thank you.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


That is a magnificent speech. Thank you for bringing it to our attention!

I wasn't as impressed with the speech as a whole as you were, but I do think it's pretty good. And I liked comparing the text as posted with the video of the speech as given--he made a lot of small changes on the fly, and almost all of them were noticeable improvements.

I'm a little bit bothered by the juxtaposition of the serious attacks on Ms. Healey's record with the statement that Patrick is a uniter, not a divider. But I agree that attacks on the opponent's record in an office closely related to the one they're running for are far preferable to attacks on the opponent's character. ...Still, I think candidates should be really careful about attacks on records, because records are often complicated things, and it's often possible to make a record sound a lot worse than it really is; for example, a lot of the attacks on John Kerry were attacks on his record, and for that matter part of the campaign against Patrick has been an attack on his role in the defense of a convicted cop-killer some years previous. (I thought Patrick's paragraph in this speech about the importance of representing "unsavory defendant[s]" was superb.)

As for the sister thing, I know you said you didn't want to know, but in case anyone else does, here's the background: Patrick's statement about the news reports about his sister's family, sparked by this Herald story. The reports I've seen have Healey denying that her campaign had anything to do with leaking the info to the press, but Patrick's been strongly implying that her campaign was the source of the info. See also Media Nation's comments.

Anyway, the main thing I wanted to say is that I do agree that the end of the speech, the part you quoted, is brilliant. Very very well done.

It's unfortunate that the banner at the top of his webpage says, "Together We Can Deval Patrick." It looks like he's saying, "Let's all join together and do something bad to Patrick — possibly devaluate him! Certainly something in that vein!"

I agree with Jed that, in general, there's an awful lot of "I refuse to engage in negative politics, unlike that worthless scumball from the opposite party, who has taken a break from beating his husbands to lie about my record!" My local Senate race has had some egregious examples of that. I would prefer, on the whole, a candidate to say "Of course I'm running negative ads—my opponent has been a negative Senator!"
Still, I'll draw attention to the fact that (a) the attacks are purely on the lieutentant governor's term in office, together with the governor she campained with, (2) Mr. Patrick carefully (in my interpretation) avoids tarring her supporters with the same brush he uses on her, and (iii) he does not attribute to his dishonesty, evil motives or character flaws, but concentrates on the actual state of the state. Your point, though, is well taken.

And I hadn't noticed that I could deval Patrick, at least together with everybody else. What was his mother thinking?


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