Add to all that Patrick's increasing time in the national spotlight, and you wouldn't seem to have the best scenario for accomplishing a very ambitious second-term agenda, which includes health-care cost control, criminal-justice reform, tackling the education achievement gap, and restructuring state government and quasi-public agencies.

But Patrick may defy the conventional wisdom yet again.

If, as I suspect, Patrick has no concrete plan for his future, that frees him as few politicians are ever freed.

Certainly his recent flurry of activity — replacing the Parole Board, advancing a health-care plan that takes on the state's powerful providers, heading a "junket" overseas — suggests a man who is unconcerned with criticism, or with what will look good or bad in his next job or campaign.

It also is the work of someone confident with the skills he has developed over the past four years of on-the-job training.

That skill in office, and absence of future plans, could be a powerful combination. It certainly appears that, while he might not know what he wants to do next, he knows exactly what he wants to accomplish now.

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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