Patrick's power of positive thinking

The governor wants to make a feel-good case for re-election. The question is, these days, is anybody feeling good?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  March 12, 2010

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LISTEN: To the interview with Governor Deval Patrick [mp3].

READ:The full transcript of the Phoenix's interview with Governor Deval Patrick.

READ:Patrick's paradox: A Phoenix editorial.

Sitting down at the conference table in his tidy Corner Office, jacket off, sleeves of his pale-blue shirt rolled up, Governor Deval Patrick didn't wait for the first question before launching into his re-election pitch at the start of an exclusive hour-long sit-down interview last week with the Boston Phoenix. He had a message to get across, one that he's been delivering the past few weeks at early campaign-organizing events and town-hall meetings. It's a boastful, buoyant iteration of his accomplishments, designed to make the case that he has earned a second term as governor.

"People have to believe in the future of the commonwealth — they have to understand and trust the direction we're headed in," said Patrick, who was aggressively positive and energetic throughout the policy-oriented discussion, without notes or reference materials, always on the record, and only rarely calling upon Communications Director Kyle Sullivan — the sole staffer in the room — to check a company name or data point. "We've got work to do, but I think that we're on the right course."

He rattled off an impressive list, as if answering the strikingly defensive question posed at the top of his campaign's hand-out literature: "What has Deval Patrick been doing?"

Poetry and prose
In rapid succession, Patrick said that he has closed $9 billion worth of budget gaps over the last 18 months; maintained the state's AA bond rating, just reaffirmed that day; streamlined transportation agencies and shuttered the disgraceful Turnpike Authority; declared a "season of reform" that resulted in new pension, ethics, and lobbying laws; spearheaded the most significant education law since the 1993 Education Reform Act; invested in 500 ongoing infrastructure projects; initiated first-in-the-nation environmental and energy laws; opened competition for auto insurance; legalized civilian flaggers; and more. Some items he ticked off quickly, almost in bullet-point form, and as much as possible he tied them to jobs and economic growth. (The full transcript and a podcast of the Phoenix interview are available at thePhoenix.com.)

"When I look at economic indicators," he continued, "the Philadelphia [Federal Reserve Bank] issued a report recently . . . showing that Massachusetts's economy outperformed 48 other states in the last quarter of 2009. We've been ahead of most other states through this recession anyhow, but we are gaining, which is great."

The positive pitch is probably a sound political strategy. The November election will be a referendum on Patrick's record, so excuses and finger pointing will have little currency. Better to start bragging that everything that's happened on his watch has been golden — whether he believes it or not.

The strategy has shown signs of energizing the faithful: Patrick's power of positive thinking has, by many accounts, been successfully revving up the party die-hards, who must get enthused about starting the hard work of a campaign.

But out in the real world — where very few think last year's "season of reform" changed anything, and where almost nobody uses the word "great" when describing the state's economy — all of this might just make Patrick sound out of touch. That may not be "fair." The electorate, however, wants programs that pay off now, not in the future.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Mario Cuomo, Barack Obama,  More more >
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