Deval Patrick, the Compassionate Corporatist?

Deval Patrick declares victory in the MA gubernatorial race, 2006. Drawing by Deniz Dutton, age 5

For Democrats, the 2020 primary season could come right out of their 2008 playbook, with a black man contesting a white woman for nomination to the highest office in the land.

It’s unlikely that the name Deval Patrick does more than ring a bell for most Americans, yet he is seriously considering running against Donald Trump in 2020 and just might garner considerable corporate cash. Democrat Patrick succeeded Mitt Romney as Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, beating Republican Kerry Healey in the general election to become the first black governor of the Commonwealth. Healy had been Romney’s Lieutenant Governor who became Acting Governor when Romney resigned to run for President. Cherchez la femme, as we shall see.

Despite an assortment of snafus and scandals in his first term, Patrick was easily reelected in 2010. Upon leaving office in 2015, he became a partner at Bain Capital, the investment firm Mitt Romney had co-founded, and still works there. In a profile of him in the New Yorker (11/19/18), staff writer Jeffrey Toobin characterizes him as a compassionate corporatist:

Patrick, who calls himself ‘a capitalist but not a market fundamentalist,’ told me that he loved the work of managing Bain’s Double Impact fund, which, according to Bain, aims to ‘deliver both competitive and financial returns and meaningful, measurable and environmental good.’

Patrick’s Wall Street affiliations are something his Democratic opponents will likely lock on should he, as expected, contest them in the 2020 primaries. Just how close is this guy to Romney and big banks, they may well ask. And while it’s hard to imagine, #NeverTrumper Mitt may himself seek the GOP nomination. Were he to somehow prevail, we would have a strange, almost surreal, contest between two Massachusetts ex-governors. To balance his ticket, Mitt could choose, say, Condoleeza Rice for a running mate, and Deval could go with, say, Heidi Heitkamp, who’s looking for work I hear.

But let’s stick to reality. Aside from having been a decent, law-abiding governor, Patrick’s bona fides include having turned around the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that GW Bush had let twist in the wind and worked as a death penalty litigator for the NAACP. But he had also been General Counsel for Texaco and Coca-Cola, after which, Toobin tells us, “he was a director of ACC Capital Holdings, which owned the mortgage company Ameriquest. Patrick said that his principal responsibility there was to negotiate a settlement with forty-nine states following accusations that Ameriquest had engaged in predatory lending.” Perhaps while he was there he picked up a home equity loan to improve his 7.500 square foot home on 77 acres in Western Mass valued at $2.2M in 2014. To be fair, Romney’s two homes were valued at $9M around then. [[1]]

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Patrick is often compared to his younger South Side bro, Barack Obama. Both men are reserved and cerebral, both went to Harvard Law (nine years apart), and both were upstart candidates running against their respective Democratic establishments who had little name recognition amongst the electorate. Too, both are eloquent public speakers and are said to be good listeners.

There are other similarities. Obama ran against Hillary Clinton, forcing Democratic and independent voters to choose between a black man and a white woman, a difficult dilemma for the party faithful.[2] Many a married couple (including my wife and I) sharply disagreed about whether to elect the first woman or the first black man, and many split their 2008 Primary votes, as we did. Patrick will be in the same position vis-à-vis Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren should both decide to run in 2020, once again fostering marital discord.

Barack Obama would surely go out to elect his bro, as would Michelle Obama and Diane Patrick, Deval’s accomplished wife. Both women are lawyers and are considered strong assets on the campaign trail. Toobin quotes Obama loyalist and former assistant Valerie Jarrett as saying “President Obama and Deval are very much alike in terms of their core values, what drove them into public service, their willingness to lend a hand, the responsibility to give back. I think they share a basic philosophy about what it means to be a good citizen.” I suppose so, but many within the GOP base may have different takes on what that means.

Another thing the two men share is a soft spot for the financial sector. Obama came to office inheriting GW Bush’s 2008 financial crisis. He took a bipartisan approach to stimulating the economy that Congressional Republicans rebuffed, instead offering their answer to everything, cutting taxes. Even after Obama compromised with a tax cut, all GOP members of the Senate still voted against his recovery act. Again he tried to bargain with them over health care reform and they all ended up voting against the ACA. Not until his second term did he begin to play hardball, issuing executive orders that the GOP couldn’t block, a trick Trump picked up without skipping a beat.

Patrick is also bipartisan and conciliatory, but his tenure as Governor (his only elected office) prepared him for little of this. Such a red state is Massachusetts that its GOP legislators must curry favor with Democratic governors, not the reverse. Both houses have been Democratic satrapies for as long as anyone can remember.

And by the time the 2020 Primary season is in full swing, the nation may well have another financial crisis on its hands. Nothing has fundamentally changed for the American economy save fuller employment and more government, consumer, and corporate debt. Rising interest and mortgage rates, difficult trade relations, the possibility of war with Iran, and the Trumpian parallel universe have already conspired to make equity markets jittery. If investors start putting their money into bonds and money markets, highly leveraged positions in the overinflated financial and real estate sectors may be pushed to the breaking point.

Try to imagine Deval Patrick out-stumping Elizabeth Warren on the campaign trail over what to do about corporate miscreants, opportunistic lenders, stagnant wages, and income inequality. Would he, long a player in the financial sector, be any more inclined to take shady financiers to the woodshed than Obama did? Methinks the only positions they would likely have in common on major issues (Trump-bashing aside) would be their support for free tuition at public colleges and the reversal of punitive immigration policies. It’s hard to imagine Patrick harshly disciplining Wall Street, even though most voters would love to see that happen. But then, it’s also hard to imagine Warren getting to do that either if financial industry lobbyists and the GOP has anything to say about it.

Not that a Patrick-Warren face-off is inevitable or even likely. Both face a slew of potential rivals aspiring to run against Trump, all men so far. Concerning the odds Patrick faces, Toobin notes that:

In 2020, Steve Bullock, of Montana, John Hickenlooper, of Colorado, and Terry McAuliffe, of Virginia—all possible candidates—will, like Patrick, be former governors. Patrick is a businessman, but so are Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg L.P.), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), and Tom Steyer (venture capital in San Francisco). Even within his own state, he is one of five potential candidates, along with Warren, John Kerry, and Representatives Joe Kennedy III and Seth Moulton.

What with Trump having let loose the dogs of intolerance, Patrick would face a considerably more virulent climate of racism than Obama ever did, as if that hadn’t been bad enough. We just had a preview of how things might go for Patrick in Georgia and Florida, where candidates of color had to endure dog whistles from opponents and their surrogates and racist robo-calls galore.

When he governed my home state I had few complaints, although many did at first. His inexperience in how sausage was made at the State House begat a series of conflicts with the legislature over priorities, office remodeling and a Cadillac obtained at taxpayer expense, hiring an assistant for his wife, and the disastrous launch of the first-in-the-nation health insurance exchange, among other matters. But as he grew into the job, relations with the legislature and the press improved. Such accommodations seem much less likely should he occupy the Oval Office.

As did 2012, 2020 could see a corporatist Democrat facing a plutocratic Republican, a starkly unappetizing choice. Mitt and Paul Ryan went down to defeat without race baiting. But next time, should the Fascist-in-Chief choose to play the race card—as he or his surrogates almost certainly would do—Patrick might not even live to see election day, I fear, such is the depraved state of our polity. Both Kennedy assassinations seemed like inside jobs, but should their fate befall Patrick, his assassin will surely be some sort of crazed neo-Nazi segregationist yahoo like Cesar Sayoc. Let’s face it, death threats and life attempts are well on their way to becoming the new normal for deluded, frustrated citizens whipped up by a new axis of evil: an adolescent, venal President, a demented, amoral GOP, and a murderous gun industry fronted by a self-serving troglodyte NRA. Ain’t sayin’ such a tragedy’s gonna happen but it does kinda worry me.

Assuming Patrick makes it through all that and is elected, what should we expect him to do, also assuming he can charm Congress to go along? Unless he turns down PAC money (which Obama did not), campaign funds from Wall Street, high tech, and assorted liberal PACs will dwarf his grassroots contributions. We’ve seen this before, when Obama, having pulled in tons of small contributions took PAC money, then bailed out big banks and failed to prosecute their executives. His docility was pretty predictable given that his brain trust and cabinet included key neoliberal Clinton administration officials and advisers. For the next eight years, little changed for Wall Street’s M.O. save for the annoyances of Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Protection Agency. The Democratic Party remained staunchly neoliberal, giant corporations socked away cash rather than investing it, and few of we the people got listened to or received a pay raise.

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


[1] Which Political Party Gets it? Check Their Home Values.

[2] Obama swept the primaries, garnering 53% of delegates and 66% of superdelegates to Clinton’s 46% and 34%, respectively. John Edwards skulked away with 1%. The other five contenders (including Joe Biden) got nothing.

Geoff Dutton is a reformed geek turned columnist, novelist, and publisher hailing from Boston who writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Turkey Shoot, his novel interrogating the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, recently received an award for Courage in Fiction. You can find more of his writing here and at Progressive Pilgrim Review. He welcomes correspondence at geoff-at-perfidy-dot-press.