Yes, We Can’t
Tough article on Barack Obama and the politics of hope from Fred Siegel in the February City Journal. The reason for Fred’s less-than-hopeful take on Barack? The record thus far of Governor Deval Patrick.
Fred calls the politics of hope a bust in Massachusetts, and here is why:
Bay State journalist Rick Holmes describes Obama and Patrick, fellow Harvard Law School graduates, as “peas in a pod.” Patrick is the Obama campaign’s national cochair. Obama’s presidential campaign has modeled itself on Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign. Patrick’s 2006 campaign slogan was “Together we can,” while Obama’s is “Yes we can.” The brilliant Chicago political operative David Axelrod has managed both men’s campaigns. Both candidates have made persistent appeals to “the politics of hope.”
So Clinton’s criticism seems an opportune moment to ask how Patrick’s inspirational rhetoric has translated into governing a state where Democrats control both houses of the legislature—the likely scenario for Obama, too, should he take office. Patrick’s governorship is the closest thing we have to a preview of the “politics of hope”—and that governorship has been a failure to date. As Joan Vennochi observes in the Boston Globe, “Democrats who control the Legislature ignored virtually every major budget and policy initiative presented by a fellow Democrat.” Patrick’s record in office, Vennochi concludes, “shows that it can be hard to get beyond being the face of change, to actually changing politics.” His stock has sunk so markedly that Hillary Clinton carried the state handily against Obama in the Democratic primary despite, or perhaps because of, Patrick’s support for his political doppelgänger.
In one area, however, Patrick has achieved some of his goals. In thrall to the state’s teachers’ unions, he has partly rolled back the most successful educational reforms in the country. Most states gamed the federal testing requirements that were part of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. But Massachusetts, thanks to Republican governors William Weld and Mitt Romney, created the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability to ensure that the state’s testing methods conformed closely to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—federal tests that are the gold standard for measuring educational outcomes. In 2007, Massachusetts became the first state to achieve top marks in all four categories of student achievement. One of Patrick’s first efforts as governor was to eliminate the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.
Patrick hasn’t delivered reform, much less the transformation that both he and Obama promise.
Yup. The Patrick administration’s moves to cave in to union interests and put at risk the enormous progress of Massachusetts’ schools and students seem to be gaining national notice. The gutting of accountability, the packing of the Board of Education and Tuesday’s clearly politicized move against a promising new charter school are not hope. But they will be this Governor’s legacy.
The question Fred poses is whether they are a harbinger of things to come on the national stage. Read and form your own opinion.