By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – In the highly unlikely event that former Gov. Deval Patrick becomes more than just an ill-advised footnote in the Democratic presidential race, there will be plenty of scrutiny of the potentially disqualifying blemishes on his record, including (but not limited to) utter mismanagement of the MBTA and the agency overseeing child welfare, and abysmal relations with the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

But for now, let’s take a look at the way he has chosen to introduce himself to a Democratic primary electorate badly in need of compelling explanation of why they should care.

From his appearance on CBS This Morning, we learned that he’s running because he senses an “appetite for big ideas.” (But not, apparently, the “big structural change” offered by his former ally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.)

His “big ideas” sound familiar – no Medicare for All but a public option… erasing student debt… higher taxes on the rich. “We need to reach for the best of America,” he said, an option he evidently doesn’t see in the current field, but does see in the mirror.

Patrick’s YouTube announcement video is mostly a routine review of his journey from humble, fatherless Chicago origins to millionaire corporate executive, successful lawyer and governor.

But two passages stand out as indicative of this fledgling campaign’s blind spots.

“This time is about more than removing an unpopular and divisive leader, as important as that is, but about delivering instead for you,” he says.

No, it isn’t. At least, not if the Democrats are interested in winning.

As a recent New York Times/Siena College poll noted, in the key swing states that decided the last election and seem sure to dictate the outcome this time, President Trump – despite three years of Herculean effort to destroy his own credibility and damage voter trust – is right where he needs to be, leading Joe Biden in North Carolina, in a virtual tie with him in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and doing even better against Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

It’s reasonable to suspect that if impeachment fizzles, the economy remains strong and there are no catastrophic intervening events, Trump has a viable path to re-election. Which makes it imperative that the November 2020 vote be – as elections involving an incumbent usually are – a straight-up referendum on the incumbent, an explosion of disapproval and disgust that will overwhelm any reservations about the Democratic nominee.

But Patrick wants to make it about something “more… delivering instead for you.”

Delivering what?

Trains that run on time?

Competent, patronage-free management?

A stronger firewall between corporate interests and the public interest?

The most casual scrutiny of his gubernatorial record won’t support any of that.

The video suggests another answer – that a Patrick presidency would somehow, incredibly, deliver us from our deeply polarized condition to a land of collegial unity, the president as a sort of super camp counselor, capable of ushering a pack of squabbling kids around the campfire with just a few strums on his guitar where, before you know it, they’re singing Kumbaya and helping each other make s’mores.

“If the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country,” he says.

This treacle instantly reminded me of September 11, 2007, when Gov. Patrick stood up at a solemn State House ceremony honoring the hundreds of Massachusetts residents who died on 9/11/2001 and said “Among many other things, 9/11 was a failure of human understanding. It was a mean and nasty and bitter attack on the United States. But it was also a failure of human beings to understand each other, and to learn to love each other. It seems to me that lesson … is something that we must carry with us.”

Wait until the Trump campaign gets a hold of that video.

They probably already have it.

Jon Keller


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