Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, came to The Post on Tuesday to talk about why he is running for president and what he hopes to accomplish if elected. Here is the full transcript and audio recording of our conversation. — Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor
Highlights of Patrick’s comments from the interview
Click on a highlight to jump ahead in the transcript below.
- “There are two leadership styles at times like these. One is to divide us for political gain. The other is to draw us together in addressing common challenges, which starts with understanding how much in common we have in these challenges. Both, by the way, are, historically speaking, American. Only one is patriotic. Only one.”
- “Cheery economic indicators just don’t tell the whole story. …. You know, unemployment is low as long as you count both, or all three, of the minimum wage jobs folks have to survive. Inflation is low as long as you look away from the cost of housing, education, health care, the very things that stabilize people and enable them to move onto a path of economic mobility.”
- “Folks have been stuck in poverty for a long time. The difference is today that the middle class, as I said, is a paycheck or two away from being poor and really anxious about it.”
- “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. The carbon age isn’t going to end because we run out of carbon sources, [but] because we got a better idea.”
- “Our short termism in business, that kind of quarter-to-quarter, get the return, sometimes at the sacrifice of the long-term interests of the enterprise, that bad habit has leaked into the way we govern ourselves. We govern from election cycle to election cycle, news cycle to news cycle, and not generation to generation.”
- “I’m very interested in the carbon tax. I’m only interested, by the way, if we use the proceeds to accelerate our movement toward a carbon-free future.”
- “If the character of the candidates is always an issue, this time, this time it’s the character of the country. We should call that question, and we should govern. I think we as Democrats, we win when we call that question.”
- “Nowadays, a moderate is a progressive who actually gets stuff done.”
- “On taxes, I don’t support the wealth tax mostly because I don’t think wealth is the problem. Greed is the problem.”
- On racism in America: “We have made an uneasy, sometimes uneasy peace with the notion of nondiscrimination in America, much of it in my lifetime. But we haven't made our peace with integration. We sent the kids in to integrate the schools because the adults wouldn't integrate the neighborhoods.”
- On the Supreme Court and the judiciary: “You know, I don't have to tell you how disciplined Leader McConnell has been in filling the court with activist right-wingers. Frankly, I think we should reconsider any appointment rated unqualified. And there have been a few of those. There is an impeachment process, and we should consider that for the unqualified judges.”
The full transcript
Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor: Thank you so much for making the time. We’d like to ask you some questions and then publish the transcript of our conversation.
Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick: Thank you.
Fred Hiatt: We’d like to ask you some questions and then publish the transcript of our conversation.
Deval Patrick: May I consult with counsel before?
Fred Hiatt: Let’s start big. What would you hope four years from now, when you’re running for reelection? If you could point to two or three things that you’d accomplished. What would they be?
Deval Patrick: The first would be that the House and the Senate and I will have signed the Democracy Agenda into law, which has to do with addressing all the ways we have treated, the many ways we have treated our democracy over time, as if we could tolerate limitless abuse without breaking: the amount of money, much of it dark in our politics; the hyperpartisan gerrymandering; the voter suppression, purging and other ways in which we make it hard to participate through difficult registration or registration barriers and to sustain your participation. And as a part of that, we have a program around expanding national service because it’s one of things we were talking about downstairs, Jonathan [Capehart], I think one of the things that is so concerning to me about how divided we are, is that it’s so easy to do so. And I think it’s easy to do so because we don’t know each other and we don’t really have occasions to know each other anymore in this country.
So I think making ways for people, much more broadly, you know, I don’t think we’re quite ready for Israel’s mandatory system, but through opportunities, civilian or military, for people to give a year or two or three in service of an unmet need and to work alongside other Americans, from other parts of the country and different backgrounds, is an important way to begin to heal the lack of understanding among us as citizens. And I think it’s critical that we do so. So I’d start there.
We have a strategy we’ll be rolling out, I think, tomorrow called the Opportunity Agenda, which is about how we grow the economy out, not just up — so out to the middle and the marginalized, and not just up to the well-connected — about investing time and ideas and money in education and innovation and infrastructure, and the interconnectedness of those. And I’d like us to have, at least, the building blocks in place and begun to demonstrate that the innovation economy can be made available to people outside of Boston and Silicon Valley and so forth, and should be made available. And, you know, I want to get it all done in the first term. And then there’s a whole list of reforms, big systems from health care to immigration to criminal justice that are on our our docket as well.
Fred Hiatt: Just on national service. You describe it as an opportunity, not mandatory, but it would be paid, and it would bring free tuition.
Deval Patrick: Yes.
Fred Hiatt: So how much does it cost? And also, why not free tuition for everybody? Why do you make service a condition of free tuition?
Deval Patrick: Well, first of all, the plan we’re advocating is modeled on what [General] Stan McChrystal has developed. I’m a part of his group. I think it’s a fabulous idea. And he has the idea of scaling it over time, I’d love to go to 100 percent right away but probably won’t be able to do that as a practical matter. We have a lot of existing programs to build on, and I think we get some advantage on making those simpler, from Peace Corps to Teach for America. But we have lots of unmet needs is the point. And I think without making pay available, you know, my kids might get to do it, but other kids might not. And I do propose free tuition, public colleges and universities, or at least affordable tuition in public colleges and universities. And I think we do that by putting the public back in the public colleges and universities.
The experience that I saw in Massachusetts is that we were down to, I want to say 25 percent public appropriation, and public colleges and universities had been trying to follow a model that private colleges and universities have been following, which is this theory of raising tuition as high as the so-called market would bear and raising financial aid alongside. And of course over time, we’ve migrated so that the blend of financial aid is much more in favor of loans than debt. And so we get what we get. And by the way, it was never going to work in the public context, if it ever has worked in the in the private context. So we have two issues, it seems to me, going forward. One is existing student debt. And I have some ideas about that.
And then the go forward, I believe, is putting the public back into public higher ed. We moved to 50 percent in Massachusetts in exchange for freezing tuition and fees. But getting back to 100 percent, I think, is what we need to be.
Molly Roberts, editorial writer: Can we move on to tech?
Fred Hiatt: Yeah.
Molly Roberts: Sure. So on the news, the attorney general just yesterday criticized Apple for refusing to unlock these devices at the center of the investigation in Pensacola.
Deval Patrick: Right.
Molly Roberts: So I'm curious for your thoughts on the debate about law enforcement access to encrypted data. Should there be rules mandating that companies provide technical assistance to law enforcement or create so-called back doors for them?
Deval Patrick: Well, I don’t know about back doors because I’m worried about back doors being kicked in in the interests of all kinds of argument, not all of it necessarily availing. I do think that I wouldn’t want to let law enforcement have access without probable cause. And I’d want to have those standards reviewed by, and on the record, ruled on by a qualified judge and have that in an open process, as would happen in, you know, street crime or should happen in street crime. I have a lot of heartburn about the position that some of the most powerful factors in our society have today. I’ve been really troubled by the position that Facebook has taken on the accuracy of political ads. And I say that as an advocate of the First Amendment. But it just seems when we know what we know about foreign interference in the 2016 election, and in this one, and in elections since, that being quite as pure, is that the right way to say it, about the First Amendment? I mean, you don’t get to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. And this to me is like that. So it’s a little afield of your question, but that’s been my mind.
Molly Roberts: Well, that was another question I had.
Fred Hiatt: But before we leave the back door: So you don’t want a back door that can be kicked in. But if there isn’t one, even if a judge says, “Yes, there’s probable cause,” Bill Barr is not going to be able to get in. So should Facebook be allowed to have encrypted apps or not?
Deval Patrick: Well, I don’t know why it would be so that a company that has had an order from court would then be exempted from making that information available. You’re just talking about technically, how does it happen if — how do you comply…
Fred Hiatt: I mean, with these old Apple phones that, in this case, Apple could get in. But, with a lot of new technology, it would be impossible.
Molly Roberts: I think even Apple would say about these phones that it can’t unlock these phones that are encrypted phones without essentially creating a back door that then could be exploited by criminals. Similarly, what Facebook would say about say, encrypted messaging, which is an option on Facebook Messenger, soon to be all Facebook Messenger, and is all of WhatsApp, it would say, “If we create a way to intercept messages in motion, that’s also for everyone, we destroy end-to-end encryption. And so government, we can’t do this just for you in this case.”
Deval Patrick: Molly, are first names okay?
Molly Roberts: First names are lovely.
Deval Patrick: I’m very cautious of false choices. And there is, in almost everything, a balance that has to be struck. And, you know, we get very particular about our privacy. And by the way, I am very particular about my privacy, in an age where we put every intimate detail up on social media. I want to believe, but I have no expert depth, that if a back door is what is necessary to be able to to comply with a justified order for access to information, pertinent to a crime, because there has been probable cause, that that back door can be guarded the rest of the time. And I realize that’s exposure, and that worries me.
But simply saying, you know, the back door has to be existent and wide open or nonexistent seems to me like, without knowing all the technical capability, seems like one of those false choices we get peddled a lot in public life.
Charles Lane, editorial writer: I would like to ask you, if I can, a couple things about the economy. One of the interesting things about the situation, well there’s two interesting things: One is the economy is going relatively well, and at the same time, there are Democrats who have big, big theories of what’s wrong with it, all the way from Andrew Yang with Universal Basic Income to Bernie Sanders with Democratic socialism.
So I would, sort of, like to ask you what your theory of the economic challenge is, and how you think it can be most practically dealt with.
Deval Patrick: Is there time for anybody else, because that’s a huge question?
Charles Lane: We can break it up into little pieces.
Deval Patrick: So I think, Charles, that the cheery economic indicators just don’t tell the whole story. I’m out there talking to voters. I’m talking to Democrats. I’m talking to Republicans. I’m talking to independents. You know, unemployment is low as long as you count both, or all three, of the minimum wage jobs folks have to survive.
Inflation is low as long as you look away from the cost of housing, education, health care, the very things that stabilize people and enable them to move onto a path of economic mobility. And by the way, the economic unease of a changing economy, the sort of thing that Andrew speaks to with his strategy around A.I., the anxiety, and in some cases even anger, associated with an economy that leaves a lot of people feeling, and frankly, just gets up and leaves, and leaves a lot of people feeling as if they don’t have a place in an innovation economy where there is this much change. I recognize this from growing up on the South Side of Chicago. There were cheery economic indicators all through the time I was growing up there, too, but we were stuck. And the difference today, coming out of the recession, going into the recession, is that the poor have been stuck in poverty for a long time. But now the middle class is a paycheck or two away from being poor and deeply anxious about it. And by the way, I still don’t believe, although we’ve been told that for 40 years, that the Dow Jones is an economic indicator. So I think that there are ways in which we have to — frankly, let me put it more positively, ways we can own the innovation economy instead of feeling like we are victimized by it. Our innovation, our spirit of innovation, our tradition of creativity and ingenuity in this country is unmatched. And we ought to harness that. What happens today and what has happened historically is that we’re pretty good at the innovation part. We’re not that good at the transition part. Meaning we move on to the next thing, and we get around to the consequences of that, if at all, later. So, you know, I think we have this huge opportunity to move to a green, clean future. In coal country, that might well be, and quite understandably, be scary. It’s threatening. It’s undermining of a way of life and a source of prosperity. We never go to coal country, and in fairness, I haven’t yet either, and said, “Look, this is happening. The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. The carbon age isn’t going to end because we run out of carbon sources, [but] because we got a better idea. And how about you take this part of the idea? You be the place where we develop and test and manufacture wind blades, for example.” Please, I’m just being hypothetical. I haven’t been to coal country, but I want to go.
We don’t think ahead. Our short termism in business, that kind of quarter- to-quarter, get the return, sometimes at the sacrifice of the long-term interests of the enterprise, that bad habit has leaked into the way we govern ourselves. We govern from election cycle to election cycle, news cycle to news cycle, and not generation to generation. I think this is an opportunity for us to look out. And so when I talk about the opportunity agenda, I’m talking about investing in education, in innovation, in infrastructure. It’s the strategy we used to come out of recession and get that 25-year employment high. And we came out faster than most other states. And it’s about investing money, yes, but also time and ideas in pre-K to higher ed and in workforce development. Because we are increasingly a knowledge economy, and we need to be prepared for that. By the way, that’s not everybody getting a university degree. The biggest gap we had in Massachusetts, and the biggest one we have in the United States, is the so-called middle-skills gap. And then innovation, meaning those industries that depend on a concentration of brainpower and on creativity, and they range from the life sciences and biotech to clean tech to advanced manufacturing, which is making a comeback in Massachusetts and around the country, those high-value products and services, entrepreneurialism and the capital and coaching to enable that. And then infrastructure, I always described as the unglamorous work of governing, Charles, but it’s what supports everything else, and it’s roads, rails, bridges, yes. But it’s also broadband. It’s also a distributed generation in the case of a modern electrical grid. You know, we have wooden water pipes under Boston — wooden. Not all of them, but there is still wooden water pipes under Boston. We have so much unmet need. And that kind of investment, around which I think there is broad consensus, creates jobs right now. But it also creates a platform for business investment and public ambition out into the future.
Fred Hiatt: Since you brought up wind turbines, we asked readers for questions they would ask. And we got one from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, so we have to include that. From Suzanne: “What will you do to address climate change, and how would you pay for it?”
Deval Patrick: So I’ll offer you, first of all, some of the things we did in Massachusetts, which I think there’s a reason why we’re a national model. We joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a regional cap and trade system.
Fred Hiatt: RGGI to its friends.
Deval Patrick: RGGI, yes. And we use the proceeds to invest in energy efficiency, which I think is how we got to be rated first in the country in energy efficiency. We closed the remaining coal-fired power plants because we were generating enough alternative energy to meet growing demand. Population was increasing. Manufacturing was increasing in the same time. And we developed a statewide recovery and resilience program. We invested behind that. It was obviously tailored for regional differences, sea walls in one place, for example, different kinds of investments elsewhere.
I rarely mentioned, but I should. We're one of the few states where we saw a growth in small farms. And I can talk a little bit more about that. But the method of farming, at scale, was also sensitive to meeting our goals.
Fred Hiatt: So nationally, would you support a cap and trade? Tax on carbon? What would be your…
Deval Patrick: I’m very interested in the carbon tax. I’m only interested, by the way, if we use the proceeds to accelerate our movement toward a carbon-free future. But the reason I mentioned the job creation is, because among the false choices we get in politics is this notion that we can’t have that kind of future without wrecking the economy. And our experience was that the clean-tech sector was one of a couple of sectors that helped us come out of recession faster than most others. And it was a whole range of skill sets, not just the Ph.Ds, but so-called middle-skills jobs as well.
Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor: You talked about the unglamorous work of governing. What is your theory of how you would govern if you were president with a Senate controlled by Republicans and Majority Leader McConnell?
Deval Patrick: Yeah, you know, first of all, I have to say, there are words I shouldn’t use. As troubling as I find his leadership, he understood the significance of Barack Obama’s election more clearly sooner than almost everyone else. And I think that’s why he was as extreme as he was right from the beginning, that the agenda of the party was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Differently than my friend the former president, after, you know, trying, I’d take the case to the American people. It’s a different kind of podium being president. I think being involved in competitive races, in places where — I mean, I’m a nice guy. I’m a gentleman.
I remember running into Leader McConnell in the airport at National during the 2012 election. And he said to me, he said, “Governor,” he said, “you do a fine job defending the indefensible.” And I said, "Leader McConnell, thank you very much. I hope you say the same thing when we win.” And he laughed. I laughed, and we won. But he did his thing and thwarted every idea, even if it was an idea the Republican Party had had before. So I think trying to work with the leadership is critical. But I think that ultimately we’re going to have, this is back to the Democracy Agenda, we’re going to have to have a government, a democracy that actually produces democratic results and outcomes. And when I say “democrat,” I don’t mean party but the outcomes that are of the kind you would expect from a representative democracy.
And if that's thwarted, then I think we've got to be out on the hustings working against those candidates.
Ruth Marcus: Two tricky questions related to that: Number one, wasn’t that what President Obama kept doing, going out on the hustings and telling us that the next election was gonna break the fever and then Republicans would come to the table? And number two, would you get rid of the legislative filibuster?
Deval Patrick: You know, first of all, I think that the Obama administration and the president did some of that but could have done more. And please don’t hear that as a critique. But I remember working on the stimulus bill during the transition. You remember?
Ruth Marcus: I do.
Deval Patrick: It was an emergency. And there were five governors who were working real hard in trying to develop this package. And you probably all know this story. But we talked with economists from both sides. This is when I first began to hear that an economist could have a side. I thought that was just an economist. But we talked with economists who had worked with both campaigns and with Dems and Republicans. And I remember that they said one of the things you have to do is be sure that it is big enough to have a psychological impact, because a certain amount of what is happening is psychological. And we said, what’s that number? And the consensus was a trillion dollars. That’s a lot of money. That’s the point. And then they said, I’m summarizing, that all of the spending has to be stimulative, meaning things where people will put the money back out on the street as fast as possible: direct benefits, so-called shovel-ready, I think that was the term, infrastructure projects, stuff like that. And don’t waste a dollar on non-stimulative stuff. The compromise in our conversation was to have some portion of it for education, because that is one of the things that gets cut in state budgets. And if you’re in the second grade, you know, you don’t get to sit out the second grade until the recession is over. You know, your chance is now. So we had a portion in there for education. We took it to the incoming administration and they said, “Well, it’s gotta be bipartisan. Go see what the Congress thinks.” And Rahm took it up there, Rahm Emanuel. And he came back and said, “Took it to the Democratic leadership and said, trillion dollars, the sticker shock, it has to be another number.” What’s the number? And that’s how we got to 750.
Fred Hiatt: The Democratic leader or the Republican leader?
Deval Patrick: Yes, we hadn’t gone to the Republicans yet. I’m getting to the punchline. I stink at sound bites. It takes me a while. And then so it got to be 750. And the agreement on the Democratic side was it would be a third, you remember. Anyway, we took it to the Republican side, and they said, “Well, we have to have tax cuts.” And all of the economists had said tax cuts are not stimulative. And they said, “That’s the only way we will support it.” And the president said, “I want my first bill to be bipartisan.”
Get it? So the compromise was a third tax cuts, a third infrastructure and a third direct services. And that’s how it went to the floor. And not a single Republican voted for it. And I remember saying then to the president-elect, "There is a lesson here. There’s a lesson here. You are at the top of your game right now. And you may not want to blast him on this first one, but they are sending you a signal, and you need to send them and the general public one back. You know, as I would say to him, a little South Side, not a bad thing. So I think he did some of that. And I think it’s important. I’m not talking about dialing up the tit for tat and feuding and all that sort of thing. But I’m talking about calling the question. Because to me, if the character of the candidates is always an issue, this time, this time it’s the character of the country. We should call that question, and we should govern. I think we as Democrats, we win when we call that question. And then I think we should govern accordingly. These are generational decisions, hard ones, not easy ones. But what it takes to leave something better, that old-fashioned generational responsibility we were all taught by our grandparents, may not produce a political benefit in the short run or in time for the next election. But to me, that is what the job demands right now.
Ruth Marcus: And filibuster?
Deval Patrick: And filibuster. Do you see me trying to avoid the question? I was filibustering around the question. I learned I’d love for the filibuster to go until there’s something I want filibustered. Right? I’m reluctant, and I learned, in some ways the hard way, as a new executive in Massachusetts about trying to tell the legislature what their rules ought to be.
I know it's a thing now to decry the filibuster, but I'm going to hold my fire on that.
Charles Lane: Back to calling the question, as you put it. I think that’s a really interesting way to look at, kind of, what’s going on within the field of Democratic candidates right now. Because, again, in the case of Bernie Sanders and perhaps Elizabeth Warren, the idea of calling the question is really transformational policy, very, very high-level: Medicare-for-all, etc, etc., wealth taxes, things that potentially, whether you’re for them or against them, could cause a lot of conflict with the legislature or in Congress. So my question to you is, when you think of calling the question and determining the character of the country, why are you or how do you feel about the need for some very large-scale policy transformation as part of that? Because when you answered about the economy, it seemed like you were perhaps, there was nothing there really about the wealth tax or Medicare-for-all or anything like that.
Deval Patrick: I was talking so long that Fred saved me from myself. So I didn’t get to some of those questions. So let me say, first of all, I’ll do the health-care question. We’ll talk about taxes. There was a third thing...
Fred Hiatt: Well, talk about this. Do we need revolutionary change?
Charles Lane: Transformational.
Fred Hiatt: How do you feel when you're hearing those kinds of comments?
Deval Patrick: Well, I think that every once in a while, America confronts the gap between our reality and our ideals, and we reinvent ourselves. And I think that is one of the most challenging and one most exciting things about this moment. And I say that not as a Democrat alone but as an American. And I think that when I hear about issues — Charles, talking about the the economic indicators? The economic indicators haven’t described what life was like on the South Side of Chicago where I grew up and neighborhoods like it for a long time. Folks have been stuck in poverty for a long time. The difference is today that the middle class, as I said, is a paycheck or two away from being poor and really anxious about it. The whole idea that you can imagine a different future for yourself and your family and then reach for it, it’s a fundamental notion about what we’re about, is something a whole lot of folks have lost faith in or are losing confidence in. That’s when I talk about the importance of renewing the American Dream. That was a revolutionary idea at the beginning. And I think we are poised to and have the opportunity to renew the American Dream and recommit to it.
Now, if we want change that lasts, we have to bring other people in. It’s so interesting that, you know, “We’re not talking about very bold...” Ninety-nine percent of the people in Massachusetts have health care. We have universal or nearly universal care. There is more than one way to get there. And the reason I favor a public option rather than Medicare-for-all, by the way, that public option could well be Medicare, but because I think there is a value — excuse me, Jonathan, if I’m repeating myself from earlier. But I think there’s a value in having the competitive tension between a private insurance industry that you better believe is going to come up with a competitive product for all the people who are moving to that no-cost or low-cost public option. And that’s good because it is an incentive for system costs to come down. And there’s also a value in CMS having to step up their game. Because if you are eligible for Medicare and you can, most people will buy a supplemental policy on top of it because Medicare doesn’t get the job done. And the whole notion that that is somehow less bold? I mean to me, nowadays, a moderate is a progressive who actually gets stuff done.
And I think the same is true with climate change and and criminal-justice reform. To me, the opportunity here is about orienting our political decision-making around the long-term and generational change instead of what makes a great slogan in time for the next election.
On taxes, I don’t support the wealth tax mostly because I don’t think wealth is the problem. Greed is the problem. We want aspiration. I grew up poor. Nobody said the way you lift yourself out of poverty is resenting the people uptown. They told us, “Play by the rules and work hard, and you will have your chance.” And by the way, when I reflect on the fact that it was old black people who told me that, the expression of their faith in this country and its values is a mind-blowing thing.
I do think we have a broken tax system. And so rather than the wealth tax, I’d raise the estate tax. I think it was 55 back an iteration or two ago. And if I think of those as nonrecurring revenues rather than income and corporate tax as recurring revenues, then that’s where I see the source of reducing or eliminating existing student debt. So that’s backward-looking rather than forward-looking. And frankly, we ought to be investing in paying down some of the national debt as well, and deficit.
Let me say something about income and corporate taxes.
Jo-Ann Armao, associate editorial page editor: Go ahead.
Okay, on the income tax, I think we went way further than we needed to. But I would love to see and will propose, frankly, radical simplification: progressive rates; few or far fewer deductions and exemptions; I’d keep the mortgage deduction, charitable deduction, maybe the child tax credit. But otherwise, everybody should contribute according to their means. And we ought to get past this notion that tax is a penalty instead of the price of civilization. And start with what it is we want government to do and not do. And then what are the most equitable ways to pay for it?
And in that same vein, on corporate taxes, you know, the consensus, I think, in the business community was not as low as 21, [percent], it was more around 25. We should go to 25, and then we should finish the work and eliminate the loopholes because those go in as arguments for making a so-called noncompetitive rate more competitive. Well, if the rate comes down to a point where it’s competitive, why keep the loopholes? Again, simple, straightforward. Everybody contributes. And we don’t have some of the most profitable companies in the world paying zero in their share of the price of civilization. I’m sorry.
Jo-Ann Armao: I want to switch the conversation to education, which you’ve mentioned a couple of times. NAEP scores are stagnant. International tests show American students lagging the rest of the world. And this despite a lot of reforms that were advanced by the Obama administration. Accountability, data, stiffening of standards. Did it not work, are the critics right that the reform didn’t work?
Deval Patrick: I think, you know, we were, as you probably know, in Massachusetts on a journey to improve the schools before I got there. And we invested behind that at the highest level in the history of the Commonwealth, even when the bottom, thanks to the stimulus bill, even when the bottom was falling out of the global economy.
And our kids are No. 1 in the nation in student achievement. But I’m not sure — and I’m, in fact, I’ll be more affirmative — I am sure there’s more to it than that, because we had persistent achievement gaps. And the kids who were stuck in those gaps were poor or kids who spoke English as a second language or had special learning needs. And they’re our kids, too. You know, we had kind of looked the other way, because we had the bragging rights around NAEP. But as I say, they’re our kids, too. Demonstrating for me, I think, a real insight about being governor or being president, that the greatest power is the convening power. That, you know, you call a meeting, and the people you invite will come even if they never talk to the people across the table. And so we got ‘em all around the table: the public school teachers and unions, the charter folks, the public policy experts, the parent organizations, the poverty organizations, everybody was around the table, never talked to each other the rest of the time. And I remember saying, look, for once, let’s not argue about what’s good for the adults. Let’s focus on what’s good for the kids. What do they need? And the obvious first conclusion was different kids need different things. And so trying to have a solution for a whole population of children, without taking account of differences in those children or in the communities where they live and are educated, was barking up the wrong tree. So we came up with a suite of tools with some resources behind them and an accountability plan. Teachers or others could develop that plan. They had some time. They got some money behind it. They developed and we agreed on the means of folks being accountable for results.
And I remember, first of all, the congratulations we got was mostly from the fact that all these people who always were at each other agreed. About a year and a half after that bill was signed, the Achievement Gap Act, I went to visit a school called Orchard Gardens in Boston. Orchard Gardens was the school described by other educators in Boston, no matter how bad things were at the other school, they’d say, at least we’re not Orchard Gardens. And in a year and a half, Orchard Gardens had gone from one of the worst in Boston to one of the best in the state. They were using all these different tools. Longer school days, smaller class size. They had City Year, it’s a volunteer organization, come in to help with truancy issues and to mentor or to coach during homework time, art, exercise, music. Frankly, they were doing things at Orchard Gardens that we did for our kids in the suburbs. And the parents were engaged again, it was completely different. And they had great leadership. So I think that it isn’t all about account, frankly. Look, I had big, broken, overcrowded schools, sometimes violent, on the South Side of Chicago and amazing teachers who were prepared and supported and conveyed their high expectations to us so that we would begin to have high expectations of ourselves. I’m smiling because I can think of my sixth- and third-grade teachers who were in my life until they passed away.
Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor: Can I get in a foreign policy question? We seemed to be close to war with Iran last week. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about that and your responses to the Council on Foreign Relations. You said you wanted to promote some kind of accommodation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. You also said, though, that you wanted to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and help for the war in Yemen and that you wanted to push back against Iran in the region. So I was left wondering, how do you fit those three elements together, and does it involve leaving American troops in Iraq and Syria?
Deval Patrick: Well, first of all, I want to say that I think America reserves the right to protect our interests anywhere, anytime. But I think that right has to be bound by international norms and by law and by forethought. Not there, not anywhere, should we undertake an action like we did in Iraq against General Soleimani or anyone else without thinking three or four steps ahead. And what was concerning to me is that we have a president who has demonstrated not just his failure to think ahead, but his disdain for thinking ahead, which just makes us all less safe. What I meant, I didn’t see what was written, but what I meant is, I’m very interested in how we think about regions comprehensively. You know, we have interests today with our own troops on the ground and our allies’ troops on the ground, we have our most important ally in the region, in Israel, right in the middle of it all. And we have a relationship with Saudi Arabia, which, well, we have an ally in Saudi Arabia whose relationship with us is not entirely consistent with our own values. And I think that has been true in different parts of the world at different times in our history. And I bring that up because I do think that is our unique power. And our fealty to those values at home — those values meaning equality, opportunity, fair play — makes us stronger abroad, is the reason we get to lead. Nations of great armies and wealth have come and gone with the winds of time. But the fact that we bring alongside that the values we do is what makes us unique, gives us a unique opportunity leading in the world.
In Iran, I remember being told — I helped to launch, was the founding chair of this program called Our Generation Speaks. You ever heard of that? It’s a program that brings young Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs from the region, including Gaza, by the way, equal numbers of men and women to Brandeis [University] in the summer. And they work on business ideas together. And it gets winnowed down by vote of the group to a few with teams of Israelis and Palestinians. They get a little seed money, and then they launch the businesses back in the region. It’s about, I think, four cohorts at this point.
And I remember in conversations with these amazing young people when we took the advisory board back to the region to check on them after the first couple of cohorts and we could get together, all together in Bethlehem. It had to be in the West Bank. That’s the only place where everybody could be. And in the debrief with the advisory board, asking ourselves whether the most important thing was the success of the enterprises or the success of the relationships. And I think we concluded, because it was just magic watching them come to understand and respect each other as they did that, that the success of the relationships was probably key. And I bring that up because I learned and I can’t remember now who told me, but it might have been Secretary Kerry, that the Iran nuclear deal was ultimately made possible because there was a young Iranian and a young, I want to say, Jordanian, who had a relationship of trust, and were able then to get to the hard work of hammering out a deal, as incomplete as it was. They got agreement on a lot.
And I think that’s how we have to think about all of our assets and opportunities in that region and others. We have to rebuild our diplomatic resources, and we have to rebuild, at least, the confidence in our intelligence sources, including human intelligence, but cybersecurity as well. And, you know, as I would say to the business people, I would take on trade missions, you got to make friends before you make money. You make friends before we’re secure.
Jackson Diehl: And we still need U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria?
Deval Patrick: At this minute, without having all of the information available to a president, I just don’t know. It’s very hard to tell from a distance. And we don’t get consistent explanations or insights from the administration. You know, it feels to me like we ought to have our troops in Iraq come home. But we unleashed something in Iraq that, again, without forethought. And I just don’t know whether the responsible thing is to wash our hands of it.
We’ve been winding down, of course, and then we wind up again. Was it 3,500 troops on their way back to the region after last week’s event? So I’d love to be categorical. I visited the region. I remember I met in New Hampshire last week at a radio station a former National Guardsman I had met in Afghanistan. You know, so many of the National Guard are such a big part of the deployment. And it’s not what they signed up for. So I have some sense of the of the wear and tear on our military men and women. And I certainly have some sense of how being categorical is politically cool, but I’m not sure it’s responsible without having all of the intelligence and diplomatic input that I think the president ought to have.
Fred Hiatt: Governor, you said recently racism is the most consequential, unfinished business of America. What could you do about that, or what would the next steps be when you’re president?
Deval Patrick: Well, look, I remember when I left the South Side of Chicago to come to Milton Academy, it was through a scholarship program called A Better Chance. And I showed up at Milton the fall of 1970, the night before classes began, I’d never seen it before. Or any place like it. They had a dress code in those days, and the boys wore jackets and ties to classes. So my grandparents splurged on a new jacket for me to wear to class. A jacket on the South Side of Chicago is a Windbreaker. So the next morning, all these boys are putting on their blue blazers and their tweed coats, and I had my Windbreaker, and I thought, “Oh, boy, I’ve got a lot to learn.” I remember feeling that as I was making new friends, they were interested in my life on the South Side of Chicago you know, but [only] so much. And my old friends in the neighborhood were interested in my new life at Milton, but [only] so much, to the point where it felt like, you know, acceptance in the one community required rejecting the other.
You were straddling these two worlds at 14. And I think I learned early a difficult but important lesson, which was that I had to decide who I was and be that all the time. And that was the only thing that was going to enable me to move among lots of different worlds, because I’d gotten this idea from these teachers on the South Side of Chicago that being a citizen of the world was a pretty cool thing. I think that part of what we have to do is model. We have made, I think, in this country‚ and I say this as someone who’s practiced it at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was head of the Civil Rights Division and has been involved in one form or another in the questions of social and economic justice for my whole professional life, that we have made an uneasy, sometimes uneasy peace with the notion of nondiscrimination in America, much of it in my lifetime. But we haven’t made our peace with integration. We sent the kids in to integrate the schools because the adults wouldn’t integrate the neighborhoods.
I read the other day that HUD has proposed doing away with the disparate impact standard as if we don’t have history that brought us to this point. One of the best accounts of the just remarkable and disciplined propaganda campaign that followed the end of reconstruction is in [David W.] Blight’s book on Douglass or Skip Gates’s book “Stony the Road.” We don’t know that history. A lot of us don’t know that history. We need to confront that history and work our way through it.
Fred Hiatt: With reparations?
Deval Patrick: Look, reparations without reconciliation to me is an empty gesture. There’s a lot to repair, to be sure. But without understanding how we got here and how we don’t have to be confined by that history, that we are, in fact, members of a national community, where we have a stake in each other’s dreams and struggles as well as our own. I think one of the most phenomenal things about this moment, I keep talking about this moment, but I felt this way before I was a candidate, has a lot to do with why I’m a candidate, is that the very things, the very feelings of economic anxiety and social unease and anger that I experienced all around me when I was growing up are now being experienced by people everywhere.
Fred Hiatt: So on that, I’ll ask one more reader’s question, which came from Chapel Hill: “What do you propose to improve the plight of white working-class men who believed Donald Trump could help them? I’m referring to loss of jobs and fear of minorities, women, LBGTQ and immigrants.” It’s from Virginia in Chapel Hill.
Deval Patrick: So first of all, I think we need to stop talking about people in classes. I mean, I do respect the question. It sort of builds off of, maybe you anticipated where I was going with the point. We are all feeling much the same thing.
We have been here before, by the way. And there are two leadership styles at times like these. One is to divide us for political gain. The other is to draw us together in addressing common challenges, which starts with understanding how much in common we have in these challenges. Both, by the way, are, historically speaking, American. Only one is patriotic. Only one.
And think this is a leadership opportunity. This isn’t a program alone. It’s a leadership opportunity. And when the bombs went off at the marathon in Boston in the last year I was in office, we had all of the ingredients for chaos and anger and fear and all of the instincts that we’ve become way too familiar with. You know, looking at someone who’s other and saying, “Well, it must be them” or “That’s the risk to me.” But we asked people to turn to each other instead of on each other. And we had practiced that for eight years in a whole bunch of situations, emergency and not. So, you know, everybody brought their best. The law enforcement folks who, with every conceivable resource available to us, remained professional and focused on what their role was and collaborated, which I knew to deal with that early from experience I’d had at DOJ dealing with the church arsons. We had a disaster plan in place with the hospitals —
Fred Hiatt: But, I'm sorry. I'm thinking about what you said about dividing and uniting. And, you know, we just saw Senator Booker suspend his campaign, which was based on the premise of more love than hate. We see a lot of candidates who seem to be getting traction with or some candidates getting traction with emphasizing the differences. And you're not soaring yet in the polls. What's your theory of, at this moment of history, how uniting can be a winning political strategy?
Deval Patrick: First of all, I’m speaking from lived experience. I’m not speaking as a politician, and I’m speaking from my own aspirations and the aspirations of everyone I meet. And it doesn’t mean I’m not angry. I’m angry, too. I’ve been angry for generations. This is my point. We can do relative suffering if you want. It never seems to get us anywhere. To me, it’s not the point. We have a stake in an American Dream that works, in a set of values that are irresistible and undeniable in equality, opportunity and fair play, and in addressing the gap between our reality and ideals. And we do this periodically in our history. And we can do it now.
So I’m not glossing over the anger. I am acknowledging the division, but I’m also acknowledging it doesn’t have to be this way. There isn’t a single challenge we face that we haven’t made and that we can’t overcome. And so when you drill right down to folks who are feeling, you know, the white guy who is in the questioner’s question, who is feeling threatened by the changing economy? I understand that. What that person may not understand, but I think it is helpful to say anyway, is that the white woman, the brown woman, the black and brown guy in some other part of the country, the person who lives and works in rural America or a hollowed out small town, is feeling that way, too. And so how we think about industrial strategy, how we think about education strategy and how we campaign has to be about everyone, everywhere. And how we think out about the future and assuring that the benefits aren’t all concentrated in a few, but are in fact, shared and shaped by everyone, everywhere, depends on policy choices we all make together. So you cut me off before I finished talking about the marathon, and rightly so because I will go on. But where I was going is besides, you know, finding two terrorist needles in a haystack in 100 or so hours and the brilliant performance of the first responders and the medical professionals, it was regular people in a place, by the way, that doesn’t have a reputation for warm and friendly, who stepped up and showed acts of kindness. And celebrated those that helped us, not just get runners off the suspended course and get them watered and warmed and reunited with their families, but made us come out of that trauma stronger than we were when we went in. And that is not a program. It’s about leadership. And I think that’s what we are lacking today.
Ruth Marcus: Can we squeeze in another question?
Fred Hiatt: Last question.
Ruth Marcus: How does President Patrick address the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general? Do you think about just appointing judges as young and as far to the left as possible as a counter to the Trump judiciary? Do you think about it differently? And sort of within that, there have been some talk about some candidates who might name their short list before, during the campaign. There’s been some talk about restructuring the court to add more judges to rebalance it.
Deval Patrick: I'm so sorry. Our time is up.
No, look, I think we have a serious problem. You know, I don’t have to tell you how disciplined Leader McConnell has been in filling the court with activist right-wingers. Frankly, I think we should reconsider any appointment rated unqualified. And there have been a few of those. There is an impeachment process, and we should consider that for the unqualified judges. I am open to considering expanding the court, but it’s not the first thing I would do.
I do think that the idea of turning appointments over to an organization is an abdication of responsibility. You know, the American Constitution Society is a great source for judges truer, in my view, to constitutional principles and interpretation. I’m certainly willing to consult there, but I wouldn’t limit myself to them for the same reasons I wouldn’t tease you with the names of people I would consider. I have not done all that work, and as president, you have so many more resources available to you to uncover and discover talent that you may not already know. So I can tell you I think that the Constitution is a brilliant document designed to be a living document. It was flawed from the start. It’s not going to be entirely repaired, nor is our judicial system going to be entirely repaired, by better and more honest interpretations of the existing document. There are some things that I think we should do by amendment, like overturn Citizens United. But we can start by being more respectful of the principles behind it, and I think we do have to model respect for the rule of law, which is part of the job.
Fred Hiatt: Thank you very much.
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