The candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, who was also the first African American governor of the Bay State, is not only battling low poll numbers but also a black electorate whose gaze appears firmly affixed on former vice president Joe Biden. “It’s going to have to be an old white person to go after an old white person,” my Aunt Gloria explained to me at the family barbecue last August. “Old-school against old-school.”
Patrick wasn’t expected to do well in the Iowa caucus on Monday. Thanks to a results calamity, how any of the candidates did in the Hawkeye State remained a mystery as Monday became Tuesday. But as the primary calendar advances to more diverse states such as South Carolina, where Patrick might stand a better chance of breaking through, he still faces a daunting task: convincing black voters like my Aunt Gloria to vote for him. And the mind-set she articulates, Patrick told me, makes him “sad.”
“We are so focused on the very, very important work of defeating the incumbent president that we are, all of us, looking for permission to vote our aspirations,” Patrick said in the latest episode of “Cape Up.” His was a more pessimistic turn on a similar sentiment expressed by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) when she was making her pitch for the nomination last year. “It is about allowing people to remember that we as Americans, the very nature of who we are, culturally, that we have the ability to see what can be unburdened by what has been,” she told me during an interview in November, eight days before she ended her quest for the nomination.
According to Patrick, part of the problem is the narrative promulgated by political pundits and the press. The one that argues that the pragmatism of African American voters, the foundation of the Democratic Party, is what has placed them solidly behind Biden. “When I hear pragmatic, I am hearing that they are buying a narrative about likelihood of success from people whose success at predicting likelihood is mixed at best,” Patrick said. “The fact that we know Joe Biden, we’re familiar with Joe Biden — who, by the way, is a wonderful person — doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the most effective at standing up to President Trump.
“We have to offer the American people more than removing him. That is important and it’s a threshold matter, but if we don’t offer more, then it leaves people to think, ‘Okay, we’re just gonna go back to doing what we used to do,’ and what we used to do isn’t good enough for right now,” Patrick said. “Others have plans; I have results,” he added, before recounting his work on climate change, Massachusetts’s history with affordable health care, and his views on capitalism and wealth.
“The problem isn’t wealth, it’s greed. It’s the hoarding of all the benefits among a few on the supposition that it’ll trickle down to everyone else,” Patrick explained. “We got what we have because we’ve been on this path of trickle-down economics since 1980, and it was foreseeable that we would be here.”
Given his views on wealth and the power of money, I wondered if Patrick had a problem with two billionaires being among his rivals for the Democratic nomination. He wasn’t interested in engaging in that fight. “Don’t bring me into that. Anybody who wants to compete should compete,” Patrick said. Instead, he pivoted to his “Democracy Agenda,” which he hopes will repair American democracy.
“I have a problem with money in politics, the concentration of money in politics. In fact, our ‘democracy agenda’ . . . speaks to that, the various ways in which, over time, we’ve been treating our democracy as if it would tolerate limitless abuse without breaking,” Patrick told me. “The hyperpartisan gerrymandering, the amount of money — much of it dark — in our politics today, and much of it negative, frankly. The voter suppression, the purging and how hard we make it to register, and how intentional all of this is as a part of a strategy to make sure our democracy produces less and less democratic outcomes. And we need to go at that. That’s the very first agenda item we rolled out because it’s the very first thing I would put before our Congress and the American people.”
Listen to the podcast to hear Patrick make the case for why he should be the next president of the United States. His campaign has at least one theme in common with his rivals’: It’s not just about ridding the White House of Trump. It’s about saving our democracy.
“Every single day it feels like it can’t get worse, and it does. And it’s embarrassing, it’s dismaying. I’m talking now about President Trump and the administration and their choices and behavior. It’s dangerous,” Patrick told me in our sit-down a week before the president’s Senate impeachment trial got underway. “And I think we can all agree, or mostly agree, that four more years of Donald Trump and this nation will be unrecognizable as a modern democracy.”