You are awaking to a new era in the Obama presidency. Last night, Republicans successfully won control of the House of Representatives. The Democratic establishment managed to retain a majority in the U.S. Senate, albeit a slimmer majority than they had enjoyed the past two years. The visceral Tea Party rhetoric and anti-Obama sentiment seems to be working for the Grand Old Party of no.
Political strategist and cable news pundits will spend the next few weeks debating what this election means for 2012 and Obama’s re-election, but I encourage you to consider the lessons President Obama can learn from Deval Patrick, the now twice-elected, African-American Governor of Massachusetts. Little attention may be paid to how this seat was won, but Patrick has managed to survive the Tea Party wave election so many had ominously predicted, particularly after the loss of Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat to Scott Brown earlier this year.
The state which gave us the original Tea Party in Boston’s infamous harbor has sounded a message to which Barack Obama and Harry Reid should be listening: the voice of the people has indeed been heard — and despite what republicans would have you believe — that voice is still strongly democratic.
WATCH COVERAGE OF DEVAL PATRICK’S VICTORY
Patrick’s success was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, pundits had declared his political death, especially in light of Obama’s flailing approval ratings in the shadow of Tea Party gains across the country. Scott Brown’s surprise win against Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in January of this year, sent shock waves through Washington and set the stage for the mid-terms. In many ways, Brown’s triumph gave credence to the Tea Party movement, demonstrating that the rhetoric could result in power at the ballot box.
Massachusetts is a state with a political history as rich, as it is diversified. The Kennedy family, who are de facto democratic political royalty, have represented this “cradle of liberty” for half a century.
In 2004, it became the first state in the union to legalize gay marriage, and was the center of the abolitionist movement before the American Civil War. In 2006, Massachusetts set the bar by mandating health insurance for all its citizenry — and gave birth to the much discussed, but largely misunderstood — “public option”. By 2008, Massachusetts voters had decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and gave 61.8 percent of its votes to Barack Obama. It makes sense that Plymouth is considered the bedrock of America’s foundation.
Yet, critics had claimed that white, working-class voters would not re-elect a black governor. The underlying assumption was that race still mattered in American politics and Obama’s decline in favorability reflected that. But Deval Patrick prevailed despite the disbelief. He did so by doing something Democrats across the country — and in the White House — would be wise to imitate. He has remained true to the message, and has been less willing to compromise.
Perhaps the reason why Obama is struggling is that he was too married to a bipartisan agenda. The Tea Party movement — despite how radical they seem — are committed to core principles. Patrick is fiercely liberal and unwavering. He fully supported same-sex marriage, stating the “citizens come before their government as equals.” Despite criticism from the left he has increased funding for charter schools, confident that they are a better option for failing public schools, especially in urban areas; and the best way to provide a “world class education” for the poor and disadvantaged.
The governor made the 2006 health care reform law integral to his first election platform, and as a result over 97 percent of Massachusetts residents have health care insurance: a statistic that tramples every other state in the Union. Deval Patrick even supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in this country, proven their commitment to American ideals and contribute to the growth and sustainability of the nation through their own hard work. In short, he is a true progressive, who is capable of standing by his record, instead of relying on rhetoric and innuendo.
Patrick’s top priorities for 2011 were to create jobs, reduce health care costs, reform education, and address youth violence, he told the Boston Globe earlier this week. He has already succeeded by adding 6,000 government jobs to the state roster; a clear win with moderates and independent voters. This is change Massachusetts voters decided to believe in. “I believe in leadership that is about asking people to turn to each other and not on each other.” Patrick told The Harvard Crimson.
One staunch supporter of Deval Patrick who was intimately connected to the campaign said, “Four years were not sufficient time to achieve what he set out to do. Voters have given him four more years to deliver.’’ Perhaps that is the lens voters should use when accessing Obama’s candidacy in 2012.
Regardless of political affiliation, it is fair and balanced to recognize that these two, short years in office have left Obama with a legislative record, but not one which is historically sustainable. Like Clinton, Truman and Eisenhower who — despite losing the Congress to their opposing parties within their first term — President Barack Obama may very well go on to victory in his second bid to become America’s president. What remains to be seen is not whether Obama is capable of leadership, but more poignantly, that he is capable of recovery. This mid-term election is a test of the political emergency broadcast system: but it is only a test.