Deval Patrick, who was once seen as a long-shot — if not a marginal — challenger to Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Attorney General Thomas Reilly and is today the Democratic front-runner in the governor’s race, has been the subject of a string of daily newspaper stories that, if taken together, suggest Patrick was a tool of giant corporate interests and a hypocrite for running his once insurgent campaign under a progressive banner. It’s a compelling story line, but it’s rubbish.
CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY: After his experience with Ameriquest, Patrick should get out in front of coming stories about his work with Coca-Cola and Texaco
We are among those who believe that Patrick, so far, has been more than a little tone deaf when discussing issues of general corporate practice, such as locally based Gillette’s sell off of itself to Proctor and Gamble. And we would still like greater clarity — or at least greater candor — about his thoughts on the predatory-lending practices of Ameriquest Mortgage. Patrick was, until earlier this year, a well-paid member of the board of directors of ACC Capital Holdings, which controlled Ameriquest. His stock response has been that he joined the board to contribute his considerable expertise as a civil-rights lawyer to reforming companies like Ameriquest. And that, no doubt, is a believable and truthful explanation. Patrick, after all, served as President Clinton’s assistant deputy attorney general for civil rights. We’re just sorry Patrick doesn’t go further in statements about his corporate ties.
While Ameriquest won’t go away, it is yesterday’s story. Tomorrow’s news is that Ray Rogers, a man described as a New York–based labor activist, is coming to town to torture the Patrick campaign with stories that Patrick was an evildoer when he served as general counsel first at Texaco and then at Coke.
It’s difficult to imagine a multinational corporation with a pristine operating record; big rarely equals nice. But that doesn’t make everyone who works for such businesses bad men or bad women. And, if Rogers’s past history is any guide, that’s how he is going to portray Patrick.
The annals of corporate history are not exactly replete with examples of business bigwigs who went on to make their marks as agents of positive and progressive change in the public arena. But let’s consider two: Felix Rohatyn, the son of French immigrants who, while a successful investment banker, brokered the financial survival of New York City during a particularly perilous municipal money squeeze in the 1970s. And then, closer to home, there was Louis Brandeis, scion of Jewish immigrants, who was a brilliant Boston corporate attorney before he was infected with the bug of political reform. Brandeis more or less invented consumer law before being appointed to the US Supreme Court. And when he was appointed, it was to the hoots and howls of those who claimed Brandeis was a traitor to his former clients.
Is Patrick a man of the same stature as Rohatyn or Brandeis? That remains to be seen.
Rather than leave half-satisfying statements on the table, as he did with Ameriquest, he should tackle the subject head on. If he signed non-disclosure statements when leaving his corporate jobs that now prevent him from discussing his actions, he should say so: their use is a fact of life. If his former capacity as corporate counsel prohibits him from discussing his advice because it would breach attorney-client privilege, he should say so: people understand what lawyers do. If, for some reason, he can’t discuss the specifics, he should at least be able to confront the generalities of corporate life, where — in the higher reaches — decisions are complicated and tough. The smear campaign targeted at Patrick is reprehensible, but it is also a test of political imagination. Is there a way he can make lemonade out of the lemons?
Hillary's Lamont factor
The defeat in Connecticut of one-time vice-presidential and three-term Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman by businessman maverick Ned Lamont is a wake-up call to New York senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as well as an intellectual challenge to the Democratic Party.
Clinton, to date, has been able to enjoy the best of two political worlds, gathering kudos from conservative voters for her support for the war, while her more liberal fans give her a pass on Iraq and focus on her generally progressive stance on a host of domestic and social issues.
Lamont’s victory, however, has changed the political dynamic.
Clinton is the Democrat’s undeclared front-runner. She has almost as many enemies as she has friends. She’s proving to be every bit as savvy a politician as her nimble husband, the former president. So it’s not surprising that she wants to continue being as many things to as many people for as long as possible. But that isn’t going to work anymore.
Clinton’s dilemma is not a solitary challenge. Any Democrat running for president is going to have to come to grips with the fact that while the war in Iraq is clearly unpopular, those opposed to it are primarily Democrats. And it’s true that a sizeable and growing number of Republicans have broken ranks with Bush over the war, which two years ago was all but unthinkable.