Mark Penn and The Times
As I was seated in the fifth row of the historic Cooper Union Great Hall watching Mayor Bloomberg introduce Senator Obama to address McCains determination "to run for George Bushs third term and to unveil a comprehensive overview of his economic plan and policies, commuters were digging into The New York Times story, Early Dazzle, Then Tough Path for a Governor. And, thanks to The Times, something was revealed this morning, something that has been underreported and not adequately investigated this entire campaign season:
Senator Barack Obama and Governor Deval Patrick are both black.
Did anyone really see this coming? I heard about some robocalls in New Hampshire to that effect, and a few of my co-workers received some chain e-mails alluding to it, but, thanks to The New York Times, the truth is out. The facts have been checked. The sources confirmed. See? Do you see it now?
What confuses me the most about the use of a picture of Sen. Obama and Gov. Patrick is that the article makes the oddest, irrelevant, off-the-cuff references to Sen. Obama in the course of the article, leaving us to conclude what the hidden message is. Reading this article and trying to determine why Obama is pictured is like watching a Japanese game show without knowing any Japanese and trying to figure out what the heck is going on enough to turn around and explain it to your 92 year-old great uncle who is partially deaf and loves to tell you about how much trouble he got into when he snuck out to the Tommy Dorsey concert last week.
(continued) Remember when we were first able to read full paragraphs? Long before our teachers were helping us to deduce topic sentences, we were taught the concept of main ideas. Bob and Jane worked together to successfully buy eggs, milk and bread. Dogs make very good friends but require responsibility. Saying please and thank you are good things. Or, in this case, Engaging, articulate and uplifting African-American leaders fail when elected to high-level public office.
The first paragraph alone casts Gov. Patrick as addressing doting crowds across the country, only to then describe him as a novice politician barely known outside Massachusetts. It was then that I realized that something was awry. How is it possible to have both a doting national following and yet be unknown outside the Bay State? Double talk, no matter how benign, so early in an article always catches my attention, but it seemed that a familiar formula was beginning to take shape: Race + (Articulate + Engaging = Pretentious) + Fear Change + (Dazzling Voters With a Message of Hope + Hussein = Witchcraft) + Failure + Obama = Mark Penn Speaking Points. I have to give The Times credit. They clearly needed to fill a column, and, for a Juniors cheesecake, a sweater-shopping spree at the Staten Island Salvation Army and an early morning Katzs pastrami (juicy), Mark Penn was probably a good last-minute bargain.
So, as I was being treated at Cooper Union to a preview of how Senator Obama is going to save our country from itself, readers were being subjected to a steroidal account of how, just last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, led by Senator Hilary Clinton supporter Sal Got Her From Spitzers Office DiMasi, rejected Governor Patricks state revenue-generating resort casino proposal, referred to as a nasty defeat. Now, I am originally from Illinois, a state that at any one moment has five or so different communities vying for an allowance to create riverboat casinos, the only sort allowable in the state, in order to generate revenue and create jobs. These permits are seemingly, like liquor licenses in Chicago, Golden Tickets. Sometimes, a community will desperately propose the construction of a body of water upon which to float the casino, while plenty others have Illinoiss wealth of rivers and lakes to choose from. I have always had mixed feelings about the advantages and disadvantages of casinos to communities, and a sampling of these off-shore casinos illustrates them all (job creation, downtown revitalization and tourism versus money from the local economy transferring to corporations, compulsive gambling addiction, low-paying jobs). The one thing that remains consistent is that the process is never, ever simple and is very divisive. But to relegate Gov. Patricks gubernatorial career to date as a failure because of something that transpired last week, as large a set-back as it was (and it was for Gov. Patrick) seems a little harsh. This is a man who symbolically took his oath of office outside the State House facing the Boston Common, a nod to transparency in government. He immediately became the agent for change in Massachusetts and, as everyone knows, this is an infinitely more difficult position to accept than a leader who plans to stick with the status quo. I dont know very much about Massachusetts government, but, from speaking to some co-workers and friends from the state, it seems that Speaker DiMasi is the equivalent of Chicagos Mayor Richard M. Daley; a man who runs the show, practically veto-proof and unchallenged. For Gov. Patrick to learn this about Speaker DiMasi the hard way isnt exactly a bad thing, as certainly being a first-term ANYTHING is an exercise in learning and adaptation, 35+ years of experience or not. Gov. Patricks admission to this is very valuable, and isnt it nice to read about a leader not steamrolling over everyone the second he doesnt get his way?
And look, they even made-up this morning. Now how about some good, hot make-up legislation!
As Senator Obama was recounting the bitter economic debate between Hamilton and Jefferson (possibly leaving himself open to criticism from Sen. McCain in the general election, as it is well-known that McCain and Jefferson were school acquaintances), gripping the podium once held by Abraham Lincoln, and calling for fiscal discipline, little ditties about $10,000 drapes, a state loaner car upgrade and whether or not Gov. Patrick can ascend above state politics (because, apparently, being the first Democratic governor of Massachusetts in 16 years just isnt enough) were cited in article, as was a very unfortunate swipe at Governor Patricks admission of his wifes depression treatment. What the hell! If more people admitted to depression, maybe there would not be such a stigma attached thereto and treatment would be more accessible. And if I had to live with Mitts choice of drapes, Id get a little down, too. Then, delightfully, the article continues that, guess what? Gov. Patrick reimbursed the state for the drapes and the upgrade of the state car lease. In classic Clinton Campaign form, the statement is made, then a disclaimer issued thereafter. If you were stabbed in the shoulder and then your assailant quickly applied a band-aid over it, what are you going to remember more?
Anyone who believes that holding office is a seamless process in which everyone will just fall into line the second the oath of office is taken is in for a big surprise. Heck, I remember some pretty heated arguments amidst the executive board of The Fox River Valley Rock & Mineral Society when I was a kid, and that group consisted of retired geology professors, spiritualists and amateur spelunkers who had no influence on domestic or international policy (though they did a pretty effective job of cornering the late-1970s market on hand-cut polished geode bolo ties). Transparency in government, though welcome, is not without its perils. You are either going to only focus on the defeats an elected encounters in office, point and yell, I told you so! Hes all talk! or you are going to look at the totalityand it will be a totality as everything will take place above the tableof ones ups and downs, achievements and defeats. But isnt it nice to be privy to all the ups and downs?
So, the picture of Sen. Obama with Gov. Patrick? Is The Times preemptively failing President Obama, even though his record of working across the aisle in both Illinois State and Federal Senate is without reproach? Has represented Washington to us rather than us to Washington? Has outlined an immediate relief program for homeowners hit by the housing crisis, modernization of our regulatory framework, and an additional $30 billion stimulus package to help protect families from the economic slowdown? Possesses the judgment and courage to speak against the conventional thinkers in Washington who lined up for the Iraq war? Made the commitment to not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment for five days? Has shined a spotlight and will continue to do soon earmarks and pork barrel spending and special interests lobbying and campaign donations? His strengthening of civil rights enforcement and combating employment discrimination?
He sounds like a failure to me.