The Obama-Patrick Parallel
Earlier in the week, we told you how at least one journalist thinks that Gov. Deval Patrick has become a political liability on the campaign trail for his buddy, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. The writer even suggested that Obama should ask Patrick to stop stumping for him.
It was an interesting take, but it has no chance of being implemented. For Obama, rejecting Patrick would be like rejecting himself. Sure, Patrick had a rough first year in the corner office. But as a primary campaigner, Patrick was brilliant, and he displayed many of the same qualities that Obama has in his run for the White House.
For those who stayed up long enough to watch Obama’s victory speech in Iowa last night, those similarities couldn’t have been more obvious.
Clearly, Obama is on a much larger stage, but I can’t help but think back to Patrick’s amazing gubernatorial run. The likeness between the two campaigns is striking.
Both Obama and Patrick kicked off their campaigns against establishment candidates backed by the old-guard of the Democratic Party. Both were initially seen as long-shots with too little experience, and derided for their messages of hope and change. Both connected with a long dormant subsection of the democratic process — the previously invisible and unengaged “youth vote.” And both catapulted into serious contention with early caucus victories, thereby transitioning from part of the play to leading roles.
More than that, though, it’s their style — their unmatched abilities to appeal to audiences through masterful oratory and presence — that is truly freaking uncanny.
During the gubernatorial race, Patrick’s chief rival, then-Attorney General Tom Reilly, gave undeniably dreadful speeches, and he was nearly as bad face to face. I remember watching Reilly walk the floor during the Democratic State Convention, trying but failing to connect with his delegates. He went through the motions — shaking hands and slapping backs — but it all felt so practiced and planned. And flat.
By the time he delivered his speech that day, all the energy had been drained from his supporters. You could almost hear the campaign placards drop. So maybe he was ready to lead, but no one was willing to follow. Reilly’s hopes died that day in Worcester.
On the other hand, Patrick was an unstoppable force during the primary. Watching him talk to people — be they ward captains or journalists or undecided voters — was like listening to a great singer belt out all the right notes. People couldn’t help but listen.
Even the way he delivered his speeches felt new and exciting and fresh. While Reilly was frequently flanked by the party establishment, Patrick often went on stage alone. The day that Obama and former President Bill Clinton came to Boston to stump for him, Patrick filled a room at the Hynes Convention Center with supporters, putting the stage right in the middle. The only people Patrick brought with him were family members. That evening, awash in the crowd’s incredible energy and adoration, he delivered one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard.
The same thing happened last night in Iowa. Sen. Hilary Clinton went on first, but her appearance smacked of the same old. Behind her were all the important party regulars — retired general Wesley Clark, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, former Iowa Governor and vice presidential hopeful Tom Vilsack, and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. It looked stale, and that’s the way her speech sounded — too much starch, too little passion. Even the sign hanging from the dais in front of her (“Ready for Change! Ready to Lead!”) felt inauthentic.
By stark contrast, Obama’s rally looked real and different. The candidate’s emotion was trumped only by the supporters packed in around him. Like Patrick, he took the stage with only his wife and children in tow. Like Patrick, he plopped the podium down in the middle of a raucous crowd full of 20-something faces with irrepressible grins. And, like Patrick, he delivered a powerful speech unmatched by his peers during the primary.
What Obama and Patrick both understand is that words have musical qualities. When used properly, when rhythm and timber and pitch are employed, you can captivate a crowd. And no two politicians have been better at that art in recent years than Obama and Patrick.
Obama has a long way to go, and a much tougher fight ahead of him, frankly, than Patrick ever had (Hilary Clinton is obviously no Tom Reilly). But what’s happening with Obama right now is eerily reminiscent of how things went down with Patrick — the fear and confusion in the eyes of their opponents, the excitement surrounding their campaigns, the rolling wave of momentum, the collective optimism and unity of their supporters. It’s like watching a grand, big-budget remake.
PHOTO from wbur.org