Deval Patrick Just Did What He Does Best: Orate

The governor wasn't trying to prove himself as a presidential candidate in his final State of the Commonwealth speech.

This was Deval Patrick’s final State of the Commonwealth address, and what he wanted to accomplish depends very heavily on a very specific assumption. If you make that assumption, then Patrick’s goals for this speech were as follows:

1. Show progressives what a hot presidential nominee he’d be.

I don’t buy that he’s the least bit interested in running, so I’d say his priorities for the speech were roughly as follows:

1. Help people think positively of his legacy;

2. Try to light a fire for some final legislative proposals;

3. Assure people that he intends to fix certain things that need fixing;

4. Reiterate his big-vision call to collective responsibility and action;

5. Imply that returning the state to Republican governance would imperil everything.

On those terms, it seemed to me a good speech, one that will likely reinforce the generally positive opinion people have of him. But it also kind of struck me the same way most of the Democratic candidates to replace him sound so far: eager to express commitment to progressive policy directions and not-so-eager to discuss actual policy.

That’s OK; you can only do so much in a 30-minute speech, and besides, the legislature isn’t likely to do much of anything he asks now, anyway. They seldom are, and today we’re in a sort of super-lame-duck session, where everyone who can survive this November’s elections will outlast two-thirds of Beacon Hill’s current power trio.

And in any event, the remaining keys to Patrick’s legacy at this point lie largely not in policy, but in competence—and that’s harder to deal with through oration. On the policy side, the public has always generally accepted (and perhaps preferred) that Patrick would try to use the weapon of speech to drive his goals, and that the legislature would prove largely immune to that suasion. But the recent catalog of troubles has been of managerial mess-making. Patrick mentioned two big ones: the gaping holes revealed at the Department of Children and Families, and the botched website for the new health insurance connector. He can’t talk his way into fixing those.

Not that he much wants to. Patrick wanted to crow in this speech about what he’s done, and then show that he’s far from finished; that he intends to work to the last for whatever he can squeeze out of the legislature. A little something for early education, maybe? A negotiated-down transportation bond bill? Something? Anything?