Adrian Walker

A familiar detachment

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / April 4, 2008

While Deval Patrick was running for governor, some conservatives tried to portray him as the second coming of Michael Dukakis.

Their claim never got any real traction, and now it is clear why not: He's actually the spiritual heir to William F. Weld.

You remember Governor Weld. Brainy and engaging, he enjoyed the job at times, in unpredictable spurts. He preferred writing, among other pursuits, at other times.

While his first novel, "Mackerel By Moonlight," didn't appear until after he had left office, he began writing it while in office. He bragged to The New York Times that he had outlined it in 15 or 20 minutes, and written the first draft in eight weeks, working on it one day each weekend. The reviews were respectful, if not thrilling.

Patrick's attempt at making literature was pursued quietly. First it leaked out that he traveled to New York to pitch his idea, and then he came away with a $1.35 million deal, not bad for a writer with no track record.

Now it appears that he is crafting not a memoir, as had been assumed, but a handbook of inspiration. This is perfectly in keeping with the message of hope that got him elected.

There are differences between the two governors. Weld decided to scratch his writing itch at the end of his time in office. Patrick is still at the beginning of his term and still trying to show voters that he can convert his lofty rhetoric into an effective style of governing.

The book idea has proven unpopular in the court of public opinion. The project has played into an image of Patrick as aloof and self-centered.

The pendulum of public opinion has tended to swing wildly where Patrick is concerned. Elected by a landslide, he was vilified just weeks into his term for buying fancy drapes and leasing a Cadillac. Later a staff shakeup was said to bring order, and he was out of the line of fire for a while. Now the critics, many of them former supporters, are back with a vengeance.

In truth, Patrick is an extraordinarily talented man with large ideas and vision. That is both good and bad. He is full of interesting ideas, but has struggled to cobble together the legislative victories that convince voters that they are getting the change they voted for. His ambition is commendable, but voters are becoming restless.

Like so many before him, he is finding that promises to slash the budget and reform the culture of Beacon Hill are far more easily made than kept. His casino proposal was necessitated because he could cut hardly anything without breaking a campaign promise, having promised the moon to anyone who asked. As for the legislative leaders, they view opposing a governor as their birthright.

Patrick has been ripped for leaving town to shop his proposal on the day of the casino vote, and rightly so. You don't run from defeat. A tougher governor would have thanked his supporters for standing up to leadership and ripped his opponents. You can always sell your book next week.

But it isn't really about the book. This controversy is really about squandering a huge mandate. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi read the politics of the casino issue perfectly and understood that there was no political price to be paid for killing it, because even Patrick's supporters were lukewarm on the idea.

Patrick's adversaries aren't his political problem. His real problem is that his supporters worry that his administration is adrift. In his major speeches, Patrick has shown that he writes beautifully. He may not reach the writerly heights of his friend Barack Obama, but he can write a book.

The casino vote may have been blown out of proportion; Patrick has a full slate of projects he hopes to pass this session. What has his supporters so jittery is the still-unsettled question of whether he has the commitment to deliver on the promises that got him elected. Patrick is a man of many interests and talents. But he needs to show Massachusetts that running the state is still one of them.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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