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“President Barack Obama:” In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?
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Tavis: President Obama earlier today, discussing his plan for long-term deficit reduction. For more tonight, I’m joined by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The second-term Democrat is the author of the new text, “A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life.” He joins us tonight not from Massachusetts, but as you can tell, from Washington. Governor, as always, good to have you on this program, sir.
Gov. Deval Patrick: It’s great to be with you, Tavis. Thank you for having me.
Tavis: I’m anxious to get to the book, I enjoyed it. Let me start, though, with a few questions about the president’s words today. You just heard the clip. This is my own assessment – I have not heard the president that forceful, that forthright, in a long time. I’m happy to see it. Is the president finally starting to find his spine?
Patrick: I am thrilled with the speech. I didn’t hear it, but I did read it, and what I liked especially is that he put the real question not just to the Republicans but to the American people, the one that we are really debating, which is what kind of country do we want to live in. What is the character of this country? Do we still believe in the American dream, and what are we willing to sacrifice in order to assure that that American dream is available for not just the here and now, but for another generation?
Tavis: How is this debate impacting, even as we speak, the states?
Patrick: Well, we’re in pretty good shape in Massachusetts. We have delivered four budgets now that were responsible, balanced and on time. We’ve had to reduce head count in state government, but we have also improved our bond rating, for example. I think we’re the only state since 2007 whose bond rating has improved in these times, and we have also invested in education, in infrastructure and in job creation.
Because everybody knows that educating our kids, assuring a way forward in this economy and securing our healthcare is a way to build a better and stronger commonwealth. So we’re coming out of the recession faster than most of the rest of the country, but this notion of trying to upend the federal government’s role in partnership with the states, which seems to be implied by some of the Republicans in the Congress, is wrong, and it puts an awful lot of good that we’re trying to do for our people in jeopardy.
Tavis: Refresh my memory right quick – who controls both houses in Massachusetts – Democrats both houses?
Patrick: Democrats in both houses. We have a business community that is a real range of political – sort of across the political spectrum. We have those also in the healthcare community and in labor who are in every place.
We actually have more unenrolled Independents in Massachusetts than we have registered Democrats and registered Republicans combined. But we come together to solve our big problems.
Tavis: I asked that question because I wonder how much empathy, then, you have for these governors who are fighting cross-party, and the difficulty then that comes along with trying to deliver a budget on time which you say so proudly you’ve done now a few times in Massachusetts. How much of that has to do with the fact that you’re all in one party?
Patrick: You know what, I have good, strong, productive working relationships with the leadership in both the House and the Senate, and with the rank and file members, but we don’t agree on everything. The dynamic in Massachusetts is not so much a partisan dynamic, Tavis. It’s an insider-outsider dynamic, and I’m an outsider, so you can imagine what (laughter) that drama has sometimes been.
But we get it done, and I don’t expect to agree on everything with the legislature. They don’t expect to agree on me with everything. Sometimes our differences will be sharp.
But what I keep trying to come back to is the very thing the president was talking about today in his speech – what kind of community, what kind of commonwealth, in the president’s case, what kind of nation do we want to live in, and what are the implications for those choices on the choices we have to make in our budget and in policy?
Tavis: So what most disturbs you, then, about the debate vis-à-vis the budget in Washington right now?
Patrick: Well, I’ve been following, as I’m sure you and your viewers have, the issues around healthcare. The national healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act, is modeled on what we’ve been doing in Massachusetts for the last five years. Yesterday was the fifth year anniversary of healthcare reform.
Ninety-eight-plus percent of our residents have insurance today, over 99 percent of children. No other state in America can touch that. It’s added all of 1 percent to the state budget in that time. Medicaid has grown about 2 percent per capita per year. It is a very successful program about expanding access, and we’re now moving to the next big challenge, which is bringing costs down. Not just controlling them, but driving them down, which is something, again, I think we can model for the whole of the country.
So when I listen to the debates in Washington about the Affordable Care Act, about national healthcare reform, what troubles me so is that we’re the only ones who’ve actually had any experience with this type of solution and it’s working really, really well.
Above all, it says something about the values that we support and believe in, and that, in this case, is about health being a public good and everyone deserving access to good healthcare.
Tavis: One of the things that concerns me, maybe even troubles me – never mind the fact that I said earlier I was glad to hear personally the president be so forceful in his remarks today – whether one agrees or disagrees, likes or loathes the guy, you want to see somebody fight, you want to know what they believe in, they’re going to stand up and fight for that, so I’m heartened by that on the one hand.
On the other hand, I’m one of those persons, and I’m curious as to your take, who believes that the conversation about deficit reduction might be a little ill-timed. We’re not out of this recession yet, to my mind. Americans are still hurting, and I think the president’s got to be careful to not be pulled into a debate too deeply about deficit reduction, although it is real, when we’re still trying to deal with this.
Krugman feels that way, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stieglitz and others feel the same way – that you’ve got to have a deficit reduction conversation at the right time. So I ask, is now the right time for that conversation?
Patrick: I think the time is right for the conversation. I think that the question is should we do all the solutions right now. We should certainly have a plan, and I think that’s what the deficit reduction commission, on the basis of which the president’s speech turned today, was about. They were also making the point that we have to do, as Paul Krugman says, jobs first, deficit reduction in just a little while.
Part of the issue for me, and I think probably for you, Tavis, is that we’re being lectured to about the urgency of deficit reduction by the very people who drove up the deficit in the previous administration (laughter) by running two wars on a credit card and a prescription drug benefit, and then cutting taxes.
By the way, I don’t think there’s any nation in human history that has gone to war and cut taxes at the same time. So that is a big contributor – in fact, the biggest contributor – for why we are in the situation we are in. So when the president today talks about a plan which is about investing in education, in job creation, in healthcare, because those are the kinds of things that move the economy and also affirm our vision of the kind of country we want, but the deficit reduction has to be a part of that, including by contributions from the most fortunate in the country, I think that strikes the right balance.
Tavis: One last question, then, about others, and I want to spend the last four or five minutes talking about you specifically, the new book “A Reason to Believe.”
So everybody in the country knows that one of your predecessors announced earlier this week he has an exploratory committee formed now to run for president. Your thoughts about the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, saying that he’s going to run again?
Patrick: Well, I don’t know him well, Tavis, but Governor Romney’s a good man. He was very responsible and responsive in the transition. We certainly don’t agree on a lot of policy. I congratulate him, and I do so sincerely, for his work in delivering our own healthcare reform, and for something that has done so much good for so many people, I don’t entirely understand why he runs away from it today the way he seems to.
But my stake is not in his candidacy. My stake is in the reelection of President Barack Obama, who is exactly, I think, the kind of visionary leader that we need right now, given the challenges facing us as a nation.
Tavis: Fair enough. To your book, “A Reason to Believe.” I love the subtitle, “Lessons from an Improbable Life.” Why an improbable life?
Patrick: Well, Tavis, you and I have talked about some of this in the past. I grew up on the south side of Chicago, most of that time on welfare. My mother and sister and I used to live with my grandparents and various cousins. We shared a two-bedroom tenement and the three of us slept in one of those bedrooms and had a set of bunk beds.
So you’d go from the top bunk to the bottom bunk to the floor; every third night on the floor. I went to big, broken, under-resourced public schools, but we had a real sense of community, because those were days in the ’50s and the ’60s when every child was under the jurisdiction of every single adult on the block.
So if you messed up down the street in front of Ms. Jones, she would straighten you out as if you were hers, and then call home, right, so you got it two times. (Laughter)
Patrick: I think this book, as you know, those experiences and experiences like them in very other settings, different settings, at Milton Academy, where I had a scholarship in 1970, at Harvard College and Harvard law school, in the Sudan, where I worked after college, between college and law school, those experiences, from known and anonymous people, have made me a very hopeful person, given me a real sense of idealism, and the book, as much as anything, is a gesture of gratitude to those people for those lessons. I try to pass on some of those lessons in this book.
Tavis: You’ve got some great stuff in the book and you are awfully good at this oratory thing. You said something to me years ago that I’ve never forgotten, and you come back to this theme tonight in this conversation now and indeed in the book, and that is – and I think Americans need to hear this today; certainly millions of Americans who are struggling – that you can build a whole life on hope. You can build a whole life on hope.
Patrick: Oh, yeah.
Tavis: I love that line. What’d you mean by that?
Patrick: Well, I think if you were just about – the way my grandmother used to put it, she’d say, “Hope for the best and work for it.” I think sometimes people are so busy trying to get over, that they are just trying to hold it together, that they forget how important it is to be mindful of why we are trying to do things.
I often say this to people who are running for public office. They speak all the time about how to win and not so much about why we should. I think that hope, that ability to envision, to imagine a better way, and then to apply yourself to it, is the way to climb out of a hole, is the way to build a better life, is the way to build a better community and a better country.
Tavis: Finally, you mentioned the fact that you had a chance to go to a great school right out of Chicago, a private institution, in fact. Part of the proceeds from this book are going to a program called A Better Chance. Tell me about the program and why you decided to do that.
Patrick: Well, A Better Chance is a program that introduced me to Milton Academy some – almost, jeez, well, 1970, so what is it, 42 years ago now – and for me, that was like landing on a different planet.
What A Better Chance was about was as a euphemism of the day, when finding kids from nontraditional prep school backgrounds to introduce them to those environments. While I think that the lessons I learned on the south side of Chicago and the aspirations I was given and the encouragement I got from teachers and those old ladies in hats in the church and other adults in the neighborhood and from my family encouraged me to envision a broader and better and bigger life in many respects, that opportunity to go to Milton Academy through A Better Chance was a big step in that direction, and I just want to show my gratitude to them by sharing some of the proceeds of this book with them.
Tavis: In the time I’ve had tonight I’ve really just scratched the surface on what is a remarkable life that is still being written, obviously, every day, even as we speak. Written by the governor of Massachusetts, history-making governor, that is, Deval Patrick, the new text is called “A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life” that I celebrate. Governor, good to have you on. Thanks for sharing your insights, and thanks for the book, man.
Patrick: Thank you, Tavis. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
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