January 24, 2020

Deval Patrick

Democratic presidential candidate and former MA Gov. Deval Patrick discusses his late entry into the 2020 race. The only African-American candidate left in the field, Patrick talks about his journey from the South Side of Chicago to law school and a career at Fortune 500 companies. He explains his views on capitalism and the wealth tax, as well as his newly released reparations platform.

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He’s a late entry into the presidential race with a lot of catching up to do, this week on ‘Firing Line.’

I’m excited, I am humbled, and I am fired up.

The only African-American still in the race, Deval Patrick rose from poverty to become governor of Massachusetts.

The people of Massachusetts chose to take their government back.

A self-made business leader, he advocates for American capitalism.
[ Bell ringing ]
There is a place for business in our lives.

But he also criticizes the growing gap between rich and poor.

The American dream is becoming more and more out of reach for more and more people.

With the first voting just days away, what does Governor Deval Patrick say now?

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Welcome to ‘Firing Line,’ Governor Deval Patrick.

Thank you for having me.

You were the first African-American governor of Massachusetts.

How about that?

Only the second to be elected in this country’s history.
You had a storied career in law before you were appointed the Assistant Attorney General in Bill Clinton’s Justice Department.
And you were a corporate lawyer for Fortune 500 companies.
And you are now running to be President of the United States of America.

I know.

First, let me ask you about impeachment, because the impeachment proceedings for President Trump are beginning this week, and you’re a lawyer.
One of the arguments his legal team is making is that abuse of power is not impeachable, even if it’s proven.
What do you think about that argument?

[ Chuckles ] Well, first, just on its face, as a citizen, that can’t be true, because, you know, the framers had in mind that when democratic norms, democratic boundaries were crossed, that there’d be a democratic process, short of election, to remove the chief executive.
I think the — And the text makes plain that it doesn’t have to be a stated crime under our laws for the president to be removed.
Now, a it’s a political argument about whether the timing is right.

Isn’t impeachment political?

Well, inherently so, yes, but I understand that part of the argument.
But the question about whether the president has engaged in behavior that is impeachable, in my view, is pretty clear.
And I think I want to commend — You know, this is a sober moment in our democracy, and I want to commend the members of the House and of the Senate, who have treated it that way.

You’ve said, to editorial board, that if you had been in the House, you would have voted for his impeachment.

Yes.

You said, ‘Have you seen the record?’
Do you think that record merits removal from office?

Well, I do.
I realize that the question is being asked, ‘If we’re so close to an election, maybe we ought to just let the people speak.’
But the people speaking in favor or not in favor of the popularity of a of a given president isn’t the same thing about whether he’s respected the laws and the customs and the fittingness, if you will, of the office.

The senators have sworn to be impartial jurors.

Mm-hmm.

Do you believe that the president will have a fair trial?

Well, I think it’s probably, at some level, impossible for senators to be impartial in the way they would be — you’d want a jury to be in a criminal trial in a state or a federal court, without the amount of information that has been so publicly available.
But I do think that really examining the evidence, calling witnesses —
What will make it fair?

I think calling witnesses will help.
I think engaging in the point/counterpoint about what the record actually is, instead of the rhetoric about witch-hunts and all that sort of thing that’s been sown.
I think there’s a decorum that’s expected of senators at a time like this.
And, in fact, there’s a decorum expected of members of the House and the president.
It’s funny.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few years, how much of our democracy depends on unwritten rules, right?
Rules around decorum and duty and respect and restraint.
You know, there are expectations that we have about what it takes to make the democracy succeed, and, in some respect, those are on trial — not just the behavior of this president and not just those unwritten rules and how they apply to this president, but those unwritten rules and how they are reflected in the behavior of the members of the Senate during this trial.

Yet, so many of these unwritten rules seem to have been thrown out the window.

It’s deeply worrisome to me and, I think, to a lot of others.

I’d like to talk about your presidential race.

Yes.

You were the second-most-recent candidate to enter the race.

Mm-hmm.

When you entered, there were 17 other candidates…
Can you bear it?

…in the race.
So, look, you’re one of the finalists.

Yeah, how about that?
[ Both laugh ]
But I’d like to get your reaction to something you said in September of 2018, and we’re going to listen to it right here.

And I’m never going to be any of those things.

So, how do you get noticed now?

Well, I’ll tell you.
It’s not going to be by being a celebrity or sensational, because I’m just — that’s just not who I am.
But I think, given the length of time and the amount of money that’s been spent by all of the candidates, it’s clear nobody’s locked it down.
You know, we have in very, very broad terms — And these are, you know, so broad as to be overbroad.
We have a nostalgic option, sort of a let’s remove President Trump, and we can go back to doing what we used to do…
Mm-hmm.

…or a view that we should reach way forward, and it’ll be our way or no way.
And I think that is kind of a — It’s a Democratic version of what’s on offer today.
And that has worried me.

Is that Bernie Sanders?

Well, no.
Without — Look, I’m not trying to lift myself by pulling anybody else down.

But what do you bring to the field that wasn’t there?

I think a couple of things.
I mean, you know, we’re talking about big ideas, important ideas around healthcare, climate change, criminal-justice reforms.
All the other candidates have ideas.
We have results in Massachusetts.
You know, we had 99% of the people in Massachusetts have health insurance today.
No other state yet has reached a milestone like that.
We have a national model for addressing climate change, from a cap-and-trade system and the proceeds used to invest in energy efficiency.
We’ve closed the remaining coal-fired power plants.
We have generated ample alternatives to make up for the close of that.
And we have a booming clean-tech sector.
We eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug sentences — big step forward in modeling how we bring justice back into the justice system.
My point is — we have to have change that lasts.
And if you get — In order to deliver change that lasts, you have to have it a blend, in my experience — and I would say this is true both in the public sector and the private sector — bold ideas and humility.
And by that, I mean a very ambitious agenda, but the humility or, indeed, self-confidence to accept that others may have contributions to make in how you achieve those.
And you may not have thought about them, maybe a different pathway to get there.

You’re the only governor in the race.

At this point, yes.

Does that set you apart?

Well, it’s one — I mean, it’s the practical experience of having had to make decisions.
And I do think that’s different.

Do you think your message, the record that you ran on as governor and the message you just outlined, is getting through?

It’s brick by brick.
You know, we are — You know, I came in in November.
We had thousands of volunteers sign up from every single state in America within a few hours of the website going live.
So it’s — We’re definitely the underdog, but we’re making great progress.
And part of the the message is getting through is being here with you, Margaret.

You are the only African-American still left in the race…
Mm-hmm.

…with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker dropping out.

Yeah. Good people and big talents, too.

You tweeted about the most recent presidential primary debate.
What’s missing in the conversation in the Democratic debate with respect to race?

Yeah, so, first of all, the debates were intended as a way to showcase the range of talent and ideas that we were talking about just a minute or two ago.
And I think that the criteria for qualifying for the debates were well-intended.
I get that but.
But — And, you know, I have to be careful.
I want to be careful to be heard not as whining that we haven’t qualified yet, but the debate stage most recently didn’t reflect the range of diversity or talent in the field.

Let me just ask you about your path quickly.
You’re not going to — You’re going to focus more on New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Mm-hmm.

New Hampshire — you are the governor of a neighboring state.
Often, governors of neighboring states do well, except for that you have two competitors in New Hampshire who are also from neighboring states.

Yes, yes.

One of them, Bernie Sanders, won 60% of New Hampshire in 2016.
What’s your path?

Well, we’re going to — We’re competing hard in New Hampshire.
We’re up on television and digital ads.
I don’t think any other candidate has spent as much time in New Hampshire or in South Carolina, frankly, as I have —
Since you announced or just —
In this cycle.
Not just since I announced.
I don’t think anybody has been on the ground as much.

This last week, on Martin Luther King Day, you announced your plan for providing reparations to the descendants of slaves.

Mm-hmm.

In editorial-board meeting on December 12th, here’s what you told them.
You said… So are you for cash payments?
Cash reparation payments?

The answer is maybe.
And it has a lot to do, Margaret, with the fact that there’s a lot of our history — when I say ‘our history,’ I don’t mean just black people, American history — that a lot of Americans don’t understand.
There are reasons why the the wealth gap, for example, is what it is.
It’s been stuck where it has been for a long, long time.
It’s not that it can’t be — It isn’t surmountable.
I mean, it was for me.
You know, the story of — My story of growing up in poverty and being able to have the kinds of opportunities I’ve had and to make a little money — that’s a story — that’s a deeply American story.
It’s a story that gets told more here than anyplace else in the world.
But, as a group, there are reasons why this has been a heavier and harder lift for black Americans.
And I think it’s important that America understand that.
The reason I said — I hedged on the check is because I think we have some homework to do first.
And, you know, I say this in part as someone who’s represented folks in court who got paid and then didn’t feel resolution once they got paid.
And you’ll see, if you put the reparations question in our policy alongside the other elements, that there’s a lot we’re talking about in terms of reinvesting in housing and in infrastructure and job training and business creation.

The conversation about reparations is one that has been part of the Democratic primary debate, but it’s also been one that’s been part of this country’s history really since Reconstruction.

Mm-hmm.

And on this program, William F. Buckley even engaged in this debate and the issue with Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1982, and I’d like to show you the arguments they were making then.
Let’s take a look.

Yeah.

You must admit, I think, that racial degradation was intentional and pointed and legal and physical.
So racial reparations, to bring about a sense of balance, must also have purpose and plan.
The reason we disproportionately invest in Israel now and Germany is still paying reparations is because we are trying to repair a degradation, a negation.
And, so, there appears to be a diminishing of the of the ugly history of black Americans under the law when there is a willingness to wipe out the historical slate and start over from point zero.
There is no point zero.
We start from the extreme negative.

I understand the ethical appeal of your analysis.
I think, however, it’s unrealistic to say that a concrete debt is owed as a result of the slave traffic of 200 ago strikes me as simply untransactable.

Look —
Can I say, did you notice the civility of that conversation?
They were disagreeing.
Although, you noticed that Mr. Buckley acknowledged how ethically compelling the point was and then he talked about how impractical he thought it was.
It wasn’t a kind of ‘You are bad because I disagree with you.’
And there is something in that —
Certain decency in the humanity of respecting and engaging the person with whom you’re disagreeing.

That we don’t have to agree on everything before we work together on anything — it’s a politics I believe in.

It seems that the case you’re making for reparations, though, is actually not one of direct cash transfers in the way that Buckley said was completely impractical, but one that is a resource transfer to communities that have lagged behind or that there’s a way to invest and to reinvest in communities that have long suffered.

It’s a way of addressing this question.
It’s going to come down to people, though.
You know, in the case, for example, of encouraging entrepreneurialism, which I very much believe is a great way for us as a nation to move forward, the access to capital — and I’m talking about equity, not just loans, but the access to capital — is considerably more constrained in communities of color than it is in many other places.

Well, you know a lot about this.
I mean, your biography — I’d like to take a step back and just focus on your biography, ’cause this is one of the most compelling parts about your candidacy is that you grew up raised by a single mom on the South Side of Chicago.
I want to read you a passage from your book, ‘A reason to Believe: Lessons From an Improbable Life.’
You said… What are the values that you learned that allowed you to have the path that you had?

I think — I’m sure I described in the book that for all the things we didn’t have, we had a community.
You know, it was a time when every child was under the jurisdiction of every adult on the block.
You could mess up down the street in front of Ms. Jones, and she would straighten you out completely, with authority, and then call home, so you got it two times.
And I think what those adults were trying to get across to us was that we owed each other something, and that’s what membership in a community is, that you have a responsibility for your neighbors’ dreams and struggles, as well as your own, that sense of common cause I got from the neighborhood, from my grandmother, and others.
I got the notion that the American Dream is a thing to have faith in, which, when I think about it, for those folks in those circumstances — I mean, she had come up with my grandfather, descended from slaves in Kentucky, with a third-grade education, and they believed in the American dream, that if you worked hard, you played by the rules, you would get your chance.
And the importance, therefore, of the American dream functioning for me, for others has just — it’s been on my mind and heart ever since, that I had responsibility, grit, determination, self-control, personal responsibility.
All of that was critical.
But so was a great school.
So was a job in a growing economy when I was ready for it.
You understand?
So, I’m trying to say they were both personal values and expectations, that I should raise my expectations of myself, as well.
But that, in fact, there would be the kind of public infrastructure, for lack of a better term, broadly speaking, that would enable me to rise.

This is really personal for you.

It’s very personal for me.
It always has been.

What does it say that you’re one of the only Democratic candidates that’s running on the merit of the American dream that doesn’t degrade it?

I think, you know, it’s interesting.
I am — I don’t know about all the candidates, but I know that some of the candidates have been advocating a wealth tax.
I don’t because I don’t think wealth is the problem.
We want aspiration.
You know, that’s part of the American dream, frankly.
We want people to reach.
What we don’t want is greed.
That’s the problem.
It’s the hoarding of all of the benefits, you know, because that is counter to this community point I was making earlier, that we have some obligation to each other and to generations to come to leave things better.
And that’s not going to happen if we don’t invest in each other.

I guess it’s two competing philosophies about what to do with wealth and how to grow wealth or share wealth or spread wealth.
I mean, you mentioned that some of them — some of the candidates you’re running against are advocating a wealth tax.
One of them is Elizabeth Warren, and you are both from Massachusetts.
You have been a supporter of hers.
You’ve contributed to her Senate campaigns
Mm-hmm.
She’s a friend of mine.

She is a friend of yours.

Yeah.

To many people who support a capitalist system or who are on Wall Street, her views represent a real challenge.
And I wanted to show you one of her advertisements and what she said specifically about wealth.
Let’s take a look.

It is time for a wealth tax in America.
There are some billionaires who are taking exception to this plan.
Some are deeply distressed, go on TV, and cry.
Others call their billionaire friends and urge them to run for president.
Yeah, some people have figured out, ‘You know, it’d be a lot cheaper to spend a few hundred mill just buying the presidency instead of paying that 2-cent wealth tax.’
I’m Elizabeth Warren and I approve this message.

You know, the Democratic Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party tends to see candidates on issues through the lens of race and class.
And you are a pioneering figure on the left in terms of when it comes to this question of race.
You’re on the wrong side of the divide when it comes to the question of class for the left wing of the Democratic Party.

For some.

Right. So how do you explain — I mean, you could be sort of a capitalism explainer — right? — to the progressive base of the party.
How do you approach that, though?
I mean, there is an inherent tension in the positions of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and how they deal with corporate America, and, frankly, your experience is in corporate America.

Yeah, so, I’m not trying to be them.
I’m just saying that having worked in business, understanding that, frankly, most of us work in the private sector, we house, feed, entertain ourselves in the private sector, we ought to want that to be both prosperous and just in the same way we want the larger society to be prosperous and just.
We ought to want that to be right.
Now, we’re not always going to make that right through regulation alone, right?
Some of it is modeling the behavior that we’re talking about, right?

But do you feel a responsibility or an opportunity to explain capitalism?

Well, more an opportunity.
You know, I’m a capitalist, but capitalism has a lot to answer for.
I’m not a market fundamentalist.
I don’t think markets get everything right just in time.
I don’t think markets substitute for the role of government and I don’t think government should substitute for the role of —
What does capitalism have to answer for?

Well, I think, frankly, we’ve had this very short-term focus.
I noticed this a lot in some of my executive roles before running for governor, where, you know, it’s, ‘Let’s get next quarter’s results,’ sometimes without due regard to the long-term impact on the enterprise or on the community.
And, frankly, that same bad habit has crept into the way we govern, right?
We govern for the next election cycle, next news cycle, and not the next generation.

What do Democrats not understand about the Trump economy?

Well, what don’t they understand about — Well, I’ll tell you some things I think we do understand.
The Dow Jones is not an economic indicator.
And if you scratch below the surface of the cheery, cheery numbers, they just don’t tell the whole story.
You know, unemployment is low as long as you count both or all three of the minimum-wage jobs people have to survive.

Wages at the bottom end of the economic scale have been going up.

Yeah, go talk to people.
Go talk to people, and you’ll see that there are a whole lot of people who are just hanging on.
And, you know, inflation — it’s low, as long as you don’t count the cost of housing, education, healthcare — right? — the things that stabilize people and enable folks to move forward on a path of economic mobility.
That’s real.
So many people in America feel unseen and unheard behind those economic indicators.
And, by the way, that was true before President Trump came to office, this notion that — This reality that the poor have been stuck in poverty and that the middle class are just a paycheck or two away from being poor.
You know, the mobility that — This is back to the American dream, the sense that you could both imagine and achieve a different station for yourself and your family.
That’s up for grabs today.

Do you think — I mean, we’re coming up on New Hampshire and South Carolina.
This is where you’re focusing.

Mm-hmm.

Do you think you have a chance to win?

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
We’re working our tail off.
Look, this is not a hope and a pray.
I’m not interested in — I mean, this is too hard and it’s too draining —
You’re not running to be a member of the cabinet or to be a vice-presidential candidate.

Exactly. Thank you for saying it for me.
That’s exactly right.
Or to have ‘a voice,’ as I sometimes get to —
Or to influence a debate or to teach Elizabeth Warren about a wealth tax.

No, no, no.
I can do that privately.

As a final thought, since you weren’t on the debate stage yet, what is your closing argument for why Deval Patrick is the best Democratic nominee to take on Donald Trump?

Everybody has a range of really good ideas.
I have results and I understand that getting to those results requires, first and foremost, that we reject false choices.
I am a proud Democrat.
I don’t think you have to hate Republicans to be a good Democrat.
I don’t think you have to hate business to be a social-justice warrior.
I don’t think you have to hate police to believe black lives matter.
Do you understand what I’m saying?
We do this now in politics.
It’s all about slogans.
It’s not about progress.
And we make progress by being clear about where we want to go and leaving room for the folks who need to be persuaded and who ultimately can help us get there.
That’s how you get change that lasts.

Deval Patrick, thank you for coming on ‘Firing Line.’

I thank you for having me.
Good to be with you.
Thank you.

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