The Politics of Reconciliation

SOMETIMES, NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST

Democrat Deval L. Patrick made history last month by becoming the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. In the national news media, his victory was covered as an inspiring story of racial progress, and rightly so. Patrick’s win marked a turning point in the history of a state that had never fully overcome the legacy of antiblack prejudice from the years of the Boston school-busing wars.

But another, less-noted, dimension of Patrick’s victory has national significance as well. In one of the meanest political seasons in recent memory, he ran a campaign that transformed a politics of rage into a politics of reconciliation. What made his achievement all the more remarkable was that he managed to do so in liberal Massachusetts, the fiery heart of Bush-hating America.

Two years ago, when Patrick began his campaign, few of the state’s liberal activists were focusing on the task of taking back the governorship that had been in Republican hands for the past sixteen years. Instead, virtually all their energy and passion was consumed by rage at George W. Bush and the triumvirate of Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rove. The anger was palpable and visible. Anti-Bush bumper stickers proclaimed “A Village in Texas Is Missing Its Idiot.” Home-made lawn signs carried a defiant message: “George Bush Is Not My President.”

Fury was compounded by frustration. Angry as activists were at President Bush, they were also mad...

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About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.