We BMGers are fans of the political reporting at the Phoenix, despite our occasional disagreements. So I found these comments over at David S. Bernstein’s “Talking Politics” blog to be, well, surprising and disappointing (emphasis mine). [UPDATE: Bernstein has clarified his remarks below -- see the comments.]
I’m not so sure that a guy [Governor Patrick] who recently announced, rather controversially, that he had to scale back his schedule should be embarking on an eight-city string of appearances, paid for by his campaign committee, for purposes extraneous to governing. From a purely public-perception standpoint, if Deval has a few hours to duck away from state business tomorrow, shouldn’t he be spending it with his ailing wife rather than at a rally in Worcester?
First off, can everyone please just cut it out with the amateur marriage counseling? Bad enough that Katie Couric spent most of her 60 Minutes interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards accusing them of “putting your work first, and your family second.” (Yes, she really said that, and more.) Now we’ve got pundits advising the Patricks on how much time they ought to be spending together. Hey, here’s an idea: let’s let Deval and Diane figure that one out.
Now, to Bernstein’s “purposes extraneous to governing” comment. He is referring to a series of community meetings that the Governor announced over the weekend. From the announcement:
Governor Patrick announced that he will be holding a series of eight community meetings in every corner of the Commonwealth to promote his plans. “By investing in our local communities, we can manage and solve many of the issues facing our citizens today,” said Patrick…. Any citizen of Massachusetts is invited to attend the meetings at any of the locations across the state. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor will discuss a broad range of issues, including property tax relief, job creation and education….
The tentative dates of the eight meetings are:
March 24th, Boston
March 27th, Worcester
April 2nd, Lowell
April 3rd, South Coast
April 9th, Berkshires
April 11th, Cape Cod
April 17th, Springfield
April 24th, Marlborough
According to Bernstein, these meetings are “extraneous to governing,” apparently because they don’t involve making nicey-nice with Theresatore DiMurray.
In response to which one can only ask whether Bernstein was out of state during the Governor’s race. If there’s one thing Deval Patrick was pretty clear about from day one, it was that he wanted to govern in a new way — a way that emphasized direct interaction with the people who elected him, and that drew strength directly from them, rather than skulking around the corridors of the State House. Governing from the grassroots, and all that. We on the civic engagement working group took that charge seriously, and urged him to continue doing what he did during the campaign: going directly to the people and asking them for their help, their ideas, their support. And I can’t overstate how strongly the people who attended our group’s public meetings felt about the need for the Governor to come directly to them, where they live, to engage with them.
So, to me, these public meetings are not only not “extraneous,” they are absolutely essential to governing. If Governor Patrick didn’t do this kind of thing, he wouldn’t be delivering on the style of governance that he talked about during the campaign, and that won him the election. Are they “political” events, paid for by his committee rather than the state? Yes. Doesn’t mean they’re not part of governance. The two, as everyone knows, are intimately connected, and to pretend that governance can and should be conducted entirely within the confines of the State House is to fall, hook line and sinker, for the old, outmoded model that Deval Patrick ran against, and that frankly hasn’t worked all that well around here lately.
Interestingly, Jon Keller also has criticisms of the Governor’s new strategy — but from the exact opposite perspective. Keller wants Patrick to go further. He wants Patrick to name names on his website — to tell his supporters not only how they can contact their legislators, but exactly whose switchboard they ought to be lighting up. Says Keller,
Several dozen phone calls to a specific legislator from his or her constituents saying what they want and explaining that they’ll be watching might make a difference. Anything less is a joke. No posting of the names of opponents? Gee, we thought the governor was serious about change.
On this round of the Keller-Bernstein smackdown, I’m with Keller.
Bernstein also argues that the website launch and the community meetings represent a “kick” in the “crotch” to both Sal DiMasi and Frank Phillips, since they’re efforts to end-run both the lege and the MSM. I’m not sure how Bernstein squares his theory that this is all “extraneous to governing” with his kick-in-the-crotch theory, but whatever. In any event, if that’s true, I’d only point out that DiMasi and the MSM have delivered a few crotch-kicks themselves in recent weeks, and turnabout is fair play.
Finally, Bernstein delivers what I’d describe as a veiled threat (emphasis mine).
The Town Meetings and the web site — not to mention the sit-down chat Patrick had with select bloggers Saturday — are just more ways of going around the media who he won’t engage with. Again, Patrick can feel free to do it, but don’t think local journalists aren’t noticing.
Well, good grief, I hope they’re noticing! It’s news, after all. But it’s hard not to see a suggestion in Bernstein’s comment that unless Patrick plays by the MSM’s rules, they’re going to work as hard as they can to take him down. At which point, one has to seriously question whether the MSM is doing the job it’s entrusted by the public to do.
As for Saturday’s blogger sit-down, I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend, so I can’t say much about it (for write-ups, see .08, Dick Howe, and others — sco’s got the links). But it seems perfectly natural for a Governor — especially this Governor — to engage with the netroots that played a role in his victory. And if the MSM is unhappy about losing the monopoly it has until recently held on large-scale dissemination of information, well, welcome to the 21st century.
Governor Patrick ruffled a lot of feathers with his comments, sho
rtly after his election, at a meeting of MSM types at which he said that some reporters “never did get” what his campaign was about. Commentaries like Bernstein’s today make me wonder whether Patrick’s comments weren’t pretty close to the mark.