Deval Patrick, Puritan Conservative

For a fellow raised in Chicago Deval Patrick sure understands us here in Massachusetts: we’re Puritans, and he’s our John Winthrop.

To understand this let’s review his recent speech to the Democratic Party state convention. He set out an ethic of caring for the vulnerable members of our community that is a reminder of the values set forth for Massachusetts by Winthrop in his speech A Model of Christian Charity aboard the Arbella in 1630: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”

Governor Patrick described a visit he made to first graders at the Orchard Gardens School, an improving school that was once one of the worst in the state. Tea Party Republicans, he claimed, “tell us that those first graders are on their own” to deal with the crippling effects of their poverty. “But those Orchard’s Garden kids should not be left on their own. Those children are our children; America’s children. Yours and mine too…. For this country to rise, they must rise; they must rise.  And we have a common stake in that.”

Back on the Arbella John Winthrop set out similar principles for the new community. He told the travelers that in God’s plan “some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission.” But, Winthrop explained, God imposed an obligation on the well off to care for the less fortunate: “that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection. From hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honorable than another or more wealthy etc., out of any particular and singular respect to himself, but for the glory of his Creator and the common good of the creature, man.”

Winthrop took care to answer questions that might arise in the new community: “If thy brother be in want and thou canst help him, thou needst not make doubt of what thou shouldst do; if thou lovest God thou must help him.” This sounds relevant to those children at Orchard Gardens School. “He who shutteth his ears from hearing the cry of the poor, he shall cry and shall not be heard. (Matt. 25).”

In a proper community, “true Christians are of one body in Christ (1 Cor. 12).” We are knit together, the Orchard Garden first graders and the rest of us.

But surely in a state like Massachusetts, and in a party like our state Democratic Party, the religious basis of Winthrop’s thought must be rejected. But let’s listen again to Governor Patrick as he explains why Democrats use government to help the disadvantaged in our community.

“We do it because faith in the American Dream still defines what it means to be America and because the Dream matters when it reaches every life.” He goes on to use the word “faith” again in referencing the transformative nature of the American Dream. And he ends “God bless you all, God bless the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and God bless the United States of America.” Winthrop would have approved. By twice using “faith” in the American Dream the governor sacralizes that concept for us. Governor Patrick has always been able to indicate his respect for faith.

Some would argue that care for the least among us doesn’t mean government intervention, as Governor Patrick advocates. But Winthrop said the colonizers “seek out a place of cohabitation and consortship under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical. In such cases as this, the care of the public must oversway all private respects, by which, not only conscience, but mere civil policy, doth bind us.

We moderns might see Patrick’s speech as “liberal.” But what’s more conservative than calling on the founding principles of our settlement?


About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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