Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paying forward or passing through

I heard an interview with Charlie Baker on the radio just the other morning and I liked what I heard. It was a relaxed conversation meant, I'm sure, to simply show the human side of the candidate. On that level the endeavor worked to show a good guy with some potentially good ideas and good intentions. I liked the part when he was asked if he could "have a beer" with anybody in history who would it be and he chose Abraham Lincoln. He said he admired the 16th president for the humanity, even the humor and most especially the grace with which he faced some the hardest decisions ever to confront a public leader.

Humor and grace... I liked that.

The piece didn't make me want to change my vote though. I'm firmly in Patrick's camp. (And from what I read in some opinion pages I guess that bespeaks a core flaw in my character.) The radio interview did leave me lamenting that better debate I know we could have had —had the chosen tenor of the campaign been a bit different.

I've met Governor Patrick in person a couple of times, enough to have my own sense of his humor and grace and integrity. I've not always agreed with his stands on every issue, but I have always had some basic sympathy and understanding for those stands, for where he's coming from and where he's trying to go —his goals and his approach toward them.

I've always had a sense of that same respect coming from him, even when he's hearing it from someone who doesn't agree with him on a particular stand.

It's about balance —you could maybe even call it a balance sheet. Patrick talks about Massachusetts, our commonwealth as something he owes a debt to, he talks about being simply aware that he has benefited from certain blessings that are very much of this place and its history: the passion for learning, the deeper cultural calling to social justice, the sense of community based in ideals —on the level of personal history, he talks of being quite simply aware of the opportunity he was given. These gifts comprise a debt in Deval Patrick's ledger and public service is about not paying it back, but paying it forward.

That's a distinction I would have liked to see explored in our politics. It would have been worthwhile debate I think: these different senses of the balance sheet. I don't for a minute doubt that Charlie Baker is genuine in his belief that the books demand balance and I don't think anyone would disagree that this involves the courage to make hard decisions. I'm sure he sees the reconcile function as a public service, too. But, in how we approach the books, there are discussions we have to have about what we value most —what are the costs simply passing through, whether as deferred debt payments or grant anticipation notes, as taxes or health care premiums or tolls —and what more permanently remains.

And then there's grace.

I've heard this said through clenched teeth so many times over the past weeks and months—see you at the polls! —coming from each side of the debate we have ended up with —see you at the polls! ...It comes off sounding like a threat.

As we come to the end of the campaigning, let me just suggest a little more of that grace, no matter how you see the books, passing through or paying forward.

And —oh yeah— see you at the polls!

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