Deval Patrick Is Everything That’s Wrong With the Democratic Party

Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s resume reads like a dystopian novel about the nihilism and brutality of contemporary capitalism. He should leave public life forever.

Democratic presidential candidate Deval Patrick speaks at an event on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (David Becker / Getty Images)

The donor classes do not want Bernie Sanders to be president. Most of them don’t want Elizabeth Warren, either. They’d prefer someone who doesn’t have much to say about wealth distribution, whether in the form of taxing the rich, or big programs like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Their most electable option in this vein — at least as measured by primary and general election polling, as well as occasional, if fleeting, resemblance to a sympathetic human being — is obviously Joe Biden. Unhappily for them, Biden is also a chucklehead. Terrified that the Left might win, the titans of industry have a plan: Deval Patrick.

Like Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, is the extremely disappointing progeny of a radical father. (Pat Patrick, a jazz musician, played with Sun Ra’s band, The Arkestra.) That’s probably the coolest thing about him.

The enthusiasm for Sanders and Warren at the grassroots — as well as for progressive and socialist local and Congressional candidates nationwide — might suggest a sea change, a popular desire to grapple seriously with the problems caused by capitalism. Deval Patrick, until recently an executive at Bain Capital, is a flagrant insult to that popular uprising. He is a cherished asset of the fossil fuel, private equity, and subprime mortgage industries, which are some of the worst phenomena that contemporary capitalism has produced. What’s next, a member of the Sackler family?

Though news coverage insists on characterizing his entry into the primary as “sudden,” it seems that a few members of the ruling class have been working on his campaign for a while. Since 2018, OpenSecrets News reports, big donors, especially in private equity, have been pouring money into Deval Patrick’s PAC, putting his campaign in an advantageous position. Even in October 2018, more than a year ago, the PAC, called Reason to Believe, was far outperforming PACs of other candidates considering a 2020 run. Most of the money came from one private equity mogul: Dan Fireman, a billionaire golf enthusiast.

A couple of hours after Patrick declared his 2020 candidacy on Thursday, his bio disappeared from Bain Capital’s website. Not coincidentally, Mitt Romney’s association with Bain helped him lose to Barack Obama in 2012, when Obama focused on the firm’s role in job losses and bankruptcies. But Obama was just copying the earlier messaging of a Republican PAC supporting GOP primary candidate Newt Gingrich, which made a startlingly powerful ad on the subject called “King of Bain” — the clip could have been made by Michael Moore, except for the silly provincial moment at the end where the guy is mocked for knowing French — with heartbreaking testimony from ordinary people whose lives were ruined when Bain bought and bankrupted their employer. Gingrich, in interviews, correctly called Bain “exploitive” and its business model “indefensible.”

Americans across the political spectrum, then, have known enough to hate Bain Capital for some time. Patrick, who was a cochair of Obama’s campaign, is already facing awkward questions about what exactly he did there. The answers to that are embarrassing: he headed the company’s social enterprise division, an appalling attempt to make private equity look as if it serves a useful social purpose. Its main project is making very rich people much richer, generally by immiserating others, and it would be more honest of them to just say so.

If there’s any industry worth hating as much as private equity right now, it’s fossil fuels. The Democratic grassroots — along with many other Americans — is galvanized both by the horror of climate change and by the hope that we can do something about it. They’re eager to elect representatives who will support tough environmental regulation, aggressive action on air pollution, international cooperation on climate, and the Green New Deal. Rejection of fossil fuel money is fast becoming a litmus test for progressive candidates, which is good. Patrick is hardly the man for such a moment.

Patrick worked as a top executive and counsel for Texaco, where he defended the company in a massive lawsuit (first filed in 1993 but lasting sixteen years) over the dumping of millions of gallons of oil runoff into the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, once home to more species than almost anywhere on earth. Plaintiffs charge that the pollution caused by Texaco’s negligence increased cancer, respiratory trouble, skin diseases, and miscarriages for Amazonian Indians and other humans living in the region. (A study found those living in the zone faced three times the cancer risk of other Ecuadorians.) Plaintiffs also said that Texaco used cheap extraction methods, causing pipe breaks that dumped more raw crude oil into the jungle than Exxon Valdez famously dumped into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

As Massachusetts governor, Patrick did some good work reducing carbon emissions and expanding the state’s solar capacity. But Bernie Sanders was correct when he said in August that we should be criminally prosecuting fossil fuel executives for knowingly putting people’s lives at risk. We should also be rejecting their money, their participation, their influence, and ostracizing them from public life — not electing them to high office.

With Texaco and Bain alone, Patrick easily has the least public-spirited resume of any Democratic primary candidate. But there’s more: he worked in the subprime mortgage industry in the lead-up to the 2008 recession. Patrick helped ACC Capital Holdings sort out a $325 million shitshow after one of its subsidiaries was accused of predatory lending (you don’t say!) in forty-nine states.

Maybe five or ten years ago, Deval Patrick might have been the best Democrat that our dismal system could have produced. But that’s no longer the case. The time for guys like this has passed.