Our Opinion: Patrick's disappointing but understandable decision

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Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would likely have been an excellent candidate for president of the United States in 2020. He will not be in the field, however, and his reasons for choosing not to run should greatly concern a nation that needs good people to run for political office.

During his two terms in office, the Democratic governor distinguished himself as not only an effective chief executive but as a person who wouldn't stoop to partisan vitriol or personally demean his political opponents. One could disagree with his policies and proposals — many in Beacon Hill's Democratic leadership did just that — but there was never any doubt that he wanted what he believed was best for the state of Massachusetts and his residents.

Unfortunately, Mr. Patrick's approach to politics and government is increasingly rare in an era when the political process is awash in cynical partisanship and disregard for government institutions. Political opponents are not treated with respect but are demeaned and insulted for their views, their past statements and actions twisted and spun for political advantage. The upcoming presidential campaign against Republican President Donald Trump, who has brought political discourse down to unprecedented levels, will surely be the ugliest on record, and Mr. Patrick has decided it "is not for me."

In a statement on his Facebook page Thursday, Mr. Patrick said he had been overwhelmed by support from across the country encouraging him to run for president, "But knowing that the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane [Patrick's wife] and I love, but who hadn't signed up for the journey, was more than I could ask." In an interview Thursday morning on WBUR in Boston, Mr. Patrick revealed that his wife was recently diagnosed with Stage 1 uterine cancer, and while her prognosis is "excellent," that was a factor in his decision not to seek higher office.

The former governor told WBUR that his campaign would have highlighted "decorum," "respect" and a "fealty to truth," adding that "It is true that if there were any rules, they're all gone now." Negative campaigning isn't new in America, but the advent of social media has dramatically magnified its impact, and the election of a president who thrives on division and discord has encouraged imitators. As Mr. Patrick observed, candidates risk exposing friends and family members to the same lies and smears they are subjected to.

Mr. Patrick is African-American, and while he did not allude to race in his Facebook statement it is clear he knows what would be in store for an African-American presidential candidate in today's political climate. On the night President Barack Obama was first elected, a predominantly black church in Springfield, Ma. was burned to the ground by three white men, and that racism that is never far from the surface in the U.S. was fueled in part by Donald Trump, one of the leading proponents of the disgraceful "birther" claim that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya. That racism percolated for eight years and erupted following the election of Mr. Trump, who has shamelessly divided the nation along racial lines.

That appeal to racism emerged across the Berkshire border in this fall's 19th Congressional District race, where Democrat Antonio Delgado, an African-American from Schenectady, N.Y., was portrayed in campaign ads financed by Republican donors as a "big city rapper" whose "values" weren't in line with those of the district. Mr. Delgado, who took the high road blazed by President Obama, won election, but enduring the negative campaign must have been difficult. Imagine a campaign like that at a national level rather than at the level of a congressional district. Mr. Patrick likely has.

In his statement, Mr. Patrick said after campaigning for Democratic congressional candidates across the country this past fall he felt good about the future of the nation and the Democratic Party. His many supporters across the state and nation, including the Berkshire residents who have come to regard the part-time Richmond resident as a neighbor, hope he will continue to play a role in politics and government. It won't be as president of the United States, and while that disappoints many, Mr. Patrick's decision not to run for president is understandable for all of the reasons he articulated, and more.


















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