Deval Patrick Says The Dream Is In Danger

Deval Patrick says he's living the American dream. He's the first black governor of Massachusetts, one of only two ever elected as governor in American history. But he says many Americans feel the dream is under threat. Host Michel Martin speaks with Governor Patrick about his new book, Faith In The Dream.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's July 4th, the nation's birthday. Happy Fourth to you. We will be celebrating on the program today by talking about, what else? Food. Later we'll hear from the Neelys, the very popular husband and wife restaurant owners, cookbook authors and Food Network stars who will share their passion for barbecue with you.

But first, we're going to talk about dreams, specifically, the American Dream. All this summer my colleagues and I at NPR are talking about American Dreams, what they are and what it takes to be sure that more people can find their American Dreams in the future.

Yesterday we heard from the Republican senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, about his book, "An American Son: A Memoir." Today we hear from Deval Patrick. He is the two-term Democratic governor of Massachusetts. He's recently published his latest book. It's an eBook titled "Faith In The Dream: A Call to the Nation to Reclaim American Values." And he's with us now. Welcome and Happy Fourth to you.

GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: Happy Fourth to you, Michel, and thank you so much for having me. And I have to just say I have loved this series. It is so timely and so moving.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. What gave you the idea to write this book at this particular time?

PATRICK: Well, because I think two things: The American Dream is central to who we are as a country. We're a very different country than others in human history in the sense that we're not organized around a common religion or language or even culture. We're organized around a handful of civic ideals. And we've defined those ideals over time and through struggle as equality, opportunity and fair play. And they are what enable the freedom we celebrate today and that we cherish in between holidays. And it seems to me that it's important for us to recognize the vital quality of character for this country that is represented by the American Dream. And then secondly, in the minds and the lives of a whole lot of people in the country right now it's up for grabs and I think it's worth worrying about. So I wrote about how I see that and some of the things I think we need to do to start to restore it.

MARTIN: Who are you hoping will hear your call? You call this a call to the nation. Who are you speaking to specifically? Do you have somebody in mind that you're hoping will pick up this book - eBook, I should say - or download it?

PATRICK: Right, download the book. I think it's really about reaching all those folks who are feeling uneasy, whose faith in the American Dream was in doubt even before the global economic collapse, the people who have felt marginalized, who were wondering how to get access to the education and the opportunity to be able to imagine a different way for themselves and their families, and then to reach for it.

And I think that there are implications about the political choices we're making right now as well.

MARTIN: I want to ask you what you think is the biggest threat to the American Dream. And I'm also curious; I'm interested too in also the way you describe kind of the generational differences that you see. Like, you talk a lot about your father-in-law, you know, who grew up in the Jim Crow era who still proudly flies his flag, you know, everyday.

PATRICK: That's right. Everyday.

MARTIN: And takes it down with reverence at sundown, and how, you know, he is not - and you say, you know, he is not corny. He is not a fool to do this. You know, he...

PATRICK: He's absolutely not. He grew up in the Jim Crow South in Mississippi. He lied about his age and his race to go into the Navy and he lied about his race in particular so that he could have a combat assignment and not have to be, you know, a steward or work in the mess, in the kitchen.

He knows as well as anybody about the tensions between our ideals and our reality at different times in American history, but the aspiration for reaching for those ideals is enormously important to him and to his generation. And it seems to me that some of that has leaked out of our community since - well, over the last few decades, really, in my lifetime.

MARTIN: But the question is, is - that kind of leads me to my question. What do you think is the biggest threat to the dream? Is it attitudes like this that you're talking about or is it something else?

PATRICK: I think it's partly attitude. I think part of it has to do also with the role of government which we have, you know, made a sport of talking down for much of the last 20 or 30 years, when it in fact has had a role in my own American Dream and I think in the American Dream for a generation or more.

And I think this notion of common cause, you know, that we have a stake in each other, that we're in this together, you know, sometimes that kind of rhetoric is dismissed, Michel, as just that, as just rhetoric. But in fact I think it does bear on the quality of the choices that we make as a community, as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as a country.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking to the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. He's recently published an eBook. It is called "Faith In The Dream." It's his call to the nation to reclaim American values.

I'm going to ask you about what it is that you want your fellow Americans to do, but I do have to say that you are very tough on conservatives in this book. I mean, you say, for example, that conservatives are probably well motivated. I mean, you talk about your own motivation to go into public service.

PATRICK: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: But, unfortunately, quote, "Too many convictions are neither intellectually logical nor fundamentally patriotic in practice." You say that conservatives have turned America into - and I'm quoting here again - "an irritable and skeptical nation and that they have stopped being conservative and turned to fearmongering."

So is it your view that kind of the current iteration of the conservative movement in this country is in part what's challenging the American Dream here?

PATRICK: I think part of what's failing us is the language itself. Some of the folks who hold themselves out as conservatives these days, first of all, have turned away from what are traditionally conservative ideas, like restraint in spending, which is exactly not what happened by going to war on two credit cards, for example.

But who are, in fact, driving an agenda that is radically opposed to the American Dream. You know, the notion that, for example, education is a pathway forward for - and certainly it was for me out of poverty and welfare on the south side of Chicago to the extraordinary opportunities I've had up to and including serving as governor of Massachusetts. Education has been absolutely key.

And most of the time we have understood that educating all of our children, or making access to education, was a key component in growing and sustaining a middle class. And yet, we're at a place now where you can't even raise the question about paying for that education, about making that education really thrive and really 21st century instead of something more nostalgic, looking back to the 19the century.

We have to have those kinds of adult conversations, it seems to me, if we're going to be about restoring the American Dream and I think some of the loudest voices on the hard right - and I think, again, the term conservative may be too broad for the folks I'm talking about, but on the hard right - but we've got to bring folks back into that conversation and see our common cause in this.

MARTIN: So what exactly do you want citizens to do?

PATRICK: Well, I want citizens, first of all, to be engaged. I want them to care about a pathway for people who are marginalized to come back into mainstream; the mainstream economy, the mainstream society, and to aspire. And, you know, that means not just having grit and determination, as important as that is, it means not just having a sense of personal responsibility, as important as that is, but it means participating.

You talked about the success of ideas and the ballot box. There are an awful lot of folks who are hurt by these decisions who aren't participating at all, who aren't coming out to the ballot box. And they should. We should have people participating at the grassroots, it seems to me, in how they influence choices made in their own local communities. Everything from campaigns to questions about investment in the schools, which is particularly important to me. There are choices about things we should be doing together that are, in fact, enabling of the American Dream. And my hope is that folks will read this book and think through a different prism or an additional one when they are making some of those more tangible policy and political choices.

MARTIN: One of the things you call for, you say every American should get involved with a grassroots campaign, every eligible citizen should register to vote and get every eligible person we know to register as well. Every American should be better informed. You go on for a number of things like that. What if it is the case that the people who are doing those things are conservative and they just don't agree with you about the roles...

PATRICK: No, I think that's...

MARTIN: ...government should play in their lives?

PATRICK: That's a risk and a beauty of democracy, right? I don't quarrel with that. I'm simply saying that if you're going to make choices that are about preserving the American Dream, they aren't always going to fall into so-called liberal and conservative boxes.

I don't think until - in the last couple of years, we've ever thought about investing in highways and public transit as questions about liberal or conservative values. We've seen those as enabling of people to expand their opportunities and their quality of life. And it seems to me that, to some extent, stepping back from those very confining political labels, those boxes that we put ourselves in, would be helpful in choosing instead to focus on how these choices do or do not promote the American dream.

MARTIN: Finally, governor, you said you won't seek reelection in 2014. I don't know if you can. I think you're term-limited. Right?

PATRICK: No. We don't have term limits in...

MARTIN: You're not term-limited in Massachusetts?

PATRICK: I have a term limit named Diane.

MARTIN: You have Mrs. Patrick. So...

PATRICK: Right.

MARTIN: ...you will not seek reelection in 2014. What's next for you?

PATRICK: Well, I've got to find a job. I hope to go back into the private sector. I'm not sure what it will be. I've got a couple years to think about that and, in the meantime, we've got a very ambitious agenda we're driving here in Massachusetts.

MARTIN: Do you feel confident? I don't know. How do you feel about what you're saying and whether you feel anybody is listening? I mean, obviously, you know, you didn't take the time to write this book and you're not taking the time to talk about this book if you didn't feel strongly that you want people to listen. Do you think that they are?

PATRICK: I think that people are worried about precisely these issues. I think, you know, it was - I mentioned at the outset how much I've appreciated listening to the series that you and your colleagues have been doing on the American dream, and I hear these threads in various places. And that is a great source of encouragement for me, because I do - as I said, I think this is so central to the character of the country and who we are that it is worthy of the time, attention and care and debate. And I'm hoping that "Faith in the Dream," my little eBook, contributes to that.

MARTIN: Deval Patrick is the governor of Massachusetts. His latest book is titled "Faith in the Dream: A Call to the Nation to Reclaim American Values," and he was with us from member station WBUR in Boston.

Governor, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

PATRICK: Happy 4th to you, Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Happy 4th to you. And hear my conversation Tuesday with Florida Senator Marco Rubio about his book, "An American Son: A Memoir." Go to npr.org and click on the Program page for TELL ME MORE.

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