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‘Faith in the Dream’

Kevin C. Peterson | 9/5/2012, 8:07 a.m.
President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick listen...
President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick listen as Orchard Gardens Elementary School students recite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the White House on Feb. 28, 2012. In his new e-book ‘Faith in the Dream’ Patrick praises the academic turnaround at the school. Official White House / Pete Souza

At the heart of Patrick’s book is the unflappable conviction that Americans should return to lost democratic values and orthodoxy:

“The American Dream is more than the stuff of legend or folklore or political rhetoric. It defines America. Ours is the only nation in human history not organized around a common language or culture or religion. Our country is organized around the civic values of equality, opportunity, and fair play, values we have defined over time and through struggle. The freedom we cherish and celebrate — to pursue our dreams without the constraints of background and class or overbearing authority — is impossible without these three values.”

In some ways, the book is, as Patrick calls it in his acknowledgements, a “hoary political pamphlet,” written expressly as a literary call to civic action.

It seeks to join an honored American tradition of rousing public attention to grand national themes in similar ways as Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” or William Lloyd Garrison’s “No Union With Slave Holders.”

Patrick boldly confesses he is a liberal Democrat, yet he claims his book is a non-partisan examination of our political culture in which he trumpets only the inherent virtues of democracy and grassroots engagement as an anecdote to our politically anemic culture. But it is hard to ignore the partisan ring, especially with the e-book published as Patrick embarks on a protracted season of political barnstorming on behalf of Obama’s reelection campaign.

The book is clearly a platform that lets Patrick state his full-throated support for policies that position him left of the center of American politics and as an attractive political surrogate for Obama.

He is for increasing taxes as general practice because they “are the price of civilization. They pay for the schools, public safety, the military, transportation infrastructure, services for the most destitute and the desperate.”

He believes in big government that provides “superior public services.” And he argues that the rich should pay for it as a way of addressing the “countless needs [that] go unmet in America, needs that lie outside of what anyone expects the private sector or private individuals to meet.”

At the same time, Patrick offers skepticism about the role of government in a host of issues. He contends, for instance, that on issues of abortion, gay marriage, or religious preference, the state should “maintain a respectful distance” not because “they are politically nettlesome, but because they are deeply personal and government rarely get such issues right.”

Patrick projects his cheery brand of the American Dream through the story of the turnaround of the Orchard Gardens School in the Roxbury section of Boston. Patrick gushes about how Orchard Gardens, once a bastion of neglect and abysmal student achievement, has recorded dramatic gains under a visionary new principal. So proud is he of the school that he took some of its students to the White House this year to perform before the president.

The son of a renowned jazz musician, Patrick’s prose is like that of the art form itself: often lyrical, dulcet, and ever mindful of the bluesy, unsettling misfortunes that can attend the lives of his fellow citizens. In the pages of this book, he bares an unfiltered sympathy for the poor, the unemployed, and the sick.