This is a good week for those of us who think in terms of generational responsibility. When Mike Dukakis accepted the Democratic nomination for President in 1988, he quoted the Athenian marathon pledge at the conclusion of his speech. He told us that the pledge ends: “Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit the country greater, stronger, prouder and more beautiful than it was when it was transmitted to us.” I remember thinking then that he had found words that almost precisely described the duty of each generation and, accordingly, the duty of our government. And I can say with confidence that there have been few occasions since when I have felt that our leaders were attentive to this obligation or that we were together on the verge of making the kinds of decisions that would fulfill our responsibilities to those who are not yet here. This week is one of those occasions and that is reason for reflection and celebration.
Our current governor, Deval Patrick, committed to all of us that he would serve out his second term. In his State of the State address this week, he made clear how serious he is about making the next two years count. He wants to change the way our Commonwealth works. He wants to make certain that the quality of opportunity our kids have does not depend on where they happen to be born. He wants our educational system to deliver that opportunity to all of the children of Massachusetts, and he is prepared to make that happen.
He also wants to build a public transportation system for the whole state. We should, he thinks, all be connected by rail and other means. That system, he reasons, will improve our economy and thus our collective future. It will, I think, further unite our state and better spread the opportunities that flow from the wisdom and innovation that helped us escape the Great Recession faster than other states and that assure that Massachusetts will always be one of the best places to live in the country.
Think about what those twin efforts promise: better opportunity for our children — meaning that simply being from here will mean that a child’s education will prepare them to tackle the challenges of adulthood; and more widespread commerce — meaning that many of the great parts of this state, Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield and more, will be accessible to all of us. Fulfilling this promise will cost money, and the Governor is asking us to pay for it. He suggests an increased income tax, a decreased sales tax, and the elimination of many deductions. The resulting tax system will not only pay for the changes he seeks, but also be more fair in that it will call on people with more to bear more of the burden.
I am certain that this will spark outrage, but I urge you to hold your anger. Think instead of what is possible. Isn’t it right that every child in our state deserves the opportunity created by education? Our history has been about one generation standing on the shoulders of the one that came before and building something better. Sadly, our generation’s shoulders have seemed weak. We have too often been concerned with now, unwilling to think about what will come next. Now is the time to let yourself dream with our Governor. Talking about what’s possible is the consistent poetry of our politics (“yes we can”). Actually standing up and saying let’s do the work necessary to make what’s possible real is what government should be, but almost never is, about. This is one of those rare moments; let’s seize it.
Listening to Governor Patrick, I felt proud to be a citizen of the Commonwealth. I want to live in a world where our leaders focus on what we can do to be better and not merely enumerating the things that are wrong. If you take the time to read his speech, look closely at his plans, and notice that he is ready to pay for the change he wants, I think you will see why so many of us have been enthusiastic about Deval Patrick for so long. No one doubts the power of his poetry. This week should end any doubts about his will to govern.