President O'Malley: No Laughing Matter

Political Commentary by Len Lazarick,

Martin O’Malley announces Saturday, May 30, on Federal Hill. (Photo:
Martin O’Malley announces Saturday, May 30, on Federal Hill. (Photo:

Imagine the citizens of Arkansas in 1991, particularly the statehouse denizens in Little Rock, when they talked about Gov. Bill Clinton running for president.

“Bill Clinton as president of the United States? You’ve got to be kidding.”

Reminds me of a joke Congressman Mo Udall in 1976 told about introducing himself in a New Hampshire barbershop. “I’m Mo Udall, and I’m running for president…”

“Yeah, we were just laughing about that,” came the response.

No joke, Martin O’Malley is running for president. Republicans like former House of Delegates Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell have been saying for years that his entire second term as governor was about running for president.

Marylanders and particularly State House observers for his two terms as governor and seven years as Baltimore mayor know Martin O’Malley all too well.

Familiarity breeds contempt

Familiarity breeds contempt, goes the old saying, and we’re all too familiar with O’Malley. More than 43% of the voting electorate never wanted him to be governor, but Democrats loved him.

This article and Barry Rascovar’s column will produce the usual snarky comments about Gov. OweMalley.

We know all about his many tax hikes, toll increases, strong environmental enforcement, tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, his turnaround on same-sex marriage, stricter gun control, death penalty repeal, expansion of health coverage, minimum wage hike, freezing university tuition, massive spending on schools.

Dislike all or some of these policy choices, and you’re no fan of O’Malley. But the ex-governor is not embarrassed by these “tough choices” as he’s called them. His announcement Saturday prominently highlighted many of them. He even re-embraced his Baltimore “Believe” slogan. (Gun control and death penalty repeal were missing from the announcement.)

Unknown where it counts

The Democratic voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and the rest of the nation do not know Martin O’Malley. Much of what they know will come from his own mouth or the filtering of dozens of reporters who don’t know him well either.

Like his policies or not, he was more than competent at governing — Public official of the year cover boy for Governing magazine in 2009 — except when he wasn’t, such as the health care exchange fiasco and the Baltimore City jail scandal.

He’s an effective communicator, especially when he forswears his fondness for lofty rhetoric and Irish poetry. Remember his unapplauded State of the State speeches or his hokey 2012 convention speech? Sure, I was there. Remember Gov. Bill Clinton’s long and clunky convention speech in 1988. Who does?

Martin O’Malley is no Bill Clinton, who governed a fairly conservative southern state. Only people north of New York consider Maryland southern, and it is about as conservative as Massachusetts.

O’Malley is an excellent retail campaigner. Yet, it is a little odd that a 52-year-old with 24 years in elected office is the “new” leadership; he is the youngster among Democrats so far.

Good lines from Saturday’s speech

He got off some good lines Saturday. (The full text and video are on his website.)

On immigration: “The enduring symbol of our nation is not the barbed wire fence… it is the Statue of Liberty.”

On Wall Street and the Clintons: “Goldman Sachs is one of the biggest repeat-offending investment banks in America. Recently, the CEO of Goldman Sachs let his employees know that he’d be just fine with either Bush or Clinton. I bet he would… Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street — The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”

Again on the big banks, in another line with bipartisan appeal: “Tell me how it is, that you can get pulled over for a broken tail light in our country, but if you wreck the nation’s economy you are untouchable.”

O’Malley knows little of foreign policy, and his pronouncements Saturday were vague and forgettable. Hillary Clinton is an expert, but the results of that expertise are questionable on many fronts and unforgettable.

Strong resume

Compared to many of the announced or presumed Republicans, O’Malley has a resume with more accomplishments and experience, and certainly equal to any of the former governors on the list. As to the smooth-talking first term U.S. senators with great ideas — Cruz, Paul, Rubio — Americans may decide that we’ve tried that recently, and maybe we’ll go back to people with executive experience.

If O’Malley is still standing after the media get done chewing up Hillary Clinton, they start chewing up O’Malley. He will face the most serious media scrutiny of his career.

As a Politico magazine article quoted me saying last year. “I wouldn’t count the guy out … I wouldn’t discount his political skills.”

Those skills are strong, and will be strongly tested in coming months. You think Bill Clinton is going to sit back and let Hillary be a punching bag for their former friend and ally?

Bottom line: I am saving my media credential from Saturday’s announcement. We’ll see how much it is worth on January 20, 2017.

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