Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Martin O'Malley: Good News, Bad News

With the 2020 presidential election in Democrats' sights, Martin O'Malley, not having yet committed himself to another presidential run but clearly looking at pursuing one, had his political action committee (PAC) take a poll in Iowa, where his 2016 presidential campaign began . . . and ended.  He came out on top in a field of nine possible Democratic presidential candidates at 18 percent, a healthy number for any presidential contender in a group large enough to field a baseball team.     
That's the good news.  The bad news is that few political pundits paid attention to the results and those few that did dismissed O'Malley with their usual snark and sneer. Gabriel DeBenedetti of Politico noted that some Democrats, including Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, were left out of the poll, suggesting that the poll is not valid.  (The fact that Warren lost to Donald Trump in one other poll and that Sanders would be 79 if he ran again in 2020 didn't seem to cross his mind, and I haven't seen any indications of a Brown candidacy.)  Another Politico pundit, Edward Issac-Dovere, was more dismissive: "Martin O'Malley is willing to pay his own way to be taken seriously in a presidential poll, if that's the only way," he declared.
I've given up trying to figure out what pundits and leading Democrats don't like about O'Malley.  You'd think he'd gain more respect from both after warning Democratic Party leaders that they shouldn't "circle the wagons" around Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries - and look what happened when they did just that.  You'd think his progressive record as governor of Maryland would make him look like a more serious candidate than Oprah Winfrey.  You'd think his support for immigration reform and his rapport with Hispanics would count for something.  But no, the commentariat and the party continue to treat him like an alt-rock fan who accidentally walked into a hip-hop party.  But then, he does play the least hip instrument in twenty-first-century popular music.    
Even more baffling are most of the reasons given as to why Martin O'Malley can't win the White House.  They say he's too polished, unlike the "authentic" Bernie Sanders (but the polished Hillary Clinton, the eventual 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, won the popular vote in November), he comes from a politically unimportant state like Maryland (Sanders' adopted state of Vermont has three electoral votes to Maryland's ten, and Vermont's biggest city, Burlington, is less populated than the Baltimore suburb of Towson), and he's not as liberal as Sanders (which his record as governor of Maryland clearly disproves).  One reason, however, is a valid one - the police-based, criminal-justice policy he pursued as mayor of Baltimore to cut down on crime.  It cut down on crime all right, but it also produced a culture of over-the-top policing and left a festering distrust among many in the city's black-majority population toward the police, culminating in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody in April 2015.  Although I believe that it's unfair to blame O'Malley, the most recent white mayor of Baltimore, for a police-brutality incident that happened eight years after he left City Hall, the timing of the incident - one month before he launched his presidential campaign - was certainly unfortunate.  
O'Malley actually had solid relations with the black population in Baltimore overall as mayor, and he did win a second term as mayor with 88 percent of the vote, but the criminal-justice issue persists.  It remains a sore spot not because of statements made against him by black commentators like Michael Eric Dyson but because of the characterization of O'Malley as an uncaring, cold-hearted technocrat by white TV producer David Simon, whose criminal-justice TV series "The Wire," set in Baltimore, featured an SOB mayor character based on O'Malley.  Someone I know suggested that O'Malley ought to try to bury the hatchet with Simon if he wants any decent shot at the Presidency in the future.  And he's right: O'Malley's mistakes as a presidential candidate in 2015 and 2016 suggested that he was his own enemy, but not his worst, as long as David Simon is against him. 
Still, this PAC poll news is encouraging, and as Graham Vyse's excellent analysis in the New Republic explains, O'Malley could benefit from Donald Trump's foibles and a desire for experienced political leadership.  His biggest obstacle, apart from David Simon, is running as a white guy in a party in love with the mushy idea of "diversity."  Right behind O'Malley in his own PAC's poll by a single point is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of the Senate's black members, and it was his second-place showing in the poll, not O'Malley's first-place showing, that got attention from some news outlets.  Many in the party still want to get a woman in the White House - maybe even give Hillary another shot.  (She says she's ready to come "out of the woods," a reference to her walks in the woods outside her home in Westchester County, New York that only served to remind us how creepy forests can be.)    In fact, the desire for another female nominee is so strong that even Booker may be unacceptable.  The whole party's attitude was summed up at the 2016 Democratic convention, at which the theme music was largely comprised of girl-power pop tunes from Rachel Platten and Sara Bareilles, leaving classic rock for the Republicans to play at their convention over the objections of the classic rockers themselves.  
A columnist at HotAir.com has even said as much.  Jazz Shaw recently said that the Democrats are hell-bent on nominating another female presidential candidate next time, saying that any 2020 Democratic presidential candidate "with a Y chromosome is going to be at an additional disadvantage."  If the Democrats are so obsessed with identity politics that O'Malley has even less of a chance for the party's presidential nomination in 2020 than he had in 2016, then they deserve to go the way of the Whigs.

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