Commentary Magazine


Topic: Martin O’Malley

Marylanders to the Rest of the Country: Beware Martin O’Malley

What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

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What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Although, in the interest of basic compassion, it might be unkind to claim Maryland residents–or anyone, really–deserve to get two terms of Martin O’Malley.

And, to their immense credit, Marylanders don’t want the rest of the country to bring Martin O’Malley upon themselves. The message from Marylanders to the nation at large is: Don’t let our years governed by O’Malley be in vain; let something good come out of all of this. And that something good appears to be a national future unencumbered by Martin O’Malley as the nation’s chief executive.

But there are worse numbers in the poll for O’Malley than Democratic voters’ resounding declaration that they don’t want him representing their party in the next presidential election. That at least can be spun away. After all, if Democrats are asked to pick one politician to be their next presidential nominee, it’s no surprise that so many–63 percent–chose Hillary Clinton. (Although it is somewhat humorous that “Other/no opinion” polls nearly five times as well as O’Malley. They say you can’t beat something with nothing, and O’Malley appears to be the exception that proves the rule.)

No, the most unflattering portion of the poll is probably when registered voters are asked “Do you think Martin O’Malley would make a good president, or not?” The response: 14 percent said yes; 70 percent said no. The poll contrasts that with the result when the same question was asked in October 2012. At that time, the numbers were only slightly better–22 percent said yes; 62 percent said no–but still so far underwater as to be invisible from the surface.

There are more bad numbers–really, the whole poll is just an opportunity for Marylanders to unload on their horrendous governor. As the Post reported in an accompanying story, his “job-approval rating has fallen to an eight-year low of 41 percent, with his biggest defections coming from fellow Democrats.” What happened? The Post offers some suggestions:

Although O’Malley is not on the ballot this year, his policies in Maryland — particularly a string of tax increases during his tenure — have come under heavy fire from other candidates. Months of attacks, including some from fellow Democrats, appear to have taken their toll, some analysts say.

Other observers suggest that the time O’Malley has spent crisscrossing the country, seeking to gain national exposure, has alienated some constituents in Maryland.

Plausible. But it might be worth delving a bit more into his policies. The lesson might not be one national Democrats want to learn:

His legacy will include legalization of same-sex marriage, a sweeping gun-control bill, repeal of the death penalty, several measures expanding immigrant rights and an increase in the minimum wage. He has also overseen multiple tax hikes during his tenure, including increases in personal income taxes paid by high earners, the corporate income tax, sales tax, gas tax, tobacco tax and alcohol tax.

All politics is local (though not as local as it ought to be), so I doubt it’ll worry Democrats too much. Some of this might be personal; O’Malley is, after all, deeply unlikeable. But his agenda is also very liberal in a pretty liberal state, and voters don’t seem to love the results. It’s a common feature in American politics: there’s only so much liberalism even liberals can take.

And part of that could be the impression of the stereotype come to life. Reread that list of O’Malley tax increases, and you not only understand the O’Taxey nickname but get the sense the governor is to taxes what Bubba Blue is to shrimp.

Democrats may counter all this by pointing out that O’Malley is terrible at his job, and Democrats who aren’t terrible at their jobs will not suffer the same poll numbers. That’s true. But an element of O’Malley being terrible at his job is that, when it comes to issues like taxes, he cranks his liberalism up to eleven.

The other phenomenon here is just how “Ready for Hillary” national Democrats are. They don’t want a divisive nomination fight, and they don’t want a battle over ideas, in part because they want to nominate Hillary instead of a candidate who has ideas. So they’re not much interested in even having this conversation. And you almost can’t blame them: O’Taxey, a Vermont socialist, Joe Biden–the alternatives to Hillary aren’t exactly a sparkling A-team of Democratic leaders.

And that’s what might actually concern Democratic Party leaders more than O’Malley’s unpopularity: the prospect that there is no A-team. There’s just Clinton. They may get the nominee they want, but as far as Democrats see it, that’s not because she’s their best choice as much as that she’s their only choice.

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Bill and Hillary’s Awkward Iowa Adventure

Hillary Clinton is running for president. And running, as fast as she can, away from Iowa.

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Hillary Clinton is running for president. And running, as fast as she can, away from Iowa.

The former secretary of state was in Iowa over the weekend for outgoing Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry. It’s one of the many Iowa non-campaign campaign events that have made the state’s role in presidential politics both essential and insufferable. And though her husband was on his best behavior, the event still raised the persistent question of whether Bill is helping or hurting his wife’s presidential ambitions.

It’s not a new question, of course: Newsweek asked it in 2007, the last time Hillary was running for president with Bill at her side. But it usually centers on his tendency toward bad behavior and his caddish history with women, at a time when the Democratic Party is running most of its campaigns on its own fabricated war on women. (Monica Lewinsky’s recent return to the news was facilitated by liberals, not mischievous conservatives.)

Yet the Iowa steak fry showed a different side of this possible hindrance: when Bill is doing precisely what the campaign needs of him–generally being the Democrats’ ambassador to anyone who doesn’t live on a coast–he so completely outshines Hillary as to make abundantly clear Hillary’s great weaknesses as a candidate. For one, Bill Clinton likes people. As Michael Barone wrote recently, contrasting the former president with the current one: “If you were in a room with Bill Clinton, he would discover the one issue out of 100 on which you agreed; he would probe you with questions, comments, suggestions; and he would tell you that you enabled him to understand it far better than he ever had before.”

Contrast that with how the Economist describes Hillary’s photo-op at the fry:

Mrs Clinton was the guest star at the 37th and final “Harkin Steak Fry”, a combined outdoor picnic, political fundraiser and gathering of the clans for Iowa progressives, hosted by the state’s outgoing Democratic senator, Tom Harkin. While a crowd of several thousand Democrats waited on a sloping, grassy field below, Mrs Clinton, her husband and Senator Harkin staged a mini-grilling of steaks for the press at a single barbecue grill in a fenced-off enclosure, framed by a handsome tree and a picnic table filled with some patient Iowans. Mrs Clinton gamely posed, pretending to grill a steak that had been pre-cooked for her. After briefly ducking into a small building, she emerged to exchange some careful banter with reporters.

The Duchess of Chappaqua can only pretend to grill a steak, just as she can only pretend to know what a grill is. She was nice enough to go sans tiara to mingle with the press while pretending to mingle with the commoners, but she might have done better not to act as though visiting a remote Amazonian tribe whose language she couldn’t hope to understand.

And where was Bill during all this? Practically crowd surfing:

Ex-President Bill Clinton could hardly be dragged from the press, cheerfully ignoring aides who kept calling “OK, guys, thank you” to reporters, as if we were holding their boss captive, and “Got to go eat a veggie burger” (a reference to Mr Clinton’s heart-conscious vegan diet). He had thoughts to offer on the mid-term elections (Democrats are in better shape than people think) and his red gingham shirt, a gift from his wife (“I worried I looked like a tablecloth in a diner,” he confided).

There is no question Hillary has benefited from her husband’s success, so there is a limit to the debate over whether Bill’s a help or a hindrance. Additionally, the type of weaknesses often matter in politics more than anything. Hillary has an obvious aversion to the commoners. She is not a people person, and does not appear to like the voters whose support she needs. She does not like the press, though they would step in front of a train for her. And the Democratic Party she seeks to lead is, more than ever, disgusted by freethinking individualism and nonconformist behavior. So every interaction with the voters is, for Hillary, a mine field.

And it doesn’t help, either, that the Democrats’ identity politics necessitate a total lack of humor. Their comedians become court jesters at the thought of another Clinton presidency; Stephen Colbert, in his move to late-night television, will go from impersonating Bill O’Reilly to impersonating Giacomo.

It is into this stuffy, grievance-filled atmosphere that Hillary will send Bill, the last liberal not named Brian Schweitzer who can smile without being prodded by an aide to do so. The message from Hillary’s campaign is simple: You probably don’t like me, and I don’t like you; but my husband’s a funny guy, and he’s the free toaster you get by signing up for Hillary.

Is it a winning slogan? Don’t be so eager to write it off. For one thing, this sort of campaign phoniness is usually a hindrance in the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, especially during a primary contest. But if Hillary’s campaign continues into 2016, there won’t be a primary contest. Iowa voters won’t choose Martin O’Malley over Hillary because she doesn’t grill her own steaks. It’s doubtful heartland voters would choose O’Malley over a root canal, in fact.

Does it hold Hillary back in the general election? Like every version of this question, the answer depends on who her opponent is. But a more interesting question is whether it helps or hurts Hillary to have Bill on the campaign trail with her. Voters may like talking to Bill, but at a certain point they’re going to notice that like actors need stunt doubles, their would-be president needs a schmooze double.

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Mrs. Inevitable and the Bored Democrats

Are Democrats bored by the prospect of not having a presidential nomination contest in 2016? That’s the upshot of a statement made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick yesterday on CNN’s State of the Nation program in which he wondered if the “inevitability factor” would hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects:

She’s an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability because I think it’s off-putting to the average voter and I think that was an element of her campaign the last time. As an enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time.

The need to learn the lessons of her disastrous failure to make good on similar predictions of inevitability before 2008 must haunt the Clinton camp. While Hillary doesn’t need Deval Patrick to remind her of this, the truth is, she is hoping that this time the boredom factor will work in her favor. Clinton and her backers haven’t had to do much to discourage other potential Democratic contenders from entering the race and most appear to have taken the hint, including potential troublemakers like California Governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Clintons have to think that the unexpected emergence of Barack Obama in 2007 is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that cannot possibly be repeated this time around and it’s difficult to argue the contrary case. The only other obvious Democratic possibilities for 2016 are Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and perhaps an outlier like Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders or Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.

Neither Biden nor O’Malley—who is being openly mocked for asking Hillary’s permission before starting preparations for a candidacy—appear to scare the Clintons, and Sanders has no chance of being anything more than a gadfly left-wing alternative. Unless something completely unexpected happens, there is no reason to believe the 2016 Democratic race will be anything but a coronation. But the assumption that this will be an advantage in the general election may not be so smart.

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Are Democrats bored by the prospect of not having a presidential nomination contest in 2016? That’s the upshot of a statement made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick yesterday on CNN’s State of the Nation program in which he wondered if the “inevitability factor” would hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects:

She’s an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability because I think it’s off-putting to the average voter and I think that was an element of her campaign the last time. As an enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time.

The need to learn the lessons of her disastrous failure to make good on similar predictions of inevitability before 2008 must haunt the Clinton camp. While Hillary doesn’t need Deval Patrick to remind her of this, the truth is, she is hoping that this time the boredom factor will work in her favor. Clinton and her backers haven’t had to do much to discourage other potential Democratic contenders from entering the race and most appear to have taken the hint, including potential troublemakers like California Governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Clintons have to think that the unexpected emergence of Barack Obama in 2007 is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that cannot possibly be repeated this time around and it’s difficult to argue the contrary case. The only other obvious Democratic possibilities for 2016 are Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and perhaps an outlier like Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders or Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.

Neither Biden nor O’Malley—who is being openly mocked for asking Hillary’s permission before starting preparations for a candidacy—appear to scare the Clintons, and Sanders has no chance of being anything more than a gadfly left-wing alternative. Unless something completely unexpected happens, there is no reason to believe the 2016 Democratic race will be anything but a coronation. But the assumption that this will be an advantage in the general election may not be so smart.

Clinton is hoping that Democrats will enjoy the relative quiet of a non-competitive nomination race to prepare for whoever it is that the Republicans wind up nominating that year. That’s the edge President Obama enjoyed in 2012 as the GOP contenders tore each other apart in a seemingly never-ending series of debates and a bitter primary season leaving Mitt Romney somewhat compromised by the process politically as well as financially.

But what Clinton needs to remember is that while she will be burdened with the disadvantages of incumbency in terms of being tied to Obama’s record and voter dissatisfaction with the president’s policies and the direction of the country, she will not be doing so with the trappings of the commander in chief as the man who beat her in 2008 did two years ago. Clinton will have a compelling, indeed, an unanswerable argument for her election as the first woman major party candidate for the office. But she will also have to deal with the burden of being a relic of the last two Democratic presidents. That’s no real problem for most Democratic primary voters who can’t wait to anoint her as their standard bearer. But the lack of a genuine debate about Clinton’s qualifications in which she can make her case not only in terms of her resume but also as a candidate who can take a punch as well as dish one out won’t help prepare her for the fall campaign.

That’s why the ideal scenario for Clinton is for some not terribly formidable Democrat to oppose her in the primaries without actually mussing up her hair. Seen from that perspective, the best possible scenario would be for Clinton to face off against O’Malley. He wants very much to be president but may see a run as the best way to prove himself in the competition for the vice presidential nod or a major Cabinet post and thus can be relied upon to drop out after a brief fight and then endorse Clinton.

Sanders would give her a much harder time and could not be counted upon to avoid hitting her hard on embarrassing issues such as her lack of achievements as secretary of state. He would also push her farther to the left than is prudent, much in the same way that Romney’s opponents pushed him to the right.

But the real problem with being Mrs. Inevitable in 2016 is that Clinton has yet to prove herself capable of winning a tough election. Should the GOP put up a candidate who will not lead them down a right-wing rabbit hole, Clinton will need to do more than to wave the flag of feminism. The boredom among the Democratic political class as well as among many rank and file voters may ensure that she will not face a stiff primary challenge, but it won’t help gin up enthusiasm for candidacy in the way Obama’s triumph over her did for his presidential hopes. That’s especially true since her success-free tenure as secretary of state has not so much burnished her resume as provided her opponents with more ammunition. While any presidential contender would like to have her problems, the notion that she can merely drift along until it is time to turn on the engine and start running a general election campaign is a mistake she will need to avoid.

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Just How Weak Is the Democrats’ Bench?

In December, I wrote about the habits that keep the Democratic Party’s bench noticeably shallow. In contrast to the GOP, which is currently hooked on primary competition, the Democrats have relied on their own ruling class, going so far as to replace Barney Frank–who finally gave up his seat after two decades and helping to induce the disastrous housing crisis at the end of his controversial career–with a Kennedy. This was after Democrats had a few years earlier tried to replace Hillary Clinton with a Kennedy.

Now Democrats seem ready to anoint Clinton their nominee for 2016, just 15 years after her husband left the presidency. (To be fair, George W. Bush was elected less than eight years after his father left, but Hillary Clinton shared the White House with Bill Clinton during his presidency and even took part in policy development. So you could say Hillary will aim for the presidential nomination 15 years after she left the White House.)

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In December, I wrote about the habits that keep the Democratic Party’s bench noticeably shallow. In contrast to the GOP, which is currently hooked on primary competition, the Democrats have relied on their own ruling class, going so far as to replace Barney Frank–who finally gave up his seat after two decades and helping to induce the disastrous housing crisis at the end of his controversial career–with a Kennedy. This was after Democrats had a few years earlier tried to replace Hillary Clinton with a Kennedy.

Now Democrats seem ready to anoint Clinton their nominee for 2016, just 15 years after her husband left the presidency. (To be fair, George W. Bush was elected less than eight years after his father left, but Hillary Clinton shared the White House with Bill Clinton during his presidency and even took part in policy development. So you could say Hillary will aim for the presidential nomination 15 years after she left the White House.)

Recently, David Frum wrote about this theme, and responded to his critics here. The essential question here is whether nominating Hillary Clinton would hold back the development of the Democrats’ young talent in favor of a retread. And although I think the rush to coronate, instead of nominate, Clinton is absolutely part of this trend, in Clinton’s case specifically I will admit to the argument being slightly weaker because, well, there isn’t much young talent she’d be suppressing.

Nominating Clinton would certainly end Joe Biden’s presidential ambitions, but he is not young–he is older than Clinton, and currently the sitting vice president. (A fact many voters no doubt would like to forget, but must be remembered in this context at least.) That is not to say there aren’t young politicians waiting in the wings, but they do not contrast favorably with Hillary Clinton.

The other Democrat who has been most obvious about his desire to run for president in 2016 is Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But his inability to govern is, as we’ve noted before, legendary. And he is running to the left of just about anyone else. As Politico notes:

O’Malley will end up signing a significant hike in the state’s gasoline tax to pay for transportation, though he argues the extra tax burden for an average motorist in 2016 ($1.40 a week) is dwarfed by the price of a cup of coffee. Should O’Malley embark upon a widely-expected 2016 presidential campaign, it’s unclear how other new additions to his record – getting rid of capital punishment and restricting the sale of firearms, for example – would be received by a national audience.

What this means is that O’Malley is charging more for a product of lower and lower quality each year. How much are Maryland residents willing to pay to follow California off the cliffs of fiscal insanity? O’Malley is trying to find out so he can pose the same question to the rest of the country.

Another big name on the Democratic side for 2016 is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. But not only is Cuomo also running to what would likely be Clinton’s left, he has just shown New York residents why he is temperamentally unsuited to be a political executive. After the Newtown massacre in Connecticut, Cuomo tried to exploit the tragedy to rush through a gun ban no one had time to read. The gun ban was almost certainly unconstitutional (though that wouldn’t matter to Cuomo), but it was also unworkable–as Cuomo admitted after signing the bill and, presumably, doing some googling on guns.

The crass exploitation of others’ grief combined with the uninformed policymaking and rash legislating represents all the wrong qualities in a potential president.

There are some intriguing Democratic candidates in the Senate, such as Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. But Gillibrand now holds the Senate seat Clinton vacated and is unlikely to challenge Clinton. Would Warren? It’s difficult to say for sure, but she is a freshman senator without prior political experience. She is also the quintessential class warrior, and the country may be sick of such nonsense by 2016.

Other names would surely emerge, especially if Clinton chooses not to run. And the argument can certainly be made that opening up the process would give younger candidates a chance to get some campaign experience and hone their message with voters. But if Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley are the best of the rest, it’s pretty clear why Democrats seem so set on Clinton.

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Is Gun Control the First Major 2016 Issue?

With gun control still in the news and Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on legislation expected to come tomorrow, it is increasingly clear the country’s political class is engaged in two different debates. Members of Congress seem to be conducting an entirely different argument than officials at the state level, especially governors. In Congress, not even the Democrats are united in their enthusiasm for more gun control legislation; Harry Reid and Joe Manchin have both thrown cold water on the idea while Republicans in Congress don’t seem to fear the debate at all, believing it poses no risk electorally. (They believe, with history to back them up, that either no serious gun control legislation will come to the floor of either house of Congress or that the Democrats will overreach, enabling the GOP to gain seats in the 2014 midterms.)

Meanwhile, governors are dividing along traditional party lines. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley are diving in with both feet, while Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’s Rick Perry criticized the rush to use the school shooting to enact tougher gun laws. The exception in this case, and the one that proves the rule, is Biden. Gun control is fast on its way to becoming the first major issue of the 2016 presidential election.

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With gun control still in the news and Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on legislation expected to come tomorrow, it is increasingly clear the country’s political class is engaged in two different debates. Members of Congress seem to be conducting an entirely different argument than officials at the state level, especially governors. In Congress, not even the Democrats are united in their enthusiasm for more gun control legislation; Harry Reid and Joe Manchin have both thrown cold water on the idea while Republicans in Congress don’t seem to fear the debate at all, believing it poses no risk electorally. (They believe, with history to back them up, that either no serious gun control legislation will come to the floor of either house of Congress or that the Democrats will overreach, enabling the GOP to gain seats in the 2014 midterms.)

Meanwhile, governors are dividing along traditional party lines. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley are diving in with both feet, while Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’s Rick Perry criticized the rush to use the school shooting to enact tougher gun laws. The exception in this case, and the one that proves the rule, is Biden. Gun control is fast on its way to becoming the first major issue of the 2016 presidential election.

As Jonathan wrote, Cuomo’s recent “state of the state” address was a liberal wish list designed to appeal to the Democratic Party’s base, gun control included. O’Malley has been strongly signaling that he’ll make a run for the nomination as well. Biden will no doubt use his gun control commission–whatever the result–as evidence of the essential role he played in generating policy and legislation from the Obama White House. Democrats seem to genuinely want gun control on their resume as they bid for national office. But should they?

If history is any guide, no. There’s a reason Republicans and pro-gun rights Democrats don’t seem too concerned by the fact that even the White House has elevated this issue now to take advantage of the headlines and public sympathy generated in the wake of the Newtown massacre. As Mark Blumenthal wrote before the Sandy Hook tragedy, reminding readers of the post-Columbine trend in public opposition to stricter gun control:

The post-Columbine bump had faded about a year later, and support for stricter gun laws remained roughly constant over the next eight years. Following the 2008 election, however, support for stricter gun laws dropped off considerably. By April 2010, Pew Research found more Americans placing greater importance on protecting the rights of gun owners (49 percent) than on restricting gun ownership (45 percent).

The one wild card here is how long the issue is kept in the news. If high-profile Democrats and 2016 contenders keep the issue in the headlines, they might think they can also keep up public outrage at the dangers of gun ownership. But it’s easy to imagine that the opposite might be true. When leftists say they want to “have a conversation” about guns, what they mean is they want a monologue. We’ve been having a national conversation about guns for quite some time, and it’s awfully clear the left is losing the argument in a rout. The way mass shootings fade from the public’s attention over time–as does all news–probably insulates Democrats from putting forward unpopular legislation.

And President Obama might very well have agreed, believing he could put Biden’s name on a commission and then blame Republicans if nothing came from the recommendations, covering his left flank and avoiding antagonizing the right. Governors, meanwhile, had it (politically) easier: they could have avoided taking up the issue entirely, since most of the fuss was focused on Congress.

Biden may simply take an “I tried” tack with regard to the issue, allowing his time on the commission to prevent him from having to lurch to his left on guns in a Democratic primary season. In the YouTube age, however, it’s getting more and more difficult for politicians to bounce back to the center after appealing to their party’s base in the primaries. Rick Perry and Bob McDonnell are far from sure things to enter the 2016 race, but their comments are indicative of the fact that GOP contenders now probably think they’d enter a 2016 general election having been spotted a few points by a clumsy and overeager opponent.

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Will Sandy Haunt Current Governors Long After the Storm?

David Rothkopf grapples with the question Jonathan asked yesterday: Will Hurricane Sandy have a discernible impact on politics in the home stretch of the presidential campaign? Rothkopf’s answer is an emphatic Yes. He outlines three main areas the political conversation is susceptible to Sandy’s disruption, avoiding the topic of turnout on Election Day in favor of looking a bit farther into the future.

The most interesting of these, and where I think Rothkopf may hit the nail on the head, is in the way attitudes may change toward making preparations for such storms, especially if Sandy does the damage many fear. But I would make a slight adjustment to the winners and losers, politically speaking, of a population seeking to cast blame on political leadership deemed to have its priorities terribly askew. Rothkopf writes:

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David Rothkopf grapples with the question Jonathan asked yesterday: Will Hurricane Sandy have a discernible impact on politics in the home stretch of the presidential campaign? Rothkopf’s answer is an emphatic Yes. He outlines three main areas the political conversation is susceptible to Sandy’s disruption, avoiding the topic of turnout on Election Day in favor of looking a bit farther into the future.

The most interesting of these, and where I think Rothkopf may hit the nail on the head, is in the way attitudes may change toward making preparations for such storms, especially if Sandy does the damage many fear. But I would make a slight adjustment to the winners and losers, politically speaking, of a population seeking to cast blame on political leadership deemed to have its priorities terribly askew. Rothkopf writes:

Next, Sandy will also remind Americans and the world of the foolishness of some recent U.S. fetishes. I live in Washington, D.C., ostensibly the nerve center of the U.S. national security apparatus and target No. 1 for anyone interested in attacking America. The city is surrounded by military facilities and is home to a Department of Homeland Security that spends billions of dollars seeking to protect America against disruption. Yet this storm, like virtually all others of any size, will almost certainly knock out power to many of our nation’s leaders and the infrastructure on which our government depends for days. The city has already been brought to a standstill. Could burying power lines and strengthening critical infrastructure prevent all that? Of course. But is it as sexy as buying more drones, water boards, and stealth helicopters? Nope.

But what if the federal government were responsible for national security and state and local governments responsible for some of those infrastructure improvements, especially ones that would make a noticeable dent in the public’s frustration? In fact, that is the case already. Contra Rothkopf, improvements in storm-related public infrastructure are not being sacrificed on the altar of “sexy” drones and water boards (an odd choice of words, to be sure).

For example, the notoriously unresponsive power company Pepco, scourge of Montgomery County, Maryland, could plausibly be reined in. Recently, after a storm knocked out power for days there, Gregg Easterbrook, a MoCo resident, took to the pages of the Atlantic to warn Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a comically inept governor who is marching straight at a run for the White House, that his inability to get Pepco under control could, and should, follow him on his quest for more power. Easterbrook wrote:

You’ve already guessed that your correspondent lives in a Pepco-served neighborhood of Montgomery County. I will recount just the recent outrages in my neighborhood: In 2010, three extended power failures of at least three days’ duration, plus four hour-long failures. In 2011, a three-day outage, plus five failures of at least two hours. In 2012, two multiple-hour failures before the current outage. At noon Monday, on the fourth day of the latest failure, I checked the Pepco website for my neighborhood. It said, “No crew assigned.”

How does Pepco get away with this? Maryland’s Public Service Commission is a notorious lapdog, in part because although Maryland local government traditionally is clean, the Maryland statehouse traditionally is corrupt….

Pepco faces a simple reliability equation: The more it spends on improving service, the less is available for dividends and executive bonuses. CEO Rigby is a major shareholder, so in effect awards himself a commission when he keeps infrastructure spending low and dividends high. After the mega-thunderstorm, Dominion Power took 14 hours to restore all its transformers and main feeder lines — this is the first step in any utility’s storm recovery — while Pepco took 36 hours. That’s because Pepco transformers were in poor repair when the storm hit, despite an advertising campaign promising improvements. Within 48 hours of the storm, Dominion had 2,000 out-of-state workers present to assist in restoration; Pepco had just 300. If Pepco drags its feet on recovery, the utility avoids paying doubletime or tripletime, plus expenses, to out-of-state crews. And Pepco knows it can drag its feet without any risk of action by Maryland regulators.

Given how bad Pepco is, O’Malley would seem to have a tremendous opportunity to make his mark as a reformer, bringing a tainted regulatory hierarchy to heel. This is especially true because Maryland law assigns all authority over power utilities to the state level — there’s nothing the Montgomery County Council can do. If O’Malley runs for the presidency, his performance in Annapolis would be expected to be his strongest credential.

If Rothkopf is right, and the strengthening of infrastructure in anticipation of more wind storms suddenly becomes a major national political issue, O’Malley will just as suddenly have among the country’s worst resumes for higher political office. If the public gets tired of blaming Mother Nature and decides it is being ill-served by its politicians, O’Malley—considered by everyone to be among the high-profile candidates for president in 2016 and whose campaign, at the expense of Marylanders, has effectively already started—will be the poster-boy for malfeasance and ineffective leadership. Even worse, that reputation will be on an issue that—again, if Rothkopf is right—may soon be elevated to the level of national security, always considered the first duty of the commander-in-chief.

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Are We Better Off? Democrats Plead Guilty With an Explanation

Heading into their convention this week, leading Democrats are being asked a simple question about the administration they think Americans should re-elect in November: Are we better off today than we were four years ago? The answers have been variable, but they all have the feel of someone in the dock pleading “guilty with an explanation.”

Given the high unemployment rate, the lack of economic growth matched by a startling hike in the deficit fueled by administration spending programs, it’s little wonder that most Americans tell pollsters they are not better off and that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley admitted as much on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday: “No, but that’s not the question.” He amended that answer on CNN to say that we were but the damage was already done. Senior Obama campaign officials weren’t much better than O’Malley.

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Heading into their convention this week, leading Democrats are being asked a simple question about the administration they think Americans should re-elect in November: Are we better off today than we were four years ago? The answers have been variable, but they all have the feel of someone in the dock pleading “guilty with an explanation.”

Given the high unemployment rate, the lack of economic growth matched by a startling hike in the deficit fueled by administration spending programs, it’s little wonder that most Americans tell pollsters they are not better off and that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley admitted as much on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday: “No, but that’s not the question.” He amended that answer on CNN to say that we were but the damage was already done. Senior Obama campaign officials weren’t much better than O’Malley.

David Plouffe, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” tried to finesse it, and just said the country would be worse off if Mitt Romney wins. David Axelrod was similarly vague. But all agree that everything is George W. Bush’s fault and think President Obama should continue blaming his predecessor rather than owning up to the fact that things got worse on his watch and that he doesn’t have a plan for fixing that. All of which sets us up for a week in which Democrats will spend more time damning the 43rd president than extolling the virtues of his successor. That’s an odd strategy but one the Obama campaign feels is their only choice.

It may be that after three days of non-stop Bush-bashing, claims that the Republicans are liars and a defense of the status quo on entitlements, the Democrats will get some sort of a bounce out of their convention. All the while, they will be praying that the monthly jobs report due out on Friday will bring some good news rather than a negative report that might undo any positive vibes earned from the focus on their arguments.

Fairly or unfairly, President Bush is still deeply unpopular and blamed for an economic downturn caused more by a federal intervention in the housing market that was the doing of Democrats than anything he did. But what the Obama campaign is asking the voters to do is not so much to give him a second try as to veto a third term for Bush. That’s a neat trick if they can pull it off, but their claim that Republicans are trying to make voters forget about Bush’s record is complicated by a concurrent request that they also forget Obama’s. The nuanced answers to the “are you better off” queries betray the fact that Democrats understand that few believe a trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle or the vast expansion of entitlements and government power created by ObamaCare has done anything to improve the nation’s lot.

John Steele Gordon wrote yesterday that, “For liberals, it’s always 1936” because they have never quite absorbed the fact that New Deal liberalism and contempt for conservatives is a relic of a vanished age. But in order to win this election, Democrats are faced with the difficult task of duplicating Franklin Roosevelt’s successful campaign for a second term by running against the man he defeated four years ago.

George W. Bush may not be quite as unpopular as Herbert Hoover was then but, as his absence from the GOP convention proved, he’s still a liability to his party. However, there is no comparison of the economy Obama inherited to the one FDR confronted. As much as Democrats are now retrospectively trying to paint the state of the nation in January 2009 as comparable to the Great Depression, I doubt many will buy it. FDR was the only president re-elected on the proposition that four years was not long enough for him to acquire ownership of the state of the nation. Democrats are betting their political lives that Obama can do the same under vastly different circumstances.

While in 1936 Roosevelt could claim to have at least improved the morale of the American people by giving them the impression that the country was heading in the right direction, Obama can’t.

Guilty with an explanation doesn’t usually work when it comes to evading fines for traffic tickets. We’re about to find out whether it can re-elect a president.

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Convention Lineups: More Upside for GOP?

The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

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The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

This is a mix of rising stars (Martinez, Haley), popular party figures (Rice, McCain, Kasich), and the obvious home-stater (Scott). These are not the names conservatives are lining up to hear, though Huckabee should be considered an exception. The former Arkansas governor’s great talent has always been communication–just contrast the tone of coverage Huckabee tends to receive from the notoriously socially liberal press with that of Rick Santorum. As important as evangelicals are to GOP get-out-the-vote efforts, Huckabee could be an important campaign surrogate for a candidate many social conservatives are still unsure about.

Otherwise, the Democratic convention is the subject of far more chatter, and appropriately so. In addition to the high-profile role Bill Clinton will play, Politico has a story today examining the risk of giving Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren a prime-time speech. Warren’s candidacy has been mired in controversy since news broke that Warren apparently listed herself as a minority to exploit quota hiring in academia by claiming Native American heritage she has been unable–and unwilling–to confirm.

Perhaps even more damaging, however, is that Warren popularized the “you didn’t build that” line of argument that was picked up by President Obama in an attempt to praise government that seemed to sneer at business owners. (Obama has said that his words were taken out of context, but arguably the worst part of his remarks were what came before the infamous lines, when he said, in a mocking tone: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.”)

Republicans will also luck out by the prominence–or lack thereof–given to potential Democratic presidential candidates for the 2016 cycle. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, expected to be a serious contender in four years, is practically avoiding the entire convention rather than use the free media as a launching pad. But it gets even better for Republicans: In what has to have GOP 2016 contenders practically giddy, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is still, amazingly enough, talking about running for president in 2016. He will have a speaking role at the convention, and is also chairing the rules committee.

O’Malley’s sensational inability to govern is by now legendary. He seems to have accepted his failures as well; he has pretty much stopped spending time in the state he governs. O’Malley (or O’Taxey, as Marylanders have taken to calling him) seems to be following California’s model of governing but, like Jon Corzine in New Jersey, hopes to be out of office when the state finally goes careening off the fiscal cliff (Corzine was defeated in time to save the state’s finances). The Republican convention will likely feature a prime-time speech from Chris Christie. If so, the contrast between the two parties’ ability to govern will be starkly in the GOP’s favor.

If O’Malley, Warren, and an impeached former president are the best the Democratic convention will have to offer, expect a lot more enthusiasm from conservatives when the GOP’s big names are finally announced this month.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

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