Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley still thinks he can win the Democratic nomination for the Presidency even though he clearly has no chance. In a year that has seen outsiders surpass expectations, whether Donald Trump on the Right or Bernie Sanders on the Left, O’Malley’s politician cadence hasn’t helped him. I have a suspicion about why he has remained in the race but for the time being it’s only fair that O’Malley’s debate performance is reviewed.
In terms of policy substance O’Malley’s first comments were on foreign policy. He began talking about 9/11 for no real reason but then made a substantive point about the need for more investment in foreign intelligence. O’Malley, in order to appeal to the liberals in the Democratic base, stated that he would “never give up our freedoms for the promise of security”. The former governor pointed out that he was the first candidate to call for the US to accept the 65,000 refugees it was asked to take by the UNHCR; he received a round of applause when he suggested that the US should take more refugees if needed. When returning to the topic of intelligence O’Malley stressed the importance of investment in diplomatic services and, in the same contribution, acknowledged that US’ role in creating a power vacuum in the Middle East.
Later on in the evening questions returned to foreign policy in reference to Libya. O’Malley stated that “our lust for regime toppling overrode ensuring regional stability”; this wasn’t a verbatim quote but the meaning was essentially the same. He followed this by restating his policy about investing in human intelligence, both regional and diplomatic.
Early on in the debate, O’Malley came out swinging against Sanders and Clinton on the issue of guns. He accurately pointed out his record in Maryland in passing gun control legislation. He chastised Sanders for voting against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (or Brady Bill), voted to give immunity to gun dealers, and voted against research into gun violence as a public health issue. I’m not going to justify Sanders decisions, because I don’t agree with all of them, but I want to provide context.
Firstly the Brady Bill, which would have instituted a mandatory waiting period for gun purchases, doesn’t get to the root of why gun violence takes place. O’Malley’s criticism, however, I believe is justified as even if you believe that this measure doesn’t do enough to prevent gun violence, I wouldn’t vote against it.
Secondly I believe that this is more complicated than is made out. O’Malley is correct to criticise Sanders for voting in favour of immunity for gun dealers as some dealers may knowingly sell guns to people that they know will be used for criminal purposes. However, it is also worth pointing out that going after the person who sold you a gun because you killed someone isn’t actually solving the problem either. In the same way if you bought a kitchen knife of somebody and then mutilated someone police officers wouldn’t arrest the person who sold you the knife. Essentially this bit of the statement is more complicated than is made out.
Thirdly, Sanders is 100% wrong. Funds should be used to investigate gun violence as a public health issue. Having said that, is it not obvious that it is and therefore would more research funds actually give us any new information? I cannot know his motivation behind this but if this was his justification I wouldn’t criticise him for it. If however his justification was rooted in the realpolitik of a re-election campaign then I would have a problem with it.
In relation to Clinton, O’Malley argued that the former Secretary of State “changed her position every election year”. This is reference to a few different things such as her support for “gun rights” during her 2008 Presidential campaign and her subsequent demand for a ban on assault weapons. I loathe Hillary Clinton however I wouldn’t actually say that this is a contradiction. She has many positions where she has contradicted herself plenty of times, but I wouldn’t personally say that it is incompatible to fight for the liberty of people to own guns and also to want to ban military-grade weapons from the citizenry.
Turning to the economy O’Malley said that he supported a living wage, mentioning how he had achieved this goal when he was Governor of Maryland, before arguing for “fair market capitalism”. I hate this phrase almost more than “free market capitalism” because fairness is quite an abstract concept. In addition to this the phrase implies that capitalism can be made to be ‘fair’ which I fundamentally disagree with.
Aside from this horrible phrase he said that future business opportunities will be in green technology and that he had a plan to put people in cities back to work. On this final point, this was an interesting bit of politicking as people in urban areas are more likely to vote for the Democrats and this policy speaks to these people.
O’Malley engaged in another attack on the other two candidates by arguing that “replacing American capitalism with socialism won’t work, nor will Wall Street cronyism”. This was another bit of interestingly focus-grouped speech as the term socialism, although becoming more socially acceptable, is still quite an unpopular word as people instantly think of the Soviet Union. Cronyism, in reference to Clinton, also polls badly with focus groups however the difference between this and invoking the image of Soviet Russia is that Sanders isn’t a Stalinist but Clinton supports crony capitalism.
O’Malley’s attacks went further by doing the one thing that nobody else did: calling out Hillary Clinton for talking about 9/11 in order to distract from her links to Wall Street. Nobody else would have done this as Sanders prides himself on not running negative ads whereas O’Malley has nothing to lose; he does, therefore, deserve some credit for doing the media’s job for them. The former Governor finished his comments on his economic policy by advocating a “modern Glass-Steagall”.
On the topic of education O’Malley said that he would want to invest more money into Pell Grants and would lower student debt however he was very unspecific on these proposals.
In relation to finance, he touted his record in Maryland before arguing in favour of paid family leave, taxing capital gains in the same way as income from labour, and raising income taxes on the rich. O’Malley claimed that $800 billion over the next ten years would be raised from taxing capital gains in this way and that this money should be earmarked for investment, specifically in urban areas.
In regards to race relations O’Malley said, to much applause, that police departments need to be made more transparent and that there should be better mechanisms to police the police. In this answer he also spoke about the need to improve drug treatment which he elaborated on when specifically asked about New Hampshire’s heroin problem: “we need to intervene will people when they have a near-miss”.
Unlike covering Republican candidates I have to do a lot less fact-checking which is a great relief. In relation to O’Malley’s chances, he’s got absolutely no possible route to being the Presidential nominee unless Hillary Clinton dies, leaving the former governor as the only relative centrist left. Personally I believe that O’Malley knows that he has no real chance of winning but he is remaining in the race in order to build up his reputation in the Democratic Party. With Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee without any real support in the Democratic Party, O’Malley would easily be a candidate for Clinton’s running mate. Basically the former governor’s debate performance is not about the presidency, it is about raising his profile on the national stage for the future.