Sunday, May 31, 2015

Another Democrat

While pundits continue to talk about the Democratic presidential nominee being a foregone conclusion, others clearly disagree—including declared or potential candidates. There are now three candidates for the nomination, with a couple more expected eventually. This is a good thing.

Martin Joseph O'Malley has entered the race for the Democratic nomination for president, and chances are good that most Americans, if they even heard the news, thought to themselves, “WHO?!” O’Malley, governor of Maryland from 2007-2015, is by anyone’s reckoning a longshot to win the nomination.

At 52, O’Malley is the youngest of the announced Democratic candidates. Since I’ve mentioned it for older candidates, I’ve decided to start mentioning this factoid for all candidates who announce from now on: On Inauguration Day, O’Malley will be 53 years, 3 days old. Is that an advantage or irrelevant? I have no idea, but at the moment I’d bet it’s more irrelevant than anything. In general, voters tend to care about a candidate’s age mostly when they’re worried a candidate is “too old” or “too young”.

Interestingly (to me, anyway) O’Malley’s also a musician and songwriter.

The Democratic field is dominated, of course, by Hillary Clinton, but Bernie Sanders, an Independent US Senator from Vermont who caucuses with Senate Democrats, has been raising a lot of money and getting attention, particularly on the left wing of the Democratic Party, and among the Left outside the party. O’Malley will need to distinguish himself from both candidates in order to get any attention at all.

O’Malley is a pretty mainline Liberal Democrat, as shown in a piece published by ThinkProgress, “5 Things You Need To Know About Martin O’Malley”. His record as governor is arguably more liberal than was Clinton’s at the same time, and probably not as far to the left as Sanders. One likely weak point will be his stance on crime during his time as mayor of Baltimore (1999-2007), during which large numbers of people were arrested for minor crimes as part of O’Malley’s “zero tolerance” policies. Critics argue that this policy led, ultimately, to the recent riots in Baltimore due to the police’s alleged overzealous policing of black people.

O’Malley has, so far, struck a populist chord, similar to the other Democrats, but he’s also trying to cast doubt on the sincerity of Clinton’s stance on things like Wall Street reform. My guess—and it’s only that at the moment—is that O’Malley will try and position himself as a sort of “less scary” (i.e., not socialist) alternative to Clinton that Left-leaning Democrats can rally behind if they’re unsure of Sanders for whatever reason. I don’t think that will be enough.

For both Republicans and Democrats, the people who take part in the presidential selection process tend to be core members of their party’s base: Religious social conservatives for Republicans and liberals for Democrats. Traditionally, candidates had to “run to the base” to win their party’s nomination, then tack back toward the centre for the general election. However, the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that this is now pretty much impossible for their nominee to do credibly. But the Republicans’ rightward march has also moved the centre to the right, so candidates now branded (admittedly, mostly by rightwing pundits and politicians) as “extreme leftists” are basically old-fashioned liberals at most.

The most ardent leftwing voters—the voters to whom Sanders in particular appeals—tend to remain outside the Democratic Party, usually backing quixotic third-party or independent candidates or puffing up their chests with self-righteous hubris and declaring they won’t vote at all. The only time I can remember this not being the case is when Barack Obama ran in 2008 and some of the Left outside the party participated to help him get the nomination—and then they promptly abandoned him and the party in 2010 when it turned out that neither Obama nor the Democratic Party were as ideologically pure as the Left, for some bizarre reason, expected.

So, what this all means is that Sanders’ main appeal is outside the party, and O’Malley’s could be within the party, including the very base that actually participates in the selection process. That’s an advantage for O’Malley. However, there’s momentum behind Clinton, along with the undeniable attraction of the possibility of electing the first female president. Those are huge advantages for Clinton.

However, we all know that in the months ahead the Republican Party will continue to attack Clinton, seeing her as the strongest candidate; Republicans want the weakest Democratic candidate to give their eventual nominee an at least fighting chance. The Republican Party has been posting anti-Clinton attack videos on YouTube for months, and they’ll continue to do that, just as they and the official Republican Party propaganda channel, Fox “News”, will continue to gin up constant fauxrage over fake “controversies” about Clinton, thereby, they hope, weakening her as a candidate. If they succeed, it will give another candidate an opening.

On the other hand, if there were no Democratic challengers, there would be little mainstream media attention paid to Hillary Clinton, despite Fox’s best efforts to create something. So, challengers will help gain mainstream media attention, particularly because two of them will have to campaign against the frontrunner (journalists love drama and conflict). As long as all the Democratic campaigns stay positive, even in when comparing and contrasting, this contest will be a good thing.

So far, all the Democratic candidates are credible, even if they’re not equally so. This is in stark contrast to the Republicans—but the list of contrasts is very long. At least all the Democratic candidates are all on this planet; that’s a very good starting point.

There’s still 1 year, 5 months, and 9 days until the US presidential election.

The photo above is the official portrait of Martin O’Malley as Maryland Governor, taken in 2013.


Logan said...

We'll see...my liberal friends from Baltimore don't seem super excited by this. I'll have to see what their reservations are.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I wonder if that's not about the "zero tolerance" policy? That's what drew protesters to his announcement. From what I can tell, he seems to have been a more bonafide liberal as governor than as mayor, but, I wasn't there so I don't know. In any case, I think that his main value at the moment is to help get mainstream media attention for Democrats, because I don't expect him to be the presidential nominee.

rogerogreen said...

Lots of folks, including Bill Clinton, got sucked into zero tolerance/three strikes rhetoric that had continued to fuel mass incarceration.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Absolutely. We have that same nonsense in New Zealand, too, but from the neo-conservative party, not any of the three main parties. The thing is, it could play to general election voters, should he be the nominee, but it could also turn off the leftwing, especially the Left outside the party. I'm not sure what he could do to inoculate himself against the Left being offended by backing the policy, acknowledging the problems with it would be a good start, I think. But if he embraces it,on teh other hand, it could get into both Hillary's traditional territory in the party and white independents who might vote Democratic if the candidate is a bit more conservative, especially on crime issues.

It's all very confusing!