By Richard Vatz
For those of us who anticipated that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley would establish a more statesmanlike persona in his address to the Democratic National Convention, we didn’t reckon with his likely reaction to the reaction to his misstep on CBS Sunday. In that venue he had made a major political error in answering CBS reporter Bob Schieffer’s erecting of the famous Ronald Reagan challenge to then-president Jimmy Carter in 1980: are you better off than you were four years ago?
“No, but that’s not the question of this election,” O’Malley replied, and then his answer trailed off, and the Republicans focused on the “No” reflex, with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, along with others, arguing that O’Malley’s answer demonstrated that not even a Democratic partisan could argue that their president was anything but a Jimmy Carter reborn, at least in economic policy. It didn’t help that Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter quickly rebuked the Maryland governor.
Thus in his speech – nearly perfectly delivered – the Governor gave no quarter: the president had inherited a situation comparable to what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had inherited from Herbert Hoover – a depression?
He paid homage, as one might expect quite reasonable, to the “Forward, not back” mantra of his party in a rousing, if somewhat worn responsive exchange with the Democratic conventioneers.
O’Malley focused on the consecutive months of job growth, rather than the extent of job growth – rhetorically acceptable selectivity in the convention venue. There was no reference to the unemployment statistics, the deficit or the debt, not really required in a supportive convention speech.
But O’Malley went through the “loves millionaires, hates regular citizens” riff that defines the Democratic knee-jerk cheerleaders of his party (“Mitt Romney says he will cut taxes for millionaires and raise them for the middle class” – Mitt Romney “said” that only in the Governor’s mind).
In his most over-the-top rhetoric, Gov. O’Malley stated, “Instead of investing in America, they hide their money in Swiss bank accounts and ship our jobs to China!… let’s ask the leaders in the Republican party–without any anger, meanness or fear: How much less, do you really think, would be good for our country? How much less education would be good for our children? How many hungry American kids can we no longer afford to feed? Governor Romney: How many fewer college degrees would make us more competitive as a nation?”
Governor O’Malley may have righted himself with his Democratic brothers and sisters, and especially the Democratic principals and donors he will need for national office, but he surely was not the reasonable, reality-based Howard Baker of his party.
Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University.