He was Governor of Maryland for a certain period of years, mayor of Baltimore, and is today completely irrelevant. He is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, he promises a clean energy grid by 2050, and he is polling at nearly 0%. Milquetoast, unremarkable Martin O’Malley wants you to make him the next President of the United States, and if the first question that pops into your head is, “Why should I do that,” you’re not alone.
The Democratic debate was a moment of clarity and inventory for the party of Jefferson and Jackson. It was its clearest signal that the campaign had fully swung from its summer meandering to an autumnal heat and seriousness, and in this national exposure of the Democratic candidates, Hillary triumphed. As declared by the pundits, to the frustration of the Internet, Secretary Clinton commanded the stage from the beginning and never let go. With a crucial assist from Senator Bernie Sanders, she skated by the email question and flipped the heft of its accusations on its head and to her own benefit. Sanders, though scathed by Hillary’s strong critique of his voting record on gun safety laws, arguably won in his own right as he laid out his program to a national audience with an effectiveness made possible by the civility and substance that reigned throughout, in stark contrast to the Republican field’s brawling, punch-drunk tone. Then there were O’Malley, Webb, and Chafee, and none of three could have made less of an impression. Chafee was utterly embarrassing when he repeatedly admitted that he had no idea what he was voting for when he voted for the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and that is hard to come back from. Webb spent a great deal of his time complaining about his time and spent the other part of it talking about his military service in not always the most family friendly manner. But the most revealing fact of the Democratic race for the nomination is just how many people are asking themselves who the hell Martin O’Malley is, only to receive ambivalence at best and mild scorn at worst in response. He has a long record as Governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore, and nobody seems interested. Chafee and Webb clearly have no viability, but O’Malley, on paper, seems some sort of alternative to Her.
Clinton’s complete dominance of that stage accentuated just how much of a farce the race for the Democratic nomination is turning out to be. Sanders can never win a general election as a 74 year old socialist senator from Vermont who is just as white and independent as his constituents. He is not a consolidator, but a gadfly in Congress, and as important a role as that may be in our democracy, it does not fit the job description of the President of the United States. As Peter Beinart points out in a recent piece in The Atlantic, Senator Sanders actually apologized for his lack of a foreign policy platform, and his clear inability to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton at the debate told much of the rest of the story. Bernie has not yet indicated that he has anything near a comprehensive understanding and point of view on US foreign policy.
In this sense, what has become strikingly clear by the dearth of available qualified Democrats for the Presidency is the Republicans’ smashing success of making state and local Democratic officials an extinct breed where once they roamed freely. The ratio of Republican to Democratic governors is near 2:1, and Republicans control 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers. With a widespread campaign of unchecked gerrymandering, the Republicans have done considerable damage to the party that won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections. And so we are left with Hillary, which the deliberate trickle of the email scandal has made abundantly clear is a very precarious situation.
But beyond the limited scope of the pettiness of Democrats vs. Republicans lie the myriad of issues this country faces that deserve far better than a race whose outcome is pre-determined. Sanders will continue to drag the debate to the left, but it starts and ends in Clinton’s orbit. Hillary is notably farther to the right on issues of national security than a sizable portion of the Democratic base and even President Obama. But Sanders has no alternative to offer. This does a clear disservice to the thriving marketplace of ideas that any citizen should hope characterizes a presidential election cycle.
And this brings us back to Martin O’Malley and the disappointing breed of Democrats that he represents. His is the story of governing experience as a Democrat in a heavily Democratic state. It interests no one. As much as O’Malley kept repeating how much he had done in his state in the debate, the implicit and explicit promises he made that this would naturally translate into similar results under an O’Malley presidency ring just as hollow as his public persona. The Republicans in Congress, at the moment, cannot even find a sacrificial lamb to take the Speakership, let alone the political will to compromise and govern with a Democratic president. This fundamental dissonance between his promises and their reality along with his abysmal zero tolerance policies in Baltimore remind many of the failure associated with Democratic management of large cities since the 1960s. He generates little enthusiasm because there is little cause for it. His presence on the debate stage is another of three reminders that Democrats have no real alternative to Hillary and Bernie and no new talent to offer that has not been in national politics for much of the last thirty years.
No matter how much you may be rooting for Hillary, this is an unhealthy and ominous situation in an especially cynical moment in our history. American institutions have lost the respect they once took for granted. More and more, Americans are coming to identify with some form of the Bernie maxim that Congress does not regulate Wall Street, but, in actuality, Wall Street regulates Congress. With only one truly viable candidate and duds like O’Malley, such a critique of American institutions can hardly be dismissed. And this should frighten any American who cares for the future of this country.