Two-term Democratic governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley came to Pitzer College to pitch his progressive platform, one that is in many ways indistinguishable from the other candidates in the field. Immigration reform, protection for same sex couples and women, the evening of the playing field, reducing college debt, the list goes on. The standard stump speech hit ‘em all. His smile infectious and his rhetoric strong, he didn’t let loose his fire.
There was passion, sure; but there was no impassioned plea. His focus is very much at issues already at hand, things that one must simply protect, not alter. He’s yet to really step to the plate and make the crux of his argument the one that he has always made. America is the place for the free, the willing, the motivated, and the proud. But he also hasn’t made the pitch that the people he wants to protect, the people he's always tried to protect, are those who couldn’t protect themselves.
O’Malley’s rough start to the campaign has meant that he’s tried some unorthodox ways to get his name out there. The biggest problem lies in the field in which he finds himself. Sec. Hillary Clinton is the moderate darling on almost all issues, even though she has found herself leaning more left due to the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders. O’Malley finds himself squarely in the middle. Trailing in the polls to Sanders, Clinton, and even Joe Biden—who has yet to declare—he has not been able to gain any ground, but much of that has to do with his stable term as governor more than anything else.
As governor of Maryland, he was staunchly progressive on many social issues while letting the economy play out. While being a social issues candidate is in no way a negative, he doesn’t really hit the same notes as Sanders when it comes to wealth inequality and strays away from being a Clintonian moderate. O’Malley, a personable, down-to-earth, almost fatherly figure, is the safe progressive. He may even be the best and truest social progressive in the race, but he hasn’t taken the risks necessary to winning the presidency.
Stability, while a strong trait in a leader, is not what Americans as a whole are looking for. Even though 'Hope and Change' left many voters wanting, when we go to the voting booths, we’ll be looking for a straight-shooter with a plan for the nation. The 2016 Democratic nominee will need to be progressive on social issues and challenging on economic issues while maintaining the work that Barack Obama has done on foreign policy. The governor is an extremely affable guy, just like any mayor. He has experience and a good heart.
But until he comes in to his own like Sanders swinging at Wall Street, or the elder stateswoman Clinton, or the just-so-lovable Vice President Biden, Governor O’Malley won’t stand a chance. He hasn’t lit up sports arenas or attracted the media, and much of that has to do with his personality. He’s not the aggressive and blunt Sanders or the calculated and withdrawn Clinton. O’Malley’s just calling it how he sees it without trying to force his opinion on to you. Either you get it or you don’t. This won’t lead him to victory. The polls already say so.
The governor is in many ways a big proponent of personal freedoms when it comes to social policies. His lack of bluster about the economy—and as governor, lack of substantial action, especially with regard to social policies—means he’ll never match most of the rhetoric in the Democratic Party at this point in time. But he also isn’t as hell-bent on implementing economic incentives like Clinton or simply raising the minimum wage like Sanders.
The drive to make sure that basic rights are upheld is important; that fact in itself will fix many of the biased institutions that we see today. O’Malley is not a one-size-fits-all type of person and instead wants to work with all comers, not just one side, to see progressive change in this country. After all, most of the greatest legislation has been geared more towards civil rights and liberties rather than the economy.
He needs to frame himself as a bipartisan governor—which he was—while maintaining his stance on progressive issues. He needs to frame both the long term debate and the upcoming debate in such a way that he differentiates himself on why he believes that social change and progress is the most important obstacle facing America in this decade, not economic inequality or whatever it is Hillary Clinton is arguing she can fix.
So far, he is the only candidate to have always been a Democrat, but he’s not the only progressive. For him to really make a pitch to be the standard bearer, he needs to prove that he’s a proven leader with a goal for American society. He knows how to win, and he knows what he wants to see for this country; now it’s time that he gets the rest of us fired up.
J. Camilo Vilaseca CM '16 is majoring in international relations and economics. He hails from the Bay Area and enjoys coffee, the Oakland A's, and short walks to the Hoch-Shanahan Dining Hall.