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Friday, April 8, 2011

Dear Governor O'Malley: Dial Back the Rhetoric

Political scientist V.O. Key once theorized that increased political competition would force parties to offer more distinct policies to voters in an effort to influence their choice. Additionally, as competition increases the parties come to rely more heavily, not on the mean, median, or moderate voter, but rather on the more committed and active voter. Recent history has proven Key to have been quite correct. As state and national politics have become more competitive between Republicans and Democrats the official positions of the two parties have become ever more polarized and the rhetoric of American politics has become more course, more absolutist, and often more absurd.

In an effort to motivate their base voters, and to scare Independent and moderate voters, partisans resort to the politics of fear. This is clearly evident in the current public debate over the budget and the possibility of a government shutdown. This is why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that Republican budget proposals would cause "6 million seniors to starve" and Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter proclaimed that Republicans want to "kill women." It explains why, during the health care debate, Sarah Palin warned of "death panels." It's also why devoted left wing partisans angrily denounced Palin's comments as extreme, yet see no extremism in what Pelosi and Slaughter said and why right wing partisans denounce Pelosi and Slaughter as demagogues and defend Palin.

Which brings me to Martin O'Malley... One of the benefits of living in one the few non-competitive states is that the extreme rhetoric is less common. Democrats in Maryland face very little electoral threat from Republicans. Democrats enjoy a 2 to 1 registration advantage and control all statewide offices and overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate. In the absence of real party competition there's little need to engage in the bombast common in many other states - and nationally. Unfortunately, Martin O'Malley's new job as chairmen of the National Democratic Governor's Association has led to a change in tone.

O'Malley has picked some high profile fights with prominent Republican governors like Chris Christie, but his rhetoric had been mostly centered on policy issues. That changed today when O'Malley issued a statement regarding the potential government shutdown. O'Malley's statement read:
"Congressional Republicans are allowing their hate of government to hurt the hardworking families of our country. It appears they care more about hurting our government than they do about helping our recovery.

Maryland is home to thousands of federal civil servants – moms and dads who will go without pay because Speaker Boehner and the Republicans have chosen to wage an ideological war instead of putting the interests of their nation first."
So Republicans are motivated not by a $1.6 trillion deficit, not by a $12 trillion debt, but by a hatred of government? And do Democrats have no role to play in this shutdown drama? Democrats insist that budget cuts are not the sticking point - rather it's a policy rider related to funding for Planned Parenthood. So using Mr. O'Malley's logic aren't the Democrats putting ideology ahead of the nation's interests as well?

O'Malley's statement may not have been so bad had he not followed it with a Facebook post that read "If the tea-partying Republican Congress thinks shutting down government is good for a nation's economic health, they should go visit Somalia."

Somalia? Somalia? Somalia has been engulfed in a civil war for nearly two decades, as a result the country lacks a central government. But no reasonable person could suggest that a temporary government shutdown in the U.S. would be comparable in any way to Somalia. To even attempt to hint at a Somalia/America comparison is just ridiculous. Somalia's economy is not suffering because of a government shutdown. Somalia is suffering because it has been devastated by ethnic strife and war.

I know that O'Malley has a job to do as a cheerleader for the Democratic Party, but that's job #2 - job #1 is to be chief executive of, and cheerleader for, the state of Maryland. When his commitment to job #2 undermines job #1, and shines a less than flattering light on Maryland as a result, he needs to rethink his priorities.

Dial back the rhetoric Mr. O'Malley - don't be part of all that is wrong with American politics. Maryland deserves better.