Features

May/ June 2013 Should Martin O’Malley Be President?

The governor of Maryland is a long shot for the White House—and the best manager in government today.

By Haley Sweetland Edwards

Within Maryland, O’Malley’s reputation is middling and wrapped up in his rocket-propelled trajectory. He is known to be effective, but also brash and impatient. (He has a habit of feuding publicly with officials who he doesn’t believe are doing their jobs with enough zeal.) At this point, only 17 percent of Marylanders would “definitely vote” for him if he ran for president, according to a recent Washington Post poll, a dismal showing that his critics chalk up to what is often described as his ravenous ambition—a characteristic that has tended to rub people the wrong way.

Outside of Maryland, O’Malley’s reputation is limited for the most part to “Isn’t that the guy from The Wire?” The creator of that famous, and famously cynical, HBO series about crime and politics in Baltimore, David Simon, has said that O’Malley is just one of several inspirations for his fictional, stats-driven mayor, Tommy Carcetti, but it’s an association that has dogged the governor for more than a decade, much to his chagrin.

But for the vast majority of Americans, O’Malley simply has no reputation at all. Last fall, after giving a speech at Senator Tom Harkin’s Iowa steak fry fund-raiser, a local woman told the Washington Post that she thought the speech was fine, but she couldn’t remember who was doing the talking. “Deval Patrick?” she says, mistaking him for the governor of Massachusetts, who is black. “Oh damn … Mike McNally? An Irish name?”

The truth is, what makes O’Malley stand out is not his experience, his gravitas, nor his familiarity to voters (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden crush him in those regards). Nor is it exactly his policies or speeches (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, both rumored presidential aspirants, have cultivated similar CVs). Nor is it that he plays in a band. Nor is it even the Atlantic’s breathless claim last year that he has “the best abs” in politics. (Beneath a photo of the fit governor participating in the Maryland Special Olympics’ annual Polar Bear Plunge, the author gushed, “What are they putting in the water in Maryland?”) Instead, what makes O’Malley unique as a politician is precisely the skill that was on display in that windowless conference room in downtown Annapolis: he is arguably the best manager working in government today.

That may not seem like a very flashy title—at first blush, “Best Manager” sounds more like a booby prize than a claim a politician might ride to the White House. But in an era where the very idea of government is under assault, a politician’s capacity to deliver on his or her promises, to actually make the bureaucracy work, is an underappreciated skill.

Of course, it was a conservative president who most recently demonstrated his woeful lack of such expertise (see George W. Bush, administration of), but it is the liberal and progressive bloc that stakes its identity on a belief in government, and therefore has a higher stake in getting government management right.

In 2012 Barack Obama cobbled together a motley majority, unified by a shared belief that the federal government can and should play a larger role in solving the country’s common problems. The best way to ensure that voting bloc’s enthusiasm for the Democrats lasts—and the best hope to reduce some of the antigovernment anger on the other side—is for government to deliver results. That means not only passing big legislation, but also making sure that the programs that result, and the rest of the government’s far-flung endeavors, actually work. It means eliminating waste. It means funneling increasingly scarce resources where they can make the most difference. It means making sure that health care access grows while costs stay reasonable; that when hurricanes hit, disaster relief arrives quickly; that big banks don’t implode; that oil rigs don’t explode; that the murder rate goes down and that student test scores go up. What we need in the next president, in other words, is not just creative policy-making and politicking, but a willingness to drive the bureaucracy to perform. He or she must have a passion for managing the government itself.

It’s a tough order to fill. Considering the growing complexity and size of both the federal government and the challenges it has been asked to address, many would characterize it as Sisyphean. But fortunately, over the last couple of decades, through trial and error, new systems of goal setting, data gathering, and accountability have been developed in the public sector that attempt to give elected officials some of the same tools corporate leaders use to demand bottom-line results from their organizations. These new accountability systems are hardly panaceas; in fact, they have disappointed more often than they have succeeded. But it just so happens that the politician who is most broadly recognized to have made them work the best is none other than Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

O’Malley comes by his faith in politics and government honestly. His parents, Barbara and Thomas O’Malley, raised their six children in the shadow of two formidable ideologies: the Catholic Church and the gospel of the Democratic Party.

Both archetypal members of the Greatest Generation, Barbara and Thomas met in the early ’50s at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in D.C. Barbara, the product of sturdy, German Democrats from Fort Wayne, Indiana, joined the Civil Air Patrol and got her pilot’s license at sixteen, then volunteered for a local congressman’s campaign. When he won, she followed him to D.C.—a natural fit for a young woman who’d grown up collecting campaign buttons at Democratic rallies. Thomas, to whom O’Malley owes his Irish complexion, joined the Army Air Corps during World War II, flew thirty-three missions over Japan in a bombardier, and returned home in time for the GI Bill to put him through college and Georgetown Law. He later became an assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department. He passed away in 2006.

Both Barbara and Thomas were driven by a deep belief in the power of government to do good. On the walls of the O’Malley family home in Rockville, Maryland, there were photos of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., and dinner table discussions were often about upcoming local and national campaigns. On Martin O’Malley’s second birthday, in 1965, his parents got him a cake that read “Martin for President 2004.” It was a joke, of course, but the message was genuine. “There was always a belief that politics is an honorable profession,” O’Malley said of his childhood.

O’Malley’s devoutly Catholic upbringing, as well as his educations at the Jesuit-run Gonzaga College High School and Catholic University, was also infused with an overarching sense of public, and particularly political, service. It’s impossible, after all, to walk to or from Gonzaga, where O’Malley was in the student council, without being physically aware of the great force of American government. Just step outside, and there it is, the Capitol Dome, looming like a movie set. If O’Malley were to become president of the United States one day, he’d be the first in history to have been born and raised in the D.C. area, with the exception of George Washington himself.

Haley Sweetland Edwards is an editor of the Washington Monthly.

Comments

  • Mark on May 06, 2013 12:16 PM:

    This article is a joke right? This is a repost from the onion right?

  • HChapman on May 06, 2013 1:49 PM:

    It's DBED, not DBEV.

  • NCSteve on May 06, 2013 1:51 PM:

    Yeah, great manager. That'll work out great. Like Jimmy Carter was a great manager of a modestly sized state so clearly he can run the federal government. Or like that other great manager Michael Dukakis had the goods to deliver us that stunning victory in '88.

  • clarence swinney on May 06, 2013 4:47 PM:

    OBAMA 2014 BUDGET
    DISCRETIONARY

    Defense-57%---Yes!- -- 57% Sequester this sucker!

    Education-6%
    Govt.-6%
    Vet benefits- 6%
    Housing -5%
    Health 5%
    International-3%
    Energy/Environment-3%
    Science-3%
    Transportation 3%
    Labor-2%
    Food/Agriculture-1%

  • James Simpson on May 06, 2013 5:47 PM:

    Are you kidding? The best manager in government today?? Are you kidding?? Try the MOST CORRUPT politician in government today! He steals money from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund to pay for his dramatic budget increases, then claims to have paid the fund back by covering it with a bond issue??? When that doesn't work he creates a "rain tax." I kid you not. $2 billion per year is spent on illegals and a state welfare system violates both state and federal law to provide welfare to illegals. O'Malley has overseen dramatic expansions in the state budget and has repeatedly demanded punishing tax increases, which still don't balance the budget. His Dream Act was budgeted for about 1/50th its actual likely cost. The man is a two-faced liar and a fraud. He gets away with it because the legislature is overwhelmingly leftist Democrat.

  • liz953 on May 06, 2013 9:51 PM:

    There are 24 counties in MD. O'Malley caters to 3 of them: Prince Georges, Montgomery and Baltimore. He was elected and re-elected w-ith those votes; and his democratic state house rubber stamps all his agendas.

    There are many of us in Maryland who aren't represented by O'Malley, and since our votes are immaterial to him, he ignores our voices.

    T his, alone, disqualifies him from the presidency.

  • Linda Kelly on May 06, 2013 10:32 PM:

    I second the comments from James Simpson. I WAS an O'Malley supporter when he ran for Mayor of Balto the first time. THEN, I saw that the city was deteriorating even further and he did nothing. I thought he would have the energy to turn the city around. Well, he probably had the energy but his focus was elsewhere. Do your research. He is one of the most corrupt politicians this State has had in some time. Come on journalists! Please do your duty! The facts are there.

  • Howard on May 07, 2013 8:42 AM:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Citizen Deux on May 07, 2013 8:54 AM:

    Really? The man is inept, may have paid to have a former mistress struck by a car in New York (permitting the then CoP to take the fall) and has no sense of proportion.

    Oh, and this.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-lane-a-baltimore-jail-scandal-aided-by-union-politics/2013/05/06/d90bc90e-b67b-11e2-b94c-b684dda07add_story.html

  • Tom on May 07, 2013 8:54 AM:

    If Best Manager means the one who raises taxes the most than O'Malley fits the bill. If you have another definition of Best Manager you probably moved to another state.

  • BadKosh on May 07, 2013 9:08 AM:

    Martin O'Money and the Democrats have proven by their lack of solutions to their ever increasing spending that they aren't up to the task.

    Democrats in MD only know of 2 ways to approach any problem: TAX IT or BAN IT. All other solutions are too complex and tricky for the typical low IQ voters in MD.

  • Tayloao on May 07, 2013 9:44 AM:

    He's also the guy who taxed rain. Rain! While there is more to it than that, in this economy he will be crucified in an election race as he's one liner'ed to death for taxing rainfall.

  • David on May 07, 2013 9:49 AM:

    Martin O'Malley! He'll Do To America What He Did To Maryland!

    ...because if there's one thing we need in the White House, it's another Tax-and-Spend Liberal.

  • Steve on May 07, 2013 9:49 AM:

    Paid for and manipulatively written by the Martin O'Malley Campaign for President.

  • john on May 07, 2013 9:54 AM:

    What a joke. Maryland is a virtual liberal dictatorship. Every single politician is corrupt. and Republican Bob Ehrlich was the most corrupt.

  • Iska Waran on May 07, 2013 9:56 AM:

    On top of being a tax and spend liberal, he's a condescending pr!ck.

  • CarzyHungarian on May 07, 2013 10:02 AM:

    Best manageR? Who paid for this article? Maryland consistently has several of the richest 10 counties in the US. Yet despite this, since O'malley has taken governorship, Maryland deficits have grown at a record pace. Our taxes have grown to ridiculous levels to the point of making Maryland a laughing stock across the nation. Increases in sales taxes, sin taxes, gas taxes, haircut taxes, a flush tax (no kidding), a rain tax. And after all of these, he still does not have enough to cover his overspending. And you want him to do this to the whole country? Really?

  • chris baker on May 07, 2013 10:29 AM:

    What a pitiful joke. The only export Maryland has is it's own citizens - they've been fleeing the state for the past decade. We don't need another tax and spend, over hyped, over rated, under qualified, unaccomplished junior light weight who's managed a state the size of a postage stamp. Enough. Americans are suffering. We need leaders with solutions - PERIOD.

  • Angelo on May 07, 2013 10:30 AM:

    Must be a very slow week.

  • Jeremy on May 07, 2013 10:51 AM:

    HE CLEANED UP CRIME?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I lived in Baltimore and initially supported this phony when he ran for mayor. His idea of cleaning up crime is pressuring cops to avoid taking police reports. I had my car broken into numerous times and when i would call the cops they never wanted to take a report. They would just tell me that something so small is not necessary to have a report written up. Later I heard from former police that O'malley pressured the police department to lower the crime statistics by under reporting crime. I believe the FBI is looking into it. Everybody that lives in Baltimore knows that Omalley is a sick selfish man. I wont even go into the rumors that he impregnated a former television executive while he was mayor and then sent her to NY when he ran for governor. There is a reason why his wife isn't around that much. She knows he is a cheat. All i can say is good luck Martin.You've had it easy until now. Try running on the national stage with real media able to expose you and not your little pathetic Baltimore sun to kiss your butt

  • SukieTawdry on May 07, 2013 11:08 AM:

    I had no idea Baltimore was doing so well. When I last looked, the FBI had it at number nine on their list of America's 20 most dangerous cities.

    Ha, ha, the author thinks FDR successfully managed the federal government, Al Gore re-invented it and Sheriff Joe Biden was a whiz at monitoring Porkulous spending. That should tell you all you need to know about her ability to assess the "best manager in government today."

  • Barth Mapes on May 07, 2013 12:00 PM:

    Did an O'Malley staffer ghost write this? Because if not, something was sold for this article to be written, perhaps a position on the campaign staff? Why didn't you just shorten your article to "Hail to the Chief?" By the way, we'd be far better off finding a president who looked like Lincoln rather than Kennedy! These fairy tale presidencies are wearing the country out. Bmapes

  • danny boy on May 07, 2013 12:00 PM:

    PLEASE nominate O'Malley for president!!!
    Even the RNC couldn't screw up that election!
    Haley Sweetland Edwards must have found the medical marijuina store while this was written. Also, was Haley paid by the word for this? Most long winded article I have read in years. Realclearpolitics should be ashamed they provided the link to this!

  • Tim Gaydos on May 07, 2013 12:01 PM:

    What a joke! I have lived in this state of MD since 11/85 and he is the worst GOV. He has killed the economy of this state and driven up the abortion rate, poverty rates, did away with the death penalty, tighter gun control, raise taxes on everything for helping illegals and non-working minorities of this state. MD is a welfare state and look what he did in Baltimore... I can only hope the USA does not elect this idiot, we had two terms from a community organizer that is also an idiot when it comes to capitalism, strong on defense, etc...

  • Brad on May 07, 2013 12:31 PM:

    Martin O'Malley would be a disaster on par with McGovern, Dukakis and Mondale. I'd love to see a far-left Democrat nominee. Even Mitt Romney or John McCain couldn't screw that one up.

  • jschmidt on May 07, 2013 12:42 PM:

  • Dr_Albert_Gortenbull on May 07, 2013 12:46 PM:

    Is this the same O'Malley who helped eliminate the death penalty in Maryland, turned the Baltimore jail into a bordello, and severely restricted the Second Amendment rights of Marylanders? Sounds like O'Malley is doing all he can to get law-abiding Marylanders to flee the state and criminals to move in. Albert

  • Perplexed on May 07, 2013 12:50 PM:

    Let the puff pieces begin! This is hysterically funny. The only thing O'Malley has managed is to raid every rainy day fund and raise every tax. He and his sycophants in Annapolis

  • dan roberts on May 07, 2013 1:05 PM:

    I have become nauseous from watching this lightweight on the Sunday talk shows as he auditions for president.

    I would hope we are not so stupid as to elect a novice a third consecutive time.

  • Justin V on May 07, 2013 1:33 PM:

    STOP THE PRESSES, TEAM O'MALLEY USES EXCEL

  • Justin V on May 07, 2013 1:35 PM:

    Seriously though, I've lived in Maryland my whole life, and I know this one lady who likes him. It's just her. Oh sure, every once in a while I'll see a faded "O'Malley" bumper sticker, but meeting an honest-to-God supporter is like meeting someone who likes anchovies on pizzas. I cannot believe he gets attention outside of Maryland.

    As for being such a "great manager", how hard is it, really, to manage Maryland? No other state is in a position to gorge on federal money and fat bureaucrat paychecks like Maryland, and yet we still have major budget problems. Maryland runs on the tax dollars of everyone else, that's why we're so "rich". If I was a governor of any other state, I would hate his guts. It's a shame that the phrase "tax and spend liberal" is so overused, because it was tailor made for Martin O'Malley, because he loves, loves, loves to tax, and he loves to spend, big.

  • Justin V on May 07, 2013 1:39 PM:

    I actually used to think he was OK until I heard a snippet of a speech he gave (maybe the DNC in '04?) that was so overwrought and flowery that I wanted to gag. Going on about the "gleaming alabaster stones" of America or some such nonsense, but sounding like an actor on a stage trying WAY too hard. It was as if he wanted it to be its own subject in several books we would one day write about President O'Malley, but instead he sounded like the biggest douchebag in Walgreens.

  • john on May 07, 2013 1:43 PM:

    O'Malley married his way into power via the corrupt Curran family

  • john on May 07, 2013 1:46 PM:

    Justin V =Justin Shuy Republican activist.

  • Justin V on May 07, 2013 1:47 PM:

    Here's a fun story: When he was running against Bob Ehrlich in '08, they were both on WBAL 1090 AM and the subject turned to sports. O'Malley was asked, "Who do you consider as the best NFL defense of all time?" and O'Malley blurted out "THE 2000 RAVENS" like a kid on a quiz show that TOTALLY studied for that one, dude! That was his whole answer. He didn't even provide a reason, because he clearly had no idea why (or if) it was true. Just straight pandering, no chaser.

    So Bob Ehrlich spoke, and he sounded like a real person you might meet in your own crappy job. He said, "The 2000 Ravens defense was excellent, fewest points per game allowed of all time and all, but I have to give a slight edge to the 1985 Bears. I watched them all that year and I'm still in awe of what they did." Bob Ehrlich was wrong, but that's not the point. He was asked a question, and by God he had a pre-established opinion on the matter, regardless of politics.

    But O'Malley still won, phony that he is.

  • Justin V on May 07, 2013 1:51 PM:

    john = John Stamos, Hollywood celebrity

    john = John Rambo, Vietnam veteran with hundreds of confirmed kills

    john = John Harbaugh, Head coach of Ravens (if that's you, sir, I'm a huge fan)

  • The Globalizer on May 07, 2013 2:43 PM:

    lolnononono...

    As a former resident of Baltimore City and Maryland, this is epic BS. The disgraced Sheila Dixon was a better mayor of Baltimore by orders of magnitude.

  • bob on May 07, 2013 4:49 PM:

    When that 3 am call comes in at the White House, who would you want taking the call, Martin O'Malley or Chris Christie? Yeah, I thought so. Martin O'Malley for president? Don't make me laugh.

  • Geeureek on May 07, 2013 4:58 PM:

    So the socialist commie thing does not concern you? Oh, it is what excites you! Got it total rubbish joke of an article.

  • Vincent on May 07, 2013 6:46 PM:

    He also supported a bill that will give Maryland the highest gas prices in the region ... 20 cents per gallon on average.... OUCH! He also raises taxes on those making over 100K. not exactly rich in Montgomery County. Make no mistake ... he a big time liberal.

  • MarkJ on May 07, 2013 6:56 PM:

    Everything that Haley Sweetland Edwards (try saying her name three times in rapid succession!) says about Martin O'Malley is true......


    .....in the bizarro universe they both inhabit.

  • Wilson on May 07, 2013 9:12 PM:

    So the comments have been clownsourced to the tinfoil hat brigade. The stupid is strong with these twits.

  • flyingcow on May 07, 2013 11:10 PM:

    Let's review the taxes/fees that O'Malley has provided to his fellow Marylanders during the past 6 years:

    * Gas Tax hike
    * Sales Tax hike
    * Alcohol Sales Tax hike
    * Rain Tax
    * Flush Tax Increase
    * Bridge/Tunnel Toll Tax Increase
    * Surcharge fee for windmills
    * Surcharge fee for power company infrastructure
    * Hundred thousandaire tax
    * Millionaire tax
    * Hospital tax on beds
    * Corporation tax increase
    * Death certificate fee increase
    * Birth certificate fee increase
    * Tobacco tax increase
    * Vehicle title tax increase
    * More than 30 tax and fee increases confiscating 7
    billion dollars from Maryland families
    * Record high debt to the point of placing Maryland on
    the Triple A Watch List
    * Gun bill
    * Allowed convicted felons to vote
    * New college for prison inmates
    * Early release policies for violent criminals
    * Mismanagement of the state's prison system
    * Amnesty for juvenile criminals
    * Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants
    * In-state college tuition for illegal immigrants
    * Public benefits to attract more illegal aliens to
    Maryland
    * 2 billion dollars in hidden taxes and costs to
    support 300,000 illegals in Maryland, with more taxes
    AND illegal immigrants on the way
    * Increases from $50 million to more than $200 million
    dollars in costs for English language training
    * Same sex marriage
    * Stole taxpayers' money from state trust funds in
    order to balance a dishonest budget
    * Confiscated more than $1 billion dollars from the
    transportation trust fund
    * Used most of the gas tax revenue and transportation
    trust fund to subsidize busses, light rail, and
    subways creating a welfare mass transit system
    * Speed cameras
    * Created a big brother type state government with
    authority over local county governments with Plan
    Maryland and Smart Growth
    * Created an extremist environmental atmosphere,
    harming agriculture, farming, and small business
    * Lost 100,000 jobs, lost 10,000 small businesses, and
    lost more than 40,000 residents since the beginning
    of his term in office

  • TtwoT on May 08, 2013 12:51 AM:

    This is the craziest article I've ever read. Gov. O'Malley? Seriously? When I hear Maryland news, it is so depressing. Constant tax hikes. Gun grabbing laws. Repealing the death penalty in Maryland.

    O'Malley might have the aspirations to be president of the U.S., but it will never happen. NEVER !!!

  • SA on May 08, 2013 10:33 AM:

    It sounds like the author of this factually-challenged, pro-O'Malley puff piece is looking for a job at his press secretary.

  • knapweed on May 08, 2013 10:56 AM:

    Indeed, a puff piece for a Dem apparatchik. O'Malley is way to left to cut it outside of a very blue base.

  • toowearyforoutrage on May 10, 2013 12:09 PM:

    Astounding amounts of conservative posting. Honestly, the Republican Attack Machine needs to diversify a bit.

    That said, they're largely right.
    O'Malley had a chance to derail a 42 billion dollar toll-road that's only getting costlier because they lowered the tolls and the bonds will take longer to pay.

    Even now the road is grossly underused and the state road fund is completely depleted. O'Malley's idea? Gas Tax!

    Why'd he build teh road, so a real estate developer contributor of his could build Konterra, a new city on the main drag I-95. Look for yourselves www_konterra_com.

    The fact this would be a toll road was well buried by local media bought and paid for by the business community that has a majority of Democrats in their back pocket.

    Maryland has some terrific liberal Dems, but they don't seem to make it to the top levels of government.

    Instead, we get pretenders like O'Malley who passed unconstitutional gun laws and gay marriage in the same year he's running for president.

    He did NOTHING you would call progressive since he was elected in 2006. His lieutenant Governor is running now. That means he's quitting in 2014 and he's trying to shore up his WEAK progressive branding.

    Conservatives will like O'Malley just fine (for a Democrat). These trolls are just spouting the usual "too-liberal" nonsense. I only WISH!

    I'd like to think after 2006's awakening within the party that we'll reject him in the primary and find more substance. If elected, O'Malley will run to the center and beyond so fast Usain Bolt will be left gobsmacked.

  • pipo on May 14, 2013 5:24 PM:

    The conservative comments on a liberal website are just ridiculous - they accuse him of raising taxes, tougher gun control, and abolishing the death penalty. Well no kidding Sherlocks! In case you didn't notice, that is what liberals want to do. Do you see liberals posting on National Review how bad it is to have a Bible brandishing, climate change denier as President?

    I live in Montgomery County so can't quite comment on Baltimore or toll roads up north, but all I know is that Maryland is the richest state (by median household income), and has the best school system (four years running). Also, he got reelected with a 4% bump in 2010, so it's probably not true that everyone hates him.

  • amrobinson on May 31, 2013 1:32 AM:

    Isn't this the guy who fled his own state during the never ending snowstorm-caused power outage of 2012?

    When the unionized state power agency sat on its hands and let the outage drag on and on, while O'Malley toured the country?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/outage-outrage-the-politics-of-electricity/259314/

  • Gin on July 06, 2013 10:35 PM:

    "Also, he got reelected with a 4% bump in 2010, so its probably not true that everyone hates him."

    It just means that the voters in Montgomery, Prince George and Baltimore Counties are hitting the Absinthe a bit too much every election!