O’Malley-Ehrlich Gubernatorial Debate: Judging on Substance in a Recession

–Richard E. Vatz

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich don’t like each other. Gov. Ehrlich called Gov. O’Malley “Guv” during their debate. Gov. O’Malley interrupted Gov. Ehrlich several times during his answers. Gov. O’Malley was arguably better in his elocution than Gov. Ehrlich.

Spare me the irrelevant and nearly-irrelevant concerns.

There are debates in times in which extraneous matters should matter, but a debate for who will become Governor in a terrible recession should not be one of them.

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This debate, like the general description regarding the 1964 U.S. presidential election, is about “a choice, not an echo.”

On issue after issue there was a clear difference between the two candidates: Gov. O’Malley thinks that the current economic problems in Maryland would be much worse without his leadership, and Gov. Ehrlich thinks such problems would not be as great. Gov. O’Malley thinks that a more powerful and active state government is the answer to many of our problems, while Gov. Ehrlich thinks such government activism is a major cause of Maryland’s problems and will perpetuate and exacerbate them.

The crippling unemployment problems here are much less than elsewhere in the country, said Gov. O’Malley. Gov. Ehrlich said that relieving the unfriendly business climate is the key to solving such problems and without such action we can expect the continuing egress of major businesses and wealthy people from the state.

Gov. O’Malley proudly points to the share-the-wealth and share-the-pain philosophy that recommends a 4-year tuition freeze in state supported colleges and universities. Gov. Ehrlich points out that this is a zero-sum game in which education may be somewhat cheaper for students, but academic programs and employees pay the price. Current revenue shortfalls undermine universities’ ability to grow and stay competitive with other states’ universities and the ability to attract top faculty. The growth of Towson University has been stunted by the tuition freeze, but some students’ matriculation is less expensive.

Immigration? This issue deserves more salience, according to hard conservatives, but when Gov. O’Malley refers to the relative innocuousness of “New Americans” and Gov. Ehrlich argues that we need to act resolutely against illegal immigration, they are anything but Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Gov. O’Malley makes fair argument that no governor wants to do away with government. Gov. Ehrlich makes an equally fair argument that every time there’s a problem, Gov. O’Malley looks to government for the solution.

There may be some relevance in fact-checking this debate. The Sun says that Gov. O’Malley was imprecise on some of his factual allegations relating to state budget expenditures and job loss, both issues being relevant to matters such as whether state and federal government should be the source of job creation, income redistribution, etc.

The stark substantive difference in this campaign is that Gov. O’Malley wants a more collectivist state with increasing tax and spending power. Gov. Ehrlich believes that less state activism and control is the key to freeing up private enterprise to rescue the economy of Maryland.

If ever a debate should be adjudicated by substance, it was this one. Focusing on irrelevant personal and elocutionary matters is a luxury serious, hard-hit-by-recession voters cannot afford.

The winner of the debate on substance: Governor Ehrlich.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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