Grading O'Malley as a communicator
Sometimes it seems hard to figure out just who the real Martin O’Malley is.
He came on the scene as the brash young mayor, not afraid to make enemies and show emotion.
His frustration and impatience often shined through, such as when he drew stick figures in an acerbic rebuke of the city’s state’s attorney over what he perceived as her reluctance in prosecuting gun crimes. The mayor threatened to fight a radio host who criticized his response to a 2002 firebombing that killed the Dawson family, and he later cried at a dedication service.
But sometime during his 2006 governor’s race, a switch of sorts was flipped. Perhaps he knew from polling that voters found him too brash, and he wasn’t going to give opponents a chance to exploit a weakness. He bit his lip. His responses to questions seemed measured and frequently canned.
He has largely kept that style for more than two years, governing through the worst fiscal crises in generations. About a year into his tenure, he cast himself as the mature leader who was going to take on the state’s fiscal problems once and for all. He called a special session to address a long-term imbalance between state revenues and expenses, and muscled through a sales tax increase and a slots referendum.
Predictably, his approval rating plummeted. So did the economy.
O’Malley’s poll numbers are coming back. But the governor doesn’t give himself very high marks for delivering his message.
“It’s much harder to communicate as governor than as mayor,” O’Malley told Thomas F. Schaller, the UMBC political science professor, in a column published in today’s Baltimore Sun. “It’s a much more diverse, diffuse audience.”
The statement offers a window into the governor’s thinking. It shows that he recognizes that he may not be able to quip or show sarcasm or anger in public – because large segments of the state population might not understand or appreciate it.
When asked by Schaller to grade himself as a communicator, the governor offered up a “C-.” It must have pained him to do so. He’s a history buff and a musician, steeped in literary Irish heritage and modern American politics. He’s toiled on speeches before the Democratic National Convention, and has seen them fall flat. Addressing a crowd of tens of thousands this month during Barack Obama’s appearance in Baltimore, he was booed.
Perhaps he hasn’t quite found the right balance of emotion, enthusiasm and responsibility. Perhaps, despite his apparent charisma and good looks, he isn’t as effective a speaker as his audiences expect.
What grade would you give O’Malley’s communication skills? And how would you advise him to improve?