Laslo Boyd: Back away from your television

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It’s almost August, a traditional time for vacations, the absence of anything important in the news, and an opportunity to give your electronic devices a rest.  Even though most of us won’t take up that opportunity, you can be pretty certain that you won’t have missed much if you do.

I know, I know, how could you possibly not watch the Republican Presidential debate on August 6?  The appeal is a bit like watching a NASCAR race and waiting for a crash.  

First, there will be the edge of the seat suspense about who gets to participate.  Think about that for a minute.  Does it really matter which of the candidates doesn’t get into the televised debate?  Would you really think it was a more enlightening evening if Bobby Jindal were there?

And for the lucky 10 who are anointed by Fox as debate worthy, do you actually expect a serious discussion about public policy or the challenges facing this country?  You already know that it’s going to be a race to the bottom, a test of who can say the most outrageous thing.  When was the last time that Mike Huckabee or Ben Carson actually had something thoughtful to say? 

You’re going to watch anyway?  The appeal for many, I suspect, is to see whether Donald Trump can continue to dominate the proceedings and make even more outlandish remarks than he has up to now.  Many observers expect him to crash and burn in the way that some of the one-trick pony candidates of 2012 did.  Who can ever forget Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain?  Apparently, it turns out, most people have moved on without a second thought.

Trump may be different.  He is able to self-finance, which allows him not to worry about donors when he speaks.  Moreover, he is a much more skilled demagogue than anyone else in the field this year or in 2012.  

What’s most significant at this point about Trump’s candidacy is that none of the other candidates has shown any real political courage in taking him on.  These are the same people who promise they will handle Putin and the Ayatollah with no problem.   So far, the only skill any of them has shown is taking cheap shots at Barack Obama.

So, you’re unlikely to miss anything significant in the Republican presidential race by taking off the month of August.  There will still be four months until the Iowa caucus and they will surely all repeat many times anything that they said in August.

How about the Democrats?  For Marylanders, both supporters and critics of Martin O’Malley, the big question is whether he can get beyond single digits in the polls.  Entering the race with the strategic objective of being a viable alternative if Hillary Clinton imploded, the former Maryland governor couldn’t have planned on the phenomenon known as Bernie Sanders.

O’Malley needs to stay focused on running a smart and focused campaign regardless of his standing in the polls.  Being a long shot does give him more latitude to take positions which appeal to party progressives rather than politically calculated ones. He does seem to be taking advantage of that opportunity.   O’Malley’s biggest risk in the campaign is not losing, but discrediting his brand.  If he can avoid that, we may finally realize that this year’s effort is really about 2020 or 2024.

Meanwhile, we can reuse the “waiting for a crash at a NASCAR race” imagery to characterize coverage of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.  She may skid in the turns and may scrape another car, but none of her missteps, real or imagined, look like they will slow her march to the Democratic nomination.  Clinton has her flaws, but look at her potential opponents in a 2016 General Election. 

Lincoln Chafee and Jim Web are highly unlikely to catch fire and start exciting voters.  So, nothing of great significance will happen in August in the Democratic race.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll see any progress on the challenges facing Baltimore City either.   Larry Hogan fooled some observers early in his term by posing as “just plain Larry”, but he’s clearly a highly partisan Republican who’s only interests are cutting taxes and giving out benefits to his supporters.

If he were as principled as he purports to be, he wouldn’t be doling out funds from the gasoline tax increase passed over the objection of Republicans.  Instead, just about any road in a rural country that has room to be widened is receiving state funds, courtesy of an initiative taken by Martin O’Malley and the Democratic General Assembly.

Meanwhile, as his Administration pretends to be considering alternatives to the cancelled Red Line, Hogan’s Secretary of Transportation announces that there is no money left for any project in Baltimore.  That will teach city residents whom to vote for the next time.

The lesson is clear.  If you power down your electronic devices for the month of August, you won’t miss any breaking stories about transportation projects or new state economic initiatives in Baltimore.

Sounds like a great time to catch up on your reading. 

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.