O'Malley Talks About "Growing Gap of Injustice"

Jul 31, 2015

These are the remarks, as delivered, by former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley as he opened his Iowa campaign headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa on May 30, 2015.

Thank you. So, let me ask a question of Des Moines, Iowa. Are you ready to move our country forward? Are you ready to take on the challenges of our times? Do you believe we need new leadership? Do you believe that there is no problem greater than our capacity as a people to overcome it? Well, if you answered yes to all of those questions then I’m glad to tell you that today, I am a candidate for President of the United States, and I thank you all for coming out here. We’re kind of set up for a press conference in a way and I know that there’s a lot of people here so bear with me. Then, I guess, we’ll do questions here.

But let me ask you a question right off the bat, show of hands. How many of you believe very firmly that you have enjoyed a better quality of life than your parents and grandparents enjoyed? Raise your hands. How many of you… Second question… believe just as firmly that your children and grandchildren will enjoy a better quality of life than you’ve enjoyed? And that, my friends, is the central question on the table of democracy that we share, because there is a growing gap of injustice in our country today. And, that gap is the gap between the strong nation and the just nation that our children and grandchildren need for us to be and the country we’re in danger of becoming. We need to change our economics. We need to transform our politics. And, we need to return to our true selves in order to make our children winners in this changing economy. And, this is not rocket science. These are things we already know how to do. Let me explain.

When I was elected governor of Maryland, and I am the only candidate in this race with 15 years of executive experience, we decided to practice the middle-out and the middle-up economics that our parents and grandparents practiced that actually built up our country. We understood that the economy is not money. The economy is people. And, we put people in the center of every decision that we made. So, we became the first state to pass a living wage. We raised the minimum wage. We made it easier for people to collectively bargain for better pay. And, instead of doing less for education, and less for our kids, and less… we actually did more. And, we made our schools the best public schools in America five years in a row. We went four years in a row without a penny’s increase to college tuition. So, we made college more affordable for more people, and we invested more in infrastructure. We invested more in R & D and the things that actually create the new jobs of the new economy. And along the way, not only did we practice the economics of greater inclusion. We also practiced the politics of greater inclusion. And, that meant doing a number of things differently than what some of those Republican governors were doing, practicing the politics of exclusion and the politics of economic exclusion. Instead, we passed the Dream Act. We passed marriage equality, and we made it easier for people to vote.

The challenge before us today is to do the things that actually make the American Dream real and true for all families. We have done some terrific things as a party to save our country from a second Great Depression. President Obama made the tough choices and our country’s doing better than it was. But the hard truth of our times is this, 70% of us are actually earning less today, the same or less today, than we were 12 years ago. And that, my friends, is the first time that that has happened this side of World War II. We need to change that. We need to build an economy that works for all of us, again.

My parents were part of that generation born to the Depression, and then my dad was part of that generation that won the Second World War. He flew 33 missions over Japan in a B-24 Liberator. And, he went to college only because of a far-seeing and generous country that sent him to college on the GI-Bill. And my mom, by the way, at the age of 17, flew in the Civil Air Patrol in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and protected Indiana’s coastline from German U-Boat incursion. But the point of this little story is this: They raised the six of us to understand something really important about our country. They would have never accepted the title for themselves of the Greatest Generation. Because they told us the greatness of country is that every generation has the ability and the responsibility to be great. And so, too, do we.  So, together, look, we need to do the things that actually work to make wages rise again. Republicans and Democrats in years past always would raise the minimum wage so that it stayed above the poverty line and we need to practice that same economic inclusion. And, not only do we need to raise the minimum wage, we need to pay overtime pay for overtime work, and we need to make it easier for people to join labor unions. We need to invest more in our children’s education. We need to make college more affordable instead of saddling our kids with a lifetime of debt. And, we need to do a couple of other things, as well.

Look, for 70 years, we were able to protect our common good and our national economy from excesses and risky speculation on Wall Street. We learned the lesson the hard way, and for 70 years we managed to protect our economy. But, then, somehow along the way, we repealed Glass-Steagall, and the commercial banks and the investment banks with all of us standing ready to bail them out, not that anybody asked us ahead of time. They wrecked our economy. They caused millions of people to lose their jobs, and then to lose their homes. Tell me how it is in the United States of America that you can get pulled over for a broken tail light but if you wreck the nation’s economy you are untouchable? And, I don’t think it’s too much for the American people to expect that their federal government will step-up, will prosecute cheats, will reinstate Glass-Steagall, and if a bank is too big to fail without wrecking our national economy then it’s too damn big and it needs to be broken up before it breaks us again.

You know recently, some of you… Before I was governor I served as Mayor of Baltimore. I was elected in 1999. And, in that year we had become the most violent city in America. We brought people together and we made our city a safer and better place. So, you can only imagine after some record reductions in violent crime, how heartbreaking it was, as all of you watched on your television sets, as the rage erupted in our city and in some of our hardest hit and humblest neighborhoods. There is something to be learned from that night, and I believe something to be offered to our country from those flames. And it is this, and it is not limited to cities, evidence the large numbers of young white kids who are killing themselves in despair with heroin in the suburbs and towns all across America. We have created an economy that is upside down and backwards that tells half of our citizens that they are quite literally worth less today than they were 12 years ago and will be worth less still going into the future. We have told whole swaths of our population, especially concentrated in America’s cities that they are unneeded, that they are unheard, and that they are unnecessary. And the unemployment in our bones erupts in our hands in stones. In other words, we have created conditions of extreme poverty that create conditions of extreme violence. When a country reaches a point where we have concentrated wealth and power in the hands of so very few that is sucking opportunity out of the homes of the many, there are only two paths for us. One is a sensible rebalancing for our common good. And, the other, is pitchforks.  This is not how our economy is supposed to work. This is not how our country is supposed to work. We are better than this and we must do better. We must make the American Dream live and true again in our country for all Americans.

And so, look, no one is going to do this for us. And the great news is, as Americans, as architects of our own future, and that’s what we are, we can make the better choices to create that future. We can help 11 million of our neighbors come out of the shadows and be a full part of this enterprise by passing comprehensive immigration reform. We can not only launch a new agenda to make American cities places of hope and opportunity, we can step up to the challenge of climate change, embrace it as a business opportunity and create an American jobs agenda for the climate challenge.

And so friends, it comes down to this… I know we’re going to open it up to questions and answers… because this is Iowa.  Right? Last time I was here the people started chanting in the back Q and A, Q and A. So, look by golly if you have answers, we want to hear those first because none of us has all the answers. Not one Party, not any ideology. We’re all in this together. And, we need to figure this out together because in the final analysis, it’s not about the big banks. It’s not even about big money trying to buy our elections. It’s about us. And, it’s about whether or not we still have the will to be great Americans through our actions, through our compassion, through our generosity, through our caring for one another. It’s OK to care. Actually it’s what made us the Land of Opportunity.

I need your help. We have a tough road ahead of us. But I am absolutely convinced if we speak over the horizon to the compassion and the generosity in the hearts of the next generation of Americans. If we act like Americans again, if we return to our true selves our best days are not going to be found in a history book because you and I together are going to write them. Thanks very, very much.

Q and A follows