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"The Politics of Higher Purpose": An Interview With Martin O'Malley

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Reprinted from The Nation

The Democratic presidential candidate critiques the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders and the interventionism of Hillary Clinton--and accepts the criticism from Black Lives Matter.

Martin O'Malley
Martin O'Malley
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Martin O'Malley is running a serious race for the presidency, in which he has courageously defended immigrants, refugees, and Muslims while arguing for bold gun-control policies. But do contemporary politics reward seriousness and courage? As one of three remaining Democratic contenders -- with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders -- O'Malley gets good reviews for debate performances and speeches. Yet the former Maryland governor's poll numbers are modest. Undaunted, he tells John Nichols that "the politics of higher purpose" can prevail."

Martin O'Malley: Yes, the politics of higher purpose -- that's what's always drawn me to public service. I believe that the power of politics isn't money. It's the beliefs that unite us, when they are actually tapped -- when a leader is willing to make him- or herself vulnerable for the sake of those values. I'm the only one in this race who's again and again staked my political future on issues of principle, whether it was driver's licenses for new immigrants, the Dream Act, or ending the death penalty. When we moved to repeal the death penalty, there wasn't a single adviser in my circle who said, "This is really great politics."

JN: You often put immigrant rights, ending the death penalty, taking on the NRA, and other issues in a moral context. Do you see this as a way to break gridlock?

MO: I think there's a yearning right now, a desire in our country for a politics of higher purpose. I do believe that people want a leader who will speak to the goodness within us and not pander to fears. The politics of fear and division is a very simple calculus. Short-term, it can really make candidates all the fashion rage. But I've never found that fear and anger and division is the stuff that builds up a nation.

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