On Monday night, Martin O’Malley announced that he would suspend his campaign for president. O’Malley struggled to stay above even 4 percent in national polling. But in Iowa, he was shut out as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders dominated the race.
Back when he announced his candidacy in May of last year, O’Malley looked like a promising aspirant to the presidency. He was a generation younger than his two main rivals, a handsome former governor of Maryland who ran on a platform that included stricter gun-control laws and comprehensive immigration reform. He was an inspiration for Tommy Carcetti on The Wire, for Pete’s sake!
There was one other thing that made O’Malley stand out: his enduring, and endearing, love of Irish poetry. To be sure, plenty of politicians have been known to flirt with an interest in poetry, quoting it in speeches or toting around prestigious tomes. Jimmy Carter even published a collection of his own verse, though it was apparently not his finest work. (The prominent Yale literary critic Harold Bloom once called Carter “literally the worst poet in the United States.”)
O’Malley doesn’t just carry around the latest award-winning collection. He spouts obscure lines off the cuff. In 2011, O’Malley told The Irish Times that the Irish poet John O’Donohue was his current favorite. He kept a copy of O’Donohue’s “A Blessing for Leaders” (“When the way is flat and dull in times of grey endurance, / May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.”) under the glass on his desk at the governor’s office and quoted O’Donohue frequently. In May, he quoted the contemporary poet Seamus Deane on unemployment and violence to George Stephanopoulos. And here he is reciting Eavan Boland’s 1986 poem “The Emigrant Irish” last July to a crowd of Iowa picnickers. O’Malley knows the poem by heart, though he changed a Boland’s “dusk” to “dawn”—probably an innocent mistake, though it’s an appropriately sunny tweak for a politician.
O’Malley once had his own Irish band, O’Malley’s March, and his Irish-American identity is obviously a touchstone for him. To be fair, it’s hard to separate shtick from sincerity on the campaign trail. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, or wistfulness now that his campaign has reached its its end, but the fluency with which O’Malley made reference to poetry made it hard to interpret it as a cheap campaign ploy. Not to mention the fact that “demonstrated passion for Irish poetry” is not exactly a known lure for American voters.