Today, Governor Martin O'Malley called upon mortgage firms to accept a voluntary moratorium on further foreclosures in Maryland.
Now, I must admit, when I heard this, I audibly scoffed. That must be my inner cynical Republican coming out. Some of the other Republicans with whom I shared this development scoffed as well. To us, it seemed like an emply gesture. While no one wants to see people tossed out of their homes, the idea of financial institutions embracing such a moratorium in a recession seemed like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy on the part of Governor O'Malley, as well an example of a public official grandstanding in an election year.
As a policy proposal, O'Malley's suggestion rings hollow. But as a campaign tactic, it is a shrewd maneuver, the purpose of which is to create a wedge between O'Malley and his Republican opponent, Bob Ehrlich.
I worked for Bob Ehrlich long enough to know that, when he thinks a proposal is wrongheaded or simply a dumb idea, he does not care to conceal his feelings. That is why he infamously referred to multiculturalism as "bunk" during a WBAL appearance during his term as Governor. That's why he dismissed recent advice that he reach out to Brian Murphy supporters, instead expressing a preference to work with party leaders, "who have actually won elections." And, when he reacts that way, he and his people typically spend the next few days trying to re-explain the real meaning of his original comment.
So, while Bob Ehrlich does not like dumb ideas, he really dislikes those coming from his nemesis. I'm therefore betting that, when Ehrlich is asked about O'Malley's proposal on the record, he will be tempted to smirk and cite it as further evidence of the fact that O'Malley does not understand how private sector financial institutions operate.
That would be a mistake, as this is precisely the reaction Team O'Malley is trying to provoke.
If Ehrlich dismisses O'Malley's mortgage proposal out of hand, he will set himself up as insensitive to the needs of struggling homeowners. Team O'Malley will accuse him of "siding" with banks and financial institutions instead. The logic and substance behind Ehrlich's opposition will be lost in the spin. So, his team should think very carefully before responding. Another off-the-cuff, flippant, "What do you think Greg?" response could prove really damaging.
This is a pitch in the dirt. Unless Team Ehrlich can respond in a way which conveys empathy to at-risk homeowners, they should not swing at it at all.