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Hogan's second inaugural and the politics of self-sacrifice

The bulk of Gov. Larry Hogan’s second inaugural address was vintage Hogan. Lots of paeans to bipartisanship, the value of compromise and putting the people ahead of politics, plus some unflattering comparisons to the morass that is the nation’s capital. Mr. Hogan’s critics may have choked on some bits from the speech like the assertion, “Do the right thing and the politics will work itself out – that was our plan” coming from one of the most adroit politicians Maryland has seen in recent times. However, on balance, Annapolis has operated much more smoothly under divided government during the last four years than Washington has at any point in decades. Mr. Hogan preached a drama-free, workaday politics in which the parties get together, hash out their differences and meet in the middle in a way that lowers the collective blood pressure of the general populace.

But there was something else in the speech, too. Mr. Hogan made reference to several other leaders who had the bad luck to live in much more fraught times than the ones the governor described from his first term and promised for his second. He opened the speech with a reference to George Washington resigning his commission in the Annapolis State House. He praised George H.W. Bush, whose decision to raise taxes helped stabilize the nation’s finances but may have cost him a second term. He paid loving tribute to his father, the late Larry Hogan Sr., whose own career in Congress was irrevocably derailed by his early call for the impeachment of his fellow Republican, Richard Nixon. He talked about attending the funeral of Sen. John McCain, who suffered years of torture as a prisoner of war rather than accept favorable treatment, only to be mocked for it late in life by a president of his own party. He mentioned Harry Truman, whose decisions in setting up the post-war world made him as unpopular when he left office as Mr. Hogan is popular in taking it.

We certainly hope that the next four years proceed as calmly and collegially as Mr. Hogan promised in this address, that Maryland’s “middle temperament” holds true and he is able to leave office four years from now with his character untested. But the lesson of all those other leaders Mr. Hogan mentioned in his speech is that politics has a way of forcing hard choices on those who seek to practice it with integrity. Some, like Washington, will be forced to choose between their own power and the principles they seek to uphold. Some, like Larry Hogan Sr., have to decide between their partisan affiliations and their conscience. Some, like McCain, must suffer hardships to do what they believe is right and lose friends by saying what they believe. Some, like Truman and Bush, discover that the politics do not, in fact, work themselves out just because you do the right thing.

Mr. Hogan has been blessed to govern during a time of relative prosperity. How will he react if the good times come to an end and he is forced to make difficult choices? Even if we avoid a recession, Mr. Hogan is staring down a conflict between his commitment to fully fund education and his promise to block any tax increases. If it comes down to it, is he, like the elder George Bush, willing to sacrifice his popularity to promote the greater good? Governor Hogan has suffered few consequences for the occasions on which he has criticized his fellow Republican, President Donald Trump. But with the Mueller investigation nearing completion and the White House girding for real scrutiny now that Democrats control the House of Representatives and have the power of the subpoena, the lines of standing with or against the president may soon get a lot sharper. Will Larry Hogan Jr. be prepared to take a stand the way Larry Hogan Sr. was?

Today’s ceremony included several references to Mr. Hogan’s approval rating and some joking about whether he is in fact the most popular governor in America. We don’t begrudge him his good standing with voters; heck, we endorsed the guy. But the question Governor Hogan faces in his second term is whether he sees high approval ratings as a goal in themselves or as a tool for achieving the greater good. We know what the leaders Mr. Hogan referred to in his speech would have said about that, and we hope he does too.

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