Late last night, failed Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke confirmed to El Paso’s KTSM that he’s seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. This morning, he added a video to the mix, and Twitter exploded with furry jokes and fanfare (the way politics should be?).
This is all on the coattails of an obnoxiously fawning Vanity Fair profile that basically portrayed O’Rourke as the dream Gen Xer, heaping praise on his “floor-to-ceiling bookshelf [that] contains a section for rock memoirs (Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, a favorite) and a stack of LPs (the Clash, Nina Simone)” before showing off his intellectual side: a “sizable collection of presidential biographies, including Robert Caro’s work on Lyndon B. Johnson.”
If the Dylan-LBJ mix wasn’t enough for you, Vanity Fair also waxed poetic about O’Rourke’s age: “Whereas Obama is from the tail end of the baby boom, Beto O’Rourke is quintessentially Generation X, weaned on Star Wars and punk rock and priding himself on authenticity over showmanship and a healthy skepticism of the mainstream.”
In other words, 2020 contender Beto is getting a heavy lift from the media. Expect this to continue throughout the election, unfortunately. Of course, perhaps his candor and coolness is a double-edged sword — a selling point that makes profiles of him oh-so-colorful that media ilk just can’t resist churning them out, and a cringey furtherance of limousine liberal stereotypes that make him far too mockable on Twitter.
Beto's the candidate for ideologically noncommittal cultural liberals who mainly want a president that shares their music, TV, and movie preferences
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) March 14, 2019
A historic moment. The first furry running for prez. That we know of. https://t.co/qPlI3oj6kv
— Liz Wolfe (@lizzywol) March 14, 2019
Somehow, Beto manages to psych up hipsters in New York as well as soccer moms in strip mall-dotted Texas. That’s a good thing for fundraising, I’m sure, but perhaps part of the reason he has decently large appeal is because people use him as a massive Rorschach test, projecting their own beliefs onto him, given that he’s sometimes light on substance.
They just want a nice guy who is more palatable and woke than the current certifiable Bad Guy, and the sweet Gen Xer dad from El Paso surely fits the bill. And don’t even get me started on the dozen or so signs in my East Austin neighborhood that still express their Senate campaign Beto-doting (which can now apparently just stay up).
Beto is also beginning to receive the ire of your friendly neighborhood feminists for his presumably joking comments about how he “sometimes” helps his wife raise their three kids. How dare he? It will be interesting to see how the decently moderate Rorschach ink blob fares in a field of presidential contenders who seemingly keep pushing left (as their base, or at least a vocal fraction of it, demands).
I do not love this https://t.co/tFDZ11HfqU
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) March 14, 2019
On actual substance, there are some red flags and some glimmers of hope. He has a troubled past with eminent domain that reeks of familial privilege and doling out political favors, at Matt Welch noted at Reason. Also, if we’re speaking in liberal terms, he’s about as privileged as they come despite his humble El Paso ZIP code. Welch notes:
He clearly wants to tap into the Obama vein of American politics without, as a white man who married into wealth, having endured or accomplished as much. He supported as El Paso city councilman an eminent domain deal that would have (but never did) bulldoze the homes of barrio Latinos to the benefit of his own father-in-law. He was arrested for drunk driving in 1998 after hitting a truck at a high rate of speed and (according to one witness) trying to drive away from the scene, though the charges were ultimately dismissed after he completed a court-supervised diversion program.
Now, Beto doesn’t have half-bad policy ideas on a few issues. He has worthwhile ideas on immigration, from a libertarian perspective interested in helping more nonviolent people come into our country and find suitable work. If only we could get him to flesh them out more. He supports reform of some of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s practices. He does not support more intervention in endless wars in the Middle East.
He’s also not interested in waging trade wars or imposing tariffs, saying in 2018, “The tariffs imposed by this administration are hurting this country, and no state will bear more of the burden than Texas. It’s going to be hard for our cotton to find markets overseas, for the cattle we’re raising here to find their destination outside this country.” Trade wars and tariffs have awful economic effects, noted by Reason’s Eric Boehm here and here.
On criminal justice, O’Rourke seems to know what he’s doing. He’s expressed interest in eliminating the cash bail system that punishes people for being poor and restoring voting rights to the previously incarcerated.
He says, per an email sent to supporters, “We should end the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it, ensuring that they can get work, finish their education, contribute to the greatness of this country,” and “we need to end the failed war on drugs that has long been a war on people, waged on some people over other people. Who is going to be the last man — more likely than not a black man — to languish behind bars for possessing or using marijuana when it is legal in some form in more than half of the states in this country?”
He sometimes fixates on the idea of closing private prisons, which, though easy to drum up left-wing support for, would not affect the lives of most prisoners given that they make up such a small percentage of total prisons. The same criticism could perhaps be levied about the FIRST STEP Act, mind you.
He has somewhat twisted ideas on Second Amendment rights. Per The New York Times, O’Rourke is interested in “universal background checks, magazine size limits and restrictions on some semiautomatic weapons.” He’s no fan of concealed carry reciprocity and generally not a robust supporter of gun rights, which will surely please his liberal base. He’s extremely wishy washy on health care policy, so don’t expect that to be demystified anytime soon.
But don’t expect us to focus on any of those real issues. The media will be too busy writing profiles of him doing very normal things as if they’re exceptional. Speeding and empanadas, although lovely on their own merits, don’t make me vote for someone. They shouldn’t make you vote for someone either.