Better Not, Beto
March 23, 2019 | Often hailed as charismatic and energetic in an era of politics where personality matters above all else, Beto certainly seems like a shining star in a crowded primary race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Indeed, his charm and age often provoke memories of the last Democratic president, Barack Obama. Those calling him the next Obama, however, should think critically about who Beto O’Rourke is as a candidate and what he supports.
In a full disclaimer, I supported Beto’s run for senate against Ted Cruz back in 2018. It is practically axiomatic at this point that Cruz is the scum of the earth, and Beto’s bilingual and vivacious campaign in a traditionally red state was inspirational to me, even as a blue voter in Oregon. I donated to his campaign and was happy to sing his praises to anyone who would listen. His loss in November was accordingly disappointing, if expected, but I was grateful that he was part of a broader movement to bring energy to blue voters in Texas.
Throughout his campaign for senate, pundits and reporters alike commented on his presidential appeal and potential 2020 run. That increased ten-fold after he lost his senate bid, which was also when I started to question both his ability to be president and to campaign for the office in the first place.
Long story short, Beto is a weird dude.
That is, to be fair, part of his appeal. Even so, his skateboarding through Whataburger parking lots seems like a breath of fresh air until two realizations sink in: his “coolness” is his campaign and he has no substantive platform. Who is Beto O’Rourke and what does he stand for, aside from standing on things? If you look past the surface, there is little to be had—the opposite of most Democratic primary candidates running now.
One could argue that Beto’s vagueness and flip-flopping on policy issues grants his platform flexibility and lends him broad appeal to voters in a time where polarization is strong. In his own words, Beto is “for everyone” and declines to label himself either a centrist or progressive within his own party. On the other hand, he often takes a stance contrary to his party on issues that might rub voters the wrong way, including counter-party stances on oil and even the invasion of Ukraine. The former may be somewhat understandable, given his roots in Texas, but the latter stance is simply confusing. He has since stated that he has no doubts that President Donald Trump colluded with Russia in 2016 and has also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to NATO. Where were these strong opinions when a land war in Europe was starting?
Beto has similarly changed his views on other issues, including the expansion or restriction of Social Security benefits, and has even had issues over the years with his stance on the legalization of marijuana and other controlled substances. While every politician should be expected to act on the wishes of their constituents, Beto seems to listen to whoever is loudest in the room at the time. Beto has a greater resemblance to a jellyfish, floating wherever the current takes him, than to an intentional candidate with intentional ideas. I still do not know who Beto O’Rourke is as a proponent of policy matters. That is something he is aware of, previously stating that he has not “figured it all out.” This does not inspire confidence in someone seeking the most powerful office in the world, and his candor on the matter is unhelpful.
Beyond policy, purely strange matters come to light in regards to Beto O’Rourke. This includes silly things like his aforementioned habit of climbing on top of countertops in cafes and restaurants (but why, though? He is six-foot-four) and live-streaming his dental cleaning. It includes off-putting things like literally eating dirt and then taking some home for his family to also eat. It also includes damaging things, like his decades-old record of drinking and driving. While Democrats generally do not care about this last issue, Republicans have already made a field day of it and would continue to do so in a general election. Because of the GOP’s impressive ability to seize on one flaw of their opponent until the party wins out, Beto’s many quirks are a serious political risk not to be overlooked.
I respect his past goal of flipping a Texas senate seat blue. That was a legitimate, lofty, yet feasible political goal that would have done the Democratic Party, Texas, and the nation serious good. His presidential campaign seems more like an extended soul-searching quest after his defeat in Texas, a feel-good moment for his ego, perhaps, but done without careful organization and direction. It is a risky move for a nation facing major problems and a slap in the face to the other hard-working candidates—many of whom are LGBTQ+, POC, and women—who have truly have their nation, not their egos, first in mind.
If the nation is looking for a young, charismatic, qualified man to become the next president of the United States, Pete Buttigieg or Cory Booker are far better options. A lost soul who is seeking the presidency because he feels he was “born to be in it” is not the answer.
Sophia Freuden is a criminal defense paralegal with a background in international affairs and Russian studies.
The views expressed in this piece do not reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror itself.
Photo by crockodile for Flickr with a CC BY 2.0 license.