The Case Against Beto O' Rourke
In the wake of a truly historic midterm cycle, wherein more women and people of color were elected to Congress than ever before, former Obama administration official Dan Pfeiffer took to Crooked Media’s site to make... The Case for Beto O’ Rourke. At best, this take is premature and misguided and at worst, it is offensive and harmful. Instead of asking, “Why is Beto O’ Rourke considered so inspiring,” the insulated, privileged and self-righteous pundits of the coastal cities should be asking, “Why aren’t other 2020 prospects gaining equal traction?”
I’m a fan of Beto, and I’m a consumer of Crooked Media’s many podcasts, op-eds and tweets. But the company has more than an optics problem when it comes to race and gender; like the broader Democratic Party coalition and, obviously, the country, it has a real white male blindspot. I’m not self-sabotaging. If, in 18 months or so, it becomes clear that Beto actually will become the Democratic Party’s nominee for President, of course I will vote for him. But before we consider that outcome inevitable, Democrats need to humbly examine our inner biases, and consider what is genuinely best for the country moving forward.
Lots of pundits—amateur and professional—across social media are hailing the 2020 campaign as Beto’s “moment”—much like how Obama staffers justified his run against Hillary Clinton in 2008. Never mind that she had more experience, more qualifications, a more rigorous platform, and widespread party support—he had enthusiasm, dammit. The momentum was behind his campaign. This was his “moment,” and 2020 is Beto’s. Or so the argument goes.
But reflect on the last two years. Since Trump’s election in 2016, the country has witnessed a groundswell of progressive activism, largely led by young women of color. Grassroots organizers and their volunteers built the foundation for the Blue Wave, and for many subsequent electoral victories. The coalition of people knocking doors, making phone calls, giving money and planning protests was diverse—in age, socioeconomic status, ideology, race, religion and gender. One hundred women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. The first Muslim woman. The first Native woman. The first female senators from Arizona and Tennessee. The first Black female senator from Massachusetts.
The truth is, this is clearly not Beto’s moment. This is a moment for women. I resent the fact that commentators feel so defensive of Beto’s “chance” to become President, but so dismissive of women’s hopes to break that glass ceiling. Frankly, it is disrespectful to the throngs of women who have put their lives on hold for the past two years; who have sacrificed time with their families; who have donated money they barely had; who have traveled hundreds of miles to attend rallies to make our party more diverse and our country stronger. It is an insult to them all to suggest they haven’t earned this moment. And it is foolhardy to ignore that without the support of women and people of color, Democrats could not have achieved their historic victory earlier this month. The party needs those people, and the country does, too.
Leading up to a presidential election where Democrats have an unusually wide, diverse and talented potential field, why was Beto the only one seen as having “broad appeal”? Especially when he has possibly the least legislative and executive experience? Why do we consider him the most likely to win on a national stage? Why? Isn’t Kamala Harris inspiring? Doesn’t she make grand, eloquent, progressive, moving speeches on the Senate floor? Hasn’t Kirsten Gillibrand taken a stand on important issues, and stood up for women’s rights? Did Amy Klobuchar not succeed wildly in the Democrat-unfriendly Midwest? Has Elizabeth Warren not railed against corporate greed for her entire decades-long career?
The Democratic Party needs to take a hard look in the mirror. Despite dozens of potential candidates, we have unified around a relatively unqualified white man. It’s worth questioning why he is what makes us feel comfortable, why his candidacy seems destined and safe. Personally, I resent it. And I know it’s easier said than done, particularly when you’re politically ambitious and have such a natural talent for riling up a crowd, as Beto is and does—but if he truly wanted to do what was best for the country, and assure that we progressed, he would bow out. In order for the status quo to change, eventually those with privilege need to willingly sacrifice it. The progressive brand is not his alone, and the presidency is not his for the taking. He should tell his admirers that, in fact, 2020 is someone else’s moment.