August 20, 2019

Can Beto Make a Comeback?

“It’s not easy to get Beto O’Rourke to speak disparagingly about anyone. I’ve tried. He will condemn divisiveness, injustice, bad policies, inequality, and the corruption of American politics by corporate money. He believes our democracy is in danger. He’s running for the Democratic Party’s 2020 Presidential nomination, so these are not unexpected themes, and yet O’Rourke, who is tall and spare and deep-voiced, delivers them with unusual earnestness. He admits that the line that sparks the most reliable applause from his campaign crowds ends with the phrase “defeat Donald Trump.” But he doesn’t use it much. The big problems—climate change, health care, immigration, hyper-partisanship—didn’t originate with Trump, after all. O’Rourke regularly invokes a vision of national unity as the only way forward. “All of us have a seat at the table. All of us matter,” he says. “I want to show up for everybody.”

What, you may wonder, does that mean? Texas got a preview of this vaulting ambition, this post-partisan show-up politics, when O’Rourke challenged Ted Cruz for his U.S. Senate seat in 2018. No Democrat had won statewide office in Texas since 1994. O’Rourke, who is a youthful forty-six, was an obscure three-term congressman from El Paso, a border town far removed from the halls of Texas power and wealth. He vowed to visit all two hundred and fifty-four counties in Texas, and he did, usually driving himself. “We went to places so red you could see them glowing from outer space,” he says. “Places that went ninety-seven per cent for Trump. Nobody had bothered to visit those people before. I learned so much. If you want to serve people, you gotta listen to them.” He live-streamed his travels on Facebook. He never hired a pollster or a political adviser. He refused donations from political-action committees and corporations. And the campaign gained traction. Volunteers started liking, sharing, leafletting, knocking on doors.

The world beyond Texas took note after a video clip from a town hall in Houston drew forty-four million views in a couple of weeks. O’Rourke got an audience question about N.F.L. players taking a knee during the national anthem. Was that not disrespectful to members of the armed forces? “My short answer is no, I don’t think it’s disrespectful,” O’Rourke said. Not a practitioner of the sound bite, he then gave a four-minute response that soared through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, through Taylor Branch’s book “Parting the Waters” and Rosa Parks. He placed the N.F.L. protests in that civil-rights tradition, an effort to call attention to violence against black youth today: “I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere, anyplace. Thank you very much for asking the question. I appreciate it.””

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"On Christmas Eve of 1966, Paddy Roy Bates, a retired British army major, drove a small boat with an outboard motor seven miles off the coast of England into the North Sea. He had sneaked out of his house in the middle of the night, inspired..."

"The book that changed lecturer, activist, and current presidential candidate Marianne Williamson’s life, A Course in Miracles, is not available for free online, but its workbook is. You can find it on the website for the Foundation for..."

"Here are two sets of statements from far-distant opposites in the climate change debate. The first is from Naomi Klein, who in her book This Changes Everything paints a bleak picture of a global socioeconomic system gone wrong: “There is a..."

"Voters who trust their government — and each other — are more supportive of ambitious welfare states than those who do not. Across nations, high levels of social trust correlate with high levels of social spending. The relationship between these..."

"With the presidential campaign under way, expect to hear a lot more about a shiny new toy of progressive economic thinking, “modern monetary theory.” It seems to be the only intellectual contortion that might allow candidates to promise..."

"“We don’t want to fight y’all. We’re not trying to go to jail.” That’s what A$AP Rocky, the 30-year-old New York City rapper, can be heard saying in a video of an encounter with strangers in Sweden that has ballooned into an international crisis."

"Israel’s top officials are considering denying Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib entry to their country due to their outspoken, controversial criticism of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians, not to mention their slurs against American Jews as..."

"For most of our lives, we have been conditioned to share a piece of personal information without a moment’s hesitation: our phone number. We punch in our digits at the grocery store to get a member discount or at the pharmacy to pick up..."