Beto O’Rourke announced his run for the presidency on March 14 after teasing a run for several months.
The announcement certainly comes as no surprise after his very high profile and narrow loss to Ted Cruz in the 2018 Texas Senate race. It is also no surprise that public figures, journalists and comedians are questioning his merits to run, with both his resume and his announcement video leaving something to be desired.
I must pose the question: What does O’Rourke really bring to the race? A strong voice for the moderates? An inspiring Obama-esque message of unity? A youthful grassroots campaign which mobilizes the youth vote? I’d expect that he wants all of these qualifiers to apply to his campaign.
On the surface level, though, one could make the argument that he is a white, social-media savvy man with a short resume who recently lost a statewide election. And somehow, calculating all of these factors, he is still confident that he’s the best choice to be elected the leader of the free world.
In truth, I find O’Rourke to be the strongest of candidates which make up the middle portion of American politics. He has real crossover potential for on-the-fence voters with his messaging.
After Sherrod Brown announced he would not be running, Amy Klobuchar was revealed to be a problematic boss. With Howard Schultz still thinking about running as an independent, there is considerable room for a candidate who can best appeal to blue-collar white America (specifically the elusive Midwest).
With Joe Biden still teasing a run, however, Beto’s stature as the moderate panacea of American politics may be fleeting. Additionally, Beto’s moderatism may come from his lack of experience in office, unclear voting record and the way he’s marketed himself. He has praised long-term goals such as Medicare-for-all while remaining wary of the details and approach, which, depending on where you’re coming from, may be endearing and practical or spineless and dodgy.
Satirical websites, comedians, journalists and fellow politicians were additionally very quick to poke fun at Beto’s announcement video. The Onion put out an article about O’Rourke announcing a “Barack Obama cover election” and Donald Trump poked fun at his hand gestures.
Jimmy Fallon also joined in on the conversation with a parody video as well. His video seems very palatable for someone looking for a candidate with soaring rhetoric but not for someone who prefers a more issue-oriented approach. The critique that he is piggybacking off Obama’s 2008 run, then, seems well-founded.
My primary critique on Beto, however, is not his “Lite Obama” branding, his privilege as a white heterosexual man or his moderatism. It’s his lack of a true political platform. He touts his strengths in social media, closeness to the issue of border control and his bipartisan endeavors to push a message of unity but he has no specific campaign issue beyond that arguably empty concept.
While Elizabeth Warren has healthcare reform and Kamala Harris has criminal justice as top campaign issues, Beto clings to his platitudes on unity while remaining murky on what he actually stands for. In fairness, he only recently announced, but I am keeping my eyes peeled on his specific policy points before either embracing or denouncing his candidacy. After all, he can’t be “born” to be our country’s healer without channeling into what America needs and running on those specific issues. He can only ride the coattails of his Senate challenge, social media prowess and inspiring rhetoric for so long.