Beto is the poor man's Obama — Dems can do better

Beto is the poor man's Obama — Dems can do better
© Getty Images

Beto O’Rourke is in! After a reverential Vanity Fair profile and awkward couch announcement at his home, he is now seeking to become ... something.

Speaking in vagaries and platitudes, Beto says he plans to make us all into the better people he hopes we can be. We’ve been through this with Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHow a global 'Manhattan Project' could end pandemics The big tent: Unifying America Minnesota health officials say graduation ceremony exposed people to coronavirus MORE — and have no reason to fall for a worse imitation 12 years later. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In many ways, Beto-mania is a poor man's version of Obama's ascension to the national stage in 2007. Obama had a similar unveiling before his presidential announcement in late 2006. Just a year and a half in office as an Illinois senator, he received the cover of Men’s Vogue from the same Annie Leibovitz who shot Beto’s iconic-jeans-next-to-a-pickup-truck look.

Beto’s moment on VF’s cover may be the same attempt to catch lightning in a bottle. But lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice very often. 

Some enterprising journalism student will soon have to write a profile about all of the profiles that were written about Beto during the Texas Senate race. But the number of Christ allegories are a symptom more of the press’ wishes than any accomplishments Beto had when he announced he is seeking the White House.

Obama was a phenomenon when he announced his candidacy in early 2007. With a squeaky clean family persona and 2004 convention speech that overshadowed John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden's New Deal Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil MORE’s, it was obvious that he could be a foil to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump escalates fight against mail-in voting Sunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase The Electoral College is not democratic — nor should it be MORE after her Iraq War vote.

Beto has none of that.

El Paso’s former congressman garnered national attention — and $70 million — for his hoped-for role of unseating Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic Parties gear up for battle over Texas state House Cruz threatens to stop federal agencies from cooperating with Hollywood over China 'censorship' MORE. Although Beto ultimately couldn’t finish the job, he came closer to unseating a Republican senator than any other Texas Democrat in the last 40 years.

It seems coming close only works in horseshoes and for aimless, white middle-aged millionaires.

Surprisingly, the personification of coming from a privileged family hasn’t hurt the candidate. To an astonishing degree, Beto taps into the inner workings of the Democratic base even more than intersectional candidates like Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Booker introduces bill to create 'DemocracyCorps' for elections On The Money: GOP senators heed Fed chair's call for more relief | Rollout of new anti-redlining laws spark confusion in banking industry | Nearly half of American households have lost employment income during pandemic MORE. He is an aimless product of privilege with a short resume and the added benefit of his wife's millions. He can skateboard, he can play guitar, he can make being unemployed look like an adventure. He can call in favors to get away with Aggravated DWI and fleeing the scene. For aspiring white trust funders just dropping off the keys at the Austin U-haul station, Beto speaks to them — for them — in a profound and shallow way.

Bizarrely, Beto’s improbable 2018 Senate campaign against Cruz almost proved a point about the power of white privilege, with a white man attacking a Latino son of a refugee, currying favor from the most tony estates in Williamsburg and Fairfax County.

Beto can replicate a portion of Obama's coalition of the I-would-be-successful-but-I-never-saw-the-point-of-trying branch of white young Democrats, as well as middle-aged liberal women, and garner garish profile pieces in glossy magazines each week. However, without building Obama's base among black voters and with the millennials financing Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden Julián Castro to become senior advisor for Voto Latino It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE's campaign with their student loan debt, Beto's lane may be closing in the Democratic primary.

ADVERTISEMENT

We can see his golden ticket to the nomination expiring in the early lefty coverage of his announcement. Although there is excitement surrounding Beto among many in the Democratic Party, it doesn’t extend to every corner. CNN published an op-ed about his run as dripping with white privilege. Paste declared him the candidate for “vapid morons.” Perhaps Slate of all places had the best pitch: why?

Political observers may be seeking the “why,” but the candidate surely isn’t. He made repeated firm denials last year that he wouldn’t run, and hasn’t seemed to justify the change of heart — the why of all of it. Last year he claimed it would tear apart his family; why run at this juncture, considering his 8-year-old son Henry would cry “every day” if his father went through with it? There doesn’t have to be a why, he will eventually say during a stump speech (I can imagine). There is only the possibility of greater things — why not?

Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke on Texas reopening: 'Dangerous, dumb and weak' Parties gear up for battle over Texas state House O'Rourke slams Texas official who suggested grandparents risk their lives for economy during pandemic MORE hasn't lived his life to be president. He's lived it to be a Kerouac novel sprinkled with perpetual aloofness. He's a mysterious figure ready to show that he is always seemingly thinking deep thoughts while actually demanding your adoration for its own sake. Many of the same outlets that cheered him on in 2018 will soon catapult him as their favorite candidate, even if he doesn't explode in the polls.

America — and even the Democratic Party — can do better than Beto.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.