Although I haven’t paid close attention to Beto O’Rourke, he’s been on my radar for a couple of years after noticing certain media outlets had anointed him a “rising Democratic star.” One of my principal rules of political analysis is whenever you hear mass media proclaim an obscure politician a “rising star,” it typically means that individual has been deemed acceptable by the entrenched oligarchy and is being groomed as a promising puppet.
In fact, the first time O’Rourke came into my news orbit it felt like I was being sold a box of cereal by Madison Avenue. After reading an illuminating article by Ziad Jilliani earlier today in Current Affairs, it appears my intuition was correct.
The first paragraph tells you a lot about what the sorts of people who like Beto, like about him.
Beto O’Rourke—a three-term Congressman from El Paso, Texas who recently failed to unseat Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz—is suddenly one of the hottest names in Democratic Party politics. The once-obscure representative is on the lips of many as a presidential contender. “All the guy would have to do is send out an email to his fundraising base…and he raises $30 million,” one anonymous Democratic bundler told Politico. “That has totally changed the landscape for tier 1 guys, because now Bernie and Warren, now they have competition. It completely changes the game if Beto runs. And he should run…He’s Barack Obama, but white.”
Notice how the emphasis on why he’s considered attractive centers around an ability to quickly grab a lot of money and his superficial attributes. Precisely what you’d expect from a Democratic bundler, but it’s still hilarious how these hacks think a “white Obama” is what this country’s hungering for.
From there, I learned several things about Beto. First, he supported Obama on the TPP trade deal, a corporate giveaway even Hillary Clinton had to back away from during her presidential campaign because it was so unpopular. Second, Clinton dead-enders and Wall Street Democrats appear particularly enthused about his political prospects. For instance:
“He’s game changing,” Robert Wolf, a former top executive at the UBS investment bank and Democratic mega-donor known to raise Wall Street cash for candidates, told Politico…
“We are big Beto fans,” the Clintonite think tank Third Way’s Matt Bennett told NBC during his Senate run. “He’s not with us on every single thing, but his main campaign themes have been very close to what we think a national narrative should be.
Can you imagine these types ever talking that way about Sanders or Trump? Of course not, which tells you Beto’s just a smooth-talking neoliberal technocrat in training. A guy who will always defer to corporate power and who actually reminds me more of France’s Emmanuel Macron than Barack Obama. Macron was another bizarre elitist creation marketed as a savior from the populist hordes on the French political right and left.
I learned a few other things as well. For starters, Beto’s married to the daughter of a billionaire real estate developer. He also doesn’t have much of a backbone. After getting torched by donors for criticizing Israel, he reversed course and has never dared take such a politically tenuous position again.
O’Rourke, on the other hand, was born into a wealthy Texas political family, attended Columbia University, and has a business background in Internet start-ups. (O’Rourke’s criminal charges in his 20s may also be relevant: The son of a judge and county commissioner, he was not prosecuted for an incident in which allegedlyfled the scene of a drunken crash. There is no evidence that his father actually intervened, but the justice system has a tendency to give wealthy white Ivy Leaguers second chances that others do not get.) He is married to the daughter of billionaire real estate developer William D. Sanders (“the richest man in El Paso”)—whose development plan in downtown El Paso O’Rourke vigorously championed, against the protests of many local residents. During his run for Senate, his disclosures showed that O’Rourke’s assets are somewhere in the range of $3.5 to $16 million, thanks to rental and commercial real estate as well as his wife’s trust fund.
So what’s going on here? From my seat, I think corporate/Wall Street Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that Bernie Sanders is going to run again (I think he will), and they’re terrified by his continued widespread popularity nationally. I think a narrative is being carefully crafted, and a candidate meticulously manufactured, to create a perception of a young, progressive and charismatic alternative to the populist and cantankerous Sanders. While this sounds comforting, the reality is Beto appears to be your typical neoliberal Macron type of guy, or if you care to be generous, a “white Obama.”
Considering my view that 2020 will be just as populist a political environment as 2016 (if not more so), an empty suit candidate like O’Rourke just won’t cut it. In fact, of all the people being tossed around as potential 2020 candidates on the Democratic side, I think Sanders is by far the one with the best chance to beat Trump.
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