He’s Alright, But We Need More Than Gentle Liberalism To Get Us Out Of This Mess
It’s become obvious that Liberal America, the one of Panera Bread and Whole Foods, of wine moms and beer nerds, of “The Obama Biden Mysteries and “Fight Song”, has been hurting. They are facing America’s reimportation of one of its most discouraging exports (fascism, baby!). The President is not just a senile personalization of the average Fox News addled boomer, but he was goshdarn rude to another genocidal murderer. Even after winning control of the House of Representatives, Team Blue is still feeling a little blue.
I deal with depression myself. I take medication, and, as Iyanla Van Sant would say, I’ve “done my work”. I also know that sometimes the world can get to you and you’ll be in a dark place and need something that makes you think of the good old days. For me, it’s been listening to the music of ABBA. Seriously, whenever I hear the song Fernando I want to cry.
Liberal America is looking for a similar kind of throwback, one going back to a simpler, romantic time. Sure, the global economy was crashing while the impacts of the War on Terror were continuing to tear apart the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, but in 2008 Liberal America had a tall, handsome, and consummate political operator known as Barack Obama to lift them up. While the end results of his administration are, to say it mildly, mixed, there is no doubt that as a politician he made Liberal America feel fucking GOOD
Enter Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke. He’s tall. He looks like a slightly toothier version of a Kennedy. He wears Pod Save America shirts. Most importantly, according to a growing number of national Democratic pundits, he’s got the stuff that will “bring America together,” unlike some of those other possible presidential nominees and their “divisive” personalities like Kamala Harris (‘too ethnic’), Elizabeth Warren (‘too shrill’), and Bernie Sanders (‘too globalist’). This narrative really kicked into gear in the past week after O’Rourke announced at a town hall that he had changed his mind about not running for president in 2020.
It’s not an original point of mine to say he is “white Obama”. In fact, there is a whole generation of liberal politicians across the country coming up right now whose style could be described as such, from special election losers like Georgia’s Jon Ossoff to legacy cases like Joe Kennedy III. When it comes to scratching that nostalgic itch Obama itch, O’Rourke is the absolute cream (emphasis on cream) of the crop.
It’s important to note a few things about Congressman O’Rourke’s rise to national prominence. He ran a losing campaign in a tough state and got closer to beating the Republican candidate, America’s most famous bat boy, Ted Cruz, than any Democratic candidate has in a generation. Riding on a wave of anti-Trump sentiment, O’Rourke may have helped get out the vote in TX cities, helping turn cities like Dallas and Houston into Democratic strongholds. As a long suffering Texan leftist, I am thrilled that the hyper reactionaries are out of positions of power in some of the most diverse cities in the South, particularly in the case of the publicly elected members of the justice system, such as the new Dallas District Attorney, John Cruezot.
For an establishment backed candidate from a red state, O’Rourke could be a lot worse, but the seemingly instantaneous rabid desire among a vocal slice of the most ardent Democratic partisans has me worried. Not about who Beto is and what he represents, but what is says about the liberal imagination. While style is importance, substance will always be more important when it comes to making working people’s lives better and securing power beyond a news cycle. O’Rourke, more than any other prospective Democratic presidential candidate, is devoid of these kinds of appeals.
Regardless of your feelings towards figures like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, they have all proposed policy ideas that look to change the horizon of the possible within mainstream party politics that look to address the structural disadvantages that bind working people to a system built on exploiting their labor. Even Kamala Harris, who is no social democrat, has supported Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill in the senate, noting the injustice of the richest country in the world leaving it’s citizens health and wellbeing in the hands of private companies. The future leader of America’s ostensibly left leaning party must be able to present a vision for a better society beyond just “coming together”.
This void of purpose lays at the heart of my fear of Beto 2020. Without a shift in the philosophical impetus that drives today’s current Democratic party, a party drenched in the influence of capital and an adoration of technocratic wizardry, the status quo will hold its grip on the party apparatus. We need something more than a new face on the same vision.