December 28, 2018


Why the Bernie Movement Must Crush Beto O'Rourke (Jonathan Chait, 12/28/18, NY Mag)

The rise of Beto O'Rourke poses an obvious threat. The Texas congressman has replicated aspects of Sanders's appeal -- his positivity and refusal to accept PAC money -- while exceeding it in some ways. Sanders is charismatic in an unconventional way, the slovenly and cranky but somewhat lovable old uncle, while O'Rourke projects a classic handsome, toothy, Kennedy-esque charm that reliably makes Democrats swoon. Hard-core loyalists find the contrast irksome. "Reading Karl Marx is cool," said Nomiki Konst, a Sanders loyalist and candidate for New York City public advocate, to NBC. "Doing a livestream while you're doing your laundry is a gimmick." The comment sums up the left's well-grounded fear that Sanders's hard-core ideological appeal can be easily disarmed with personal charisma.

And while O'Rourke has yet to decide on a presidential campaign, and would have to overcome an enormous field if he does, the Sandernistas are hardly paranoid to discern the kind of groundswell that could quickly propel O'Rourke to the front of the pack. Former Obama strategist and current Pod Save America host Dan Pfeiffer wrote a piece urging O'Rourke to run (without endorsing him). O'Rourke reportedly met with Obama, who favored him with public praise. "What I liked most about his race was that it didn't feel constantly poll-tested," Obama said. "It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed."

What Obama is describing here is O'Rourke's ability to speak naturally and with apparent conviction -- one never knows if a politician is expressing genuine conviction or just performing it well -- without taking hard-left policy stances. O'Rourke's short career has allowed him to avoid being pinned down on every item in the party platform. He generally occupies the center of the Democratic Party, and often expresses broad sympathy for left-wing policy goals while suggesting he favors a more pragmatic alternative. On health care, he advocates "achieving universal health care coverage -- whether it be through a single-payer system, a dual system, or otherwise -- so that we can ensure everyone is able to see a provider when it will do the most good and will deliver health care in the most affordable, effective way possible."

One of the deeper strategic goals of the left is to equate progressive maximalism with authenticity, like Sanders did. They want candidates who take uncompromising left-wing positions to be seen as authentic, and candidates who adopt more moderate lines to be seen as calculating and phony. The socialist left will attack any non-Sanders candidate, but O'Rourke is especially dangerous to their project precisely because of his Obama-like personal appeal.

The frequently invoked comparisons between O'Rourke and the 44th president explain both O'Rourke's wide appeal within the party ranks and the mistrust he has inspired on the far left. Socialists generally regard Obama as a failure; Sanders often critiqued Obama implicitly, sometimes explicitly.

Beto could not buy enough air time himself to purchase the notion that he is the same charismatic centrist the UR was.  It--along with the age difference--allows him to displace Joe Biden.

Then it just becomes a question of whether Kamala and Cory decide to contest him for the Obama mantle or define themselves to the Left of each other.

Posted by at December 28, 2018 10:40 AM