As the New Year approaches, the 2020 race to see which Democrat gets to take the blame for Trump’s disastrous policies is starting to reluctantly take shape. The field will only get weirder, surely, as the imperiled incumbent administration continues to shed support in the face of further legal turmoil and a continued shut down of the government. Nobody has actually declared yet, but obvious early frontrunners are emerging and a bitter feud is already starting to bubble over between the starry-eyed backers of Texas congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, fresh off a narrow loss for Ted Cruz’s senate seat, and the more jaded supporters of 2016 Democratic nominee runner-up Bernie Sanders from Vermont.
While Beto and Bernie aren’t publicly trading barbs, making this entire debate that has subsumed the political corners of the internet even odder, their respective bases have turned vicious against one another and exposed fractures in the party. O’Rourke, a moderate congressman from Texas who largely tread water with a middle-of-the-road voting record, may have had some promise to left-leaning Democrats as a more progressive senator, but that was dashed during the mid-terms and he’s since been floated as a kind of “Great White Hope” Barack-Obama-second-coming type by the establishment seeking to capitalize on any kind of excitement. Beto got liberal Texans energized, sure, but after seeing the middling job that a compromising but charismatic centrist did from 2008-16, most nationwide progressives are looking for a cadidate with more drastic solutions, ready to tackle crises and shift paradigms.
The Bernie wing has reason to close up ranks a little bit. The party establishment, largely stacked with Clinton acolytes, very obviously anointed Hilary with the 2016 nomination and then took for granted the energy a new generation of democratic socialists had for Sanders. The superdelegate system was an absolute sham, the primary system so obviously a First-Passed-the-Post system clearly designed for a party-favored (and moneyed) candidate, and mechanisms that saw every bit of dissent towards this process snuffed out or outright sneered at. They went onto lose to a game show host and real estate con artist after failing to close an enthusiasm gap, having not learned their lessons from 2000 or 2004, and ineptly handling basic campaigning, messaging, or maneuvering around manufactured scandals from the right-wing with a candidate that has literally spent forty years doing just that.
Taking into account that the Overton Window has shifted so far to the right that the “moderate” Democratic party is essentially ideologically center-right as well as discarding the popular notion that because Trump is enough of a wannabe fascist that the “two sides of the same coin” critique of corporate lobbyist-funded policy making doesn’t hold water anymore, the sizable part of the electorate seeking left-wing solutions in a time of legitimate crisis should have more pull within the Democratic party. Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the country, but it isn’t because of a cult of personality, it’s based on policy that looks to actually confront the issues rather than hope to find some incremental compromise with a Republican party that has completely gone off the rails. If his 2016 campaign was, as stated, an effort less about getting elected president and more about steering the party towards making ideas like $15 and a Union, Medicare for All, and effectively combating climate change planks in the party platform, 2018 is about reading just how successful he was and working towards those implementations.
Enter Beto O’Rourke. He skateboards outside WhataBurger, is against The Wall, had Kaepernick’s back, and played in a punk band with one of my all-time favorite musicians, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, in the early 90s. He’s well-spoken and demographically representative of the median population of the country, specifically within his age group, almost to a fault. Unfortunately, he’s probably not enough of a knife-fighter to take on the modern right-wing, has far too moderate (read: capitulating) of a congressional voting record, and likely needed some time as a senator to craft some foreign policy bona fides in order to avoid a constant barrage of attacks on his level of experience, despite perhaps running against Donald Trump, a moron.
Beto O’Rourke is not running for president in 2020.
The 2016 Democratic primary was a disaster. Alienating the activist base for a coronation portrayed as a sure thing, to a garbage candidate like Hilary Clinton, was damaging enough to hand a man that has spent most of his adult life as a punchline the presidency. It wasn’t even close. Was there dirty pool? Sure. But there should have been enough margin for error, much less espionage, to beat a money-laundering CHUD baby that should have been locked up decades ago for white collar crime. O’Rourke, charismatic, cool, perhaps appealing to a massive but angry, disenfranchised and still-youthful millennial electorate, is acting as a kind of screen-block for whoever the party’s real candidate is. Using him to absorb abuse from, pacify, and potentially neutralize the Sanders wing of the party early is a strategy to avoid what is sure to be a drawn out primary that highlights rifts inside what is essentially an opposition coalition to right-wing fundamentalism. It’s an easy way for them to try and paint Sanders as “too far-left to be elected,” or “not even a real Democrat.” Possibly unwittingly, O’Rourke is the “see, we’re trying to listen to younger voices” candidate, who knows to play ball, while ignoring that people vastly prefer a cranky, spry old guy who is ready, willing, and able to listen to his constituency yelling about eating the rich.
Diet corporatism is going to be a hard sell to a generation of people that have seen most major milestones of adulthood derailed or arrested entirely by economic meltdowns and insane whiplashes of governmental policy. The solutions to the most pressing issues all seem to be coming from the left, and the further right the Boomers and Khaki Fascist contingent of conservatives keep trying to drag institutions is leading to words like “socialist” or even “communist” becoming a lot less taboo within the discourse. The “Better Things Aren’t Possible!” rallying cry of the “centrist” only pushes the whole premise of a ballot further into irrelevancy, driving leftists towards more practical and “disruptive” organizing work. Good, I would say, having not seen actionable change within statist institutions or traditional electoral politics as a real possibility in my entire life, but I’m at least trying to enjoy the 2020 horse race here; a spectacle that feels more and more like watching prep-level tennis while the school burns to the ground. I’d rather be drinking in the parking lot, probably looking for kindling.
Neoliberal centrism in the face of global ecological crisis and massive class inequality has worked out great in France, wouldn’t you say?