Robert Francis O'Rourke has just three weeks remaining as a Member of Congress from El Paso. Texas voters determined last month that he will not be advancing to the US Senate. So, with his irrelevance looming large, why bother Monday-morning-quarterbacking his progressivity or lack thereof? Mostly because serious people are talking seriously about running him for president in 2020. It's not just the breezy speculation of starry-eyed rank-and-file Democratic voters.
For a number of reasons, that particular dog won't hunt. The tweet below shows us why.
Look at the Record
First off, I don't put a lot of stock in left-right ratings or rankings of legislators. Certainly, in gauging Congresscritters' relative ideological positions, it is more important to pay attention to their voting records than to their campaign rhetoric or their Tweets. But different groups will have different methodologies for determining their scores.
However, Kyle Kulinski, the Justice Democrats luminary, makes a very good point in his tweet: Apart from all the recent revelations of Rep. Beto O'Rourke receiving buckets of campaign cash from executives and middle managers in the oil & gas bidness, progressive analysts have accurately labeled him a Conservadem based on his record in the House.
Kulinski notes that that voting record ranks Beto-Bob 86th-most progressive in the House, or in the 80th percentile on a scale of extreme right to Joseph Morelle, according to Progressive Punch. But I just did the some queries on that site, and O'Rourke's current lifetime ranking on Crucial votes is actually 117th. If you look at just Overall votes just in 2017-18, crucial or not, he's #150. No flaming radical, he.
Comparing that record to his constituency's positions on issues, Progressive Punch gives O'Rourke an F in how his votes have reflected those positions.
For what it's worth, even the #117 ranking puts O'Rourke right of center among House Democrats in the 115th Congress. If you line up the 195 Democratic representatives who received ratings in left-to-right order (two Democrats weren't in office long enough to be rated), the center-most Democrats are Joaquin Castro, Oregon's Peter DeFazio, and egad Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
Style over Substance
It isn't just PD, SG, and Yours Truly who have used various platforms to decry O'Rourke's lack of progressive bona fides. O'Rourke's campaign may have bedazzled quite a few of our progressive friends and associates, but many of us who have swallowed the Green Pill saw through it from the git-go. (A fair number of active Greens in Texas still haven't removed the Beto stickers from their bumpers.)
There are also Pink Pill swallowers, like Houston Democratic Socialist leader and beer connoisseur Dan Derozier. When I saw his op-ed in the Sunday Chronicle's Outlook section, I damn near choked on my veggie sausage patty. (Digital subscription required to read the whole thing.) It's not that the Chron never publishes op-eds from actual lefties, but it's fairly rare.
Debate amongst yourselves whether DSA is truly non-mainstream left or just another well-funded arm of the Democratic Party to lasso stray Progressives.
Derozier's main point is that the O'Rourke phenomenon was a victory of style over substance, and that mere style won't be enough for a winning presidential run. He doesn't have the style that could overcome the current White House occupant, who is the apotheosis of style over substance.
It's not that O'Rourke entirely lacks substance—there is a fair amount of there there—but that he does not seem at home with truly progressive policies. He seems more at home with the moderates he hangs with in DC, with waffling on Medicare for All, with voting for increased defense spending. He even seems more at home with friggin' AIPAC.
So-Called Conventional So-Called Wisdom
O'Rourke certainly had his defenders among Twitizens replying to Kulinski. Several of them posited that the important goal is getting Trump out of the White House, which means getting a Democrat elected to replace him, which means getting a moderate Democrat nominated because that's how you win.
At least one of the commenters said something about going after independent votes, as if "independent" still means "swing voter, ideologically between Republican and Democrat, who chooses a person rather than a party."
Hey y'all, the 1970s called, and they want their Conventional Wisdom back.
Please bear in mind that the analysis below comes from someone who gave up on the Donkey Party more than two decades ago, but who admires the progressive insurgents working within that party despite misgivings about the effectiveness of that strategy.
Clintonian triangulation worked for getting Bill Clinton elected. Nominating an African American with no baggage and a gift for oratory worked for Barack Obama. But nominating and electing a moderate Democrat just gets us more of the same: Deportations, mass incarceration, foreign military adventurism, Wall Street hegemony and neo-liberal "solutions." Progressives, by definition, reject all that.
And the American people, as a whole, are demonstrating that they reject both corporate parties. They also reject middle-ground policies and programs. They want real solutions that really benefit real people, and they want them ASAP.
If the Democratic Party truly wants the White House back, they'll push a progressive firebrand to the nomination. If they want to win, they will stop suppressing the progressive wing by every means available, which they have done since after George McGovern's disastrous defeat in 1972.
It remains to be seen whether any progressive firebrand will deign to run as a Democrat, or whether any firebrand the party promotes will come with actual prog cred.
Democratic operatives may have drawn the conclusion from 2018, a new bit of conventional wisdom, that any Democrat will do because...well, because Trump. Ask former NAACP chair Ben Jealous, who ran as a progressive, how correct that conclusion really is. Jealous may have had trouble getting endorsements and contributions for the general election, but his chosen party didn't exactly help. He certainly could have used a slice of O'Rourke's $80 million.
My totally objective diagnosis is that pushing Progressives in 2020 will fire up the Democratic base enough that the party organization won't need to worry about allocation of scarce campaign funds. If Sema Hernández can poll at 25% in a statewide primary after spending a few thousand bucks, against a predetermined favorite (O'Rourke) whose campaign actively squelched her, I believe that Progressives or even loud-and-proud Socialists can make a lot out of a little, as they have always managed to do.
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