Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke gave a speech to students at the University of Virginia on Tuesday in Charlottesville. He spoke with a microphone to a group of kids seated in a small amphitheater.
For a moment, if you closed one eye, it looked convincingly like a campaign event. There were volunteers in matching T-shirts fussing over logistics. O’Rourke himself wore a slightly dopey UVA baseball cap as he spoke, because wearing other people’s hats is what you’re supposed to do when you run for president. To be clear: Running for president is what Beto O’Rourke says he’s doing.
It’s all a little sad when you think about it. O’Rourke isn’t going to be president, at least of this country. His campaign is dead -- totally dead. It went toes up last week, from a fatal overdose of Buttigieg.
Not everyone has heard the news. The mourning hasn’t started. But Beto for President is done. Over. He’s Jeb Bush now. Future generations will remember Beto O’Rourke, if they recall him at all, as a media story. “Remember that guy with the weird nickname that all the dummies on cable news fell in love with in a single day? That was bizarre.” It sure was.
Keep in mind, the media's love affair with Beto just happened. The frenzy was just last month; it was only last month. College-educated adults in an advanced country with air travel and air conditioning were gushing over Beto. Pretty embarrassing. My gosh.
But before we get too judgy about it, a confession: We did it, too. Beto’s personal magic distorted our journalistic objectivity for a second there. It may have been the skateboarding. Or the weird resemblance to a young Bobby Kennedy. Whatever it was, we lost control like everyone else.
We got a little carried away back then -- sorry about that. It all seemed so innocent then, back a few weeks ago, in March 2019. It was just Beto and us and a dream. A simpler time. We thought anything was possible. We thought we could write our own story. We didn’t know that even fairy tales end. And one day, ours did end. The magic turned to dust, bitter in our mouths, like a peyote button, or psilocybin tea. One day, the music died. Bye, bye, Miss American Pie. Bye, bye, weirdly youthful, middle-aged white guy with a fake Hispanic nickname. You’ve been replaced.
There’s a new heartthrob in cable news. He’s everything you were, but more. He’s younger, shallower, even less experienced. He’s got an even weirder name. Plus, he’s gay. He’s the perfect candidate for voters who say they love diversity, but don’t really want to vote for Stacey Abrams. This candidate could have been created in a lab at CNN. (Maybe he was.) There’s no stopping a candidate like this, at least until Election Day.
So what are the lessons of the sinking of the SS Beto? Here’s one: Maybe he should have run on something. It’s pretty hard to win on charisma alone, as Hillary Clinton recently discovered. Why not be the one person with real ideas?
On some level, Beto must know it’s over. He’s no genius, but he can smell it. More than six months before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, he’s done. Sure, he may keep raising money. He probably will; it’s his one real skill. But his political career is over. Cue the sad Nirvana playlist.
So what are the lessons of the sinking of the SS Beto? Here’s one: Maybe he should have run on something. It’s pretty hard to win on charisma alone, as Hillary Clinton recently discovered. Why not be the one person with real ideas? They don’t have have to be big ideas. How about any idea? Beto could have tried that. It never seemed to occur to him.
Instead, he just strung cliches together, like one of those Mad Libs word games you used to play with your brother on road trips. You get these long seemingly-coherent sentences that don’t actually mean anything. Beto was big on those. For example, here's Beto explaining the Green New Deal.
"This country was willing to sacrifice men and women, all over the United States, to make sure that we defeated Germany and that we won that war and for the following 75 years that we made this world safe for democracy," he said. "The Green New Deal calls that sacrifice and service and scale of commitment to mind when it talks about the challenges that we face today."
So the question is, are voters ready to suffer 400,000 U.S. combat deaths for the sake of the climate? What does carbon dioxide Guadalcanal look like? Will we firebomb Tokyo again? How would that affect temperatures?
Come on. This is just too stupid. None of this is real. The Green New Deal isn’t a real idea. It’s wish fulfillment posing as legislation. But Beto kept a straight face throughout, like he really sincerely meant it. Who does that? Mediocre people do that. They tell implausible lies and demand that you pretend to believe them. Is Beto a mediocre person? We’ll let you decide.
In 2017, he gave a total of less than 1 percent of his income — one-third of 1 percent actually — to charity. And keep in mind he’s rich – very rich. He explained it this way on Tuesday:
"I’ve served in public office since 2005. I do my best to contribute to the success of my community, my state, and now, my country. There are ways that I do this that are measurable and there are ways that I do this that are immeasurable. There are charities that we donate to that are recorded and itemized, and others that we donate to that we have not. But I’ll tell you that I’m doing everything that I can right now, spending this time with you, not with our kiddos, not back home in El Paso, because I want to sacrifice everything to make sure that we meet this moment of truth with everything that we’ve got."
Beto just made the case that his entire life is a kind of charitable donation. All of us get the gift of Beto, just because he’s here. Every time he speaks, it’s like endowing a library in Burma, or curing shingles in Malawi, or battling childhood obesity in Appalachia or sending mosquito nets to the Congo. It’s an act of charity. Something that makes this world wiser, kinder, more decent and better smelling.
Beto is such a good person that he could write himself off his taxes if he wanted too. The IRS would have to let him. His goodness is so clearly deductible. No lawyer would contest it.
But Beto doesn’t do that. He doesn’t shirk his duty. He’ll pay the extra tax. Because he cares that much. Now that you think about it, it’s almost sad he’ll never be president.
Adapted from Tucker Carlson's monologue from "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on April 17, 2019.