As a non-Texan, my enthusiasm for the midterm race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz was born more out of a dislike of the latter than an interest in the former. That I quickly found Beto charming and compelling helped grow that enthusiasm: He was attractive and had been in a punk band and he went to towns in Texas that few other politicians campaigned in! He said the things I wanted to hear from him—refreshing, in 2018 and now in 2019!—about immigration and the environment and the police. And even if he wasn’t squeaky clean on all those issues (for example, he’s taken significantly more oil and gas money than you’d expect from someone who purportedly supports environmental causes), I was still excited about the prospect of him winning a Senate seat.
When he didn’t win, it was only by a smidge and we were all really proud of him for trying to unseat Ted Cruz. Great! Blue Wave sort of accomplished, we took back the House and we can comfort ourselves knowing that a political star is born! Yes sir, this will not be the last we see of Beto O’Rourke!
And that was true. But I just didn’t expect to see him, you know, so soon. As a result, the announcement on Thursday that he would be seeking the presidency in 2020 made me feel strangely conflicted, without a discernible cause for my angst. I love Beto, right? I couldn’t get enough of that lanky Texan just a few months ago. So why does this feel ill-timed, or like a misstep on his part?
I don’t think it’s his lack of experience that deters me. Beto has been on City Council in El Paso and in the House of Representatives, and because I am not sure experience is always synonymous with electability (Google “2016” for a good example of this), the fact that he lost his bid for Senate gives me only a little pause about his broader chances. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that he took campaign money from oil executives. Yeah, I’d love a president who refused to take donations from corporations—especially from the companies responsible for the most harmful environmental degradation in history—but he’s a Texan and the money was from individuals and ugh fine. I like him! I like Beto.
No, I’ll tell you what I think it is, but I want to pre-empt it by letting you know that I know what it sounds like. That doesn’t make my impressions wrong or invalid, it just means that I recognize how easy it will be to poo-poo them because it sounds like my feelings are hurt. But as a woman who writes about politics on the internet in 2019, I’m used to way worse than that anyway, so here’s what's bumming me out:
I think I’m just sick of white men without much experience getting stuff just because they want it.
Does this mean I’m comparing Beto to Trump? Only insofar as they both fit into the above definition of People Who Always Get to Be In Charge. I’d far prefer Beto to most other white men, but I am suffering from white male ennui and Biden hasn’t even formally announced his campaign yet.
Right now, there are half a dozen experienced, forward-thinking women running for President in 2020. I’m not saying I like all of them for the job, but their respective experience and the clarity of their platforms is undeniable. Some candidates are flawed in ways that give me pause, but it often seems like the flaws of female candidates are drilled in on and dissected in ways not only political but deeply personal—see: the furor over Amy Klobuchar's relationship with her staff—whereas the issues that worry me with Beto’s campaign, or even Bernie’s, seem easily dismissed by their most fervent supporters.
Women so rarely get the benefit of the doubt, and their experience is seen as either meaningless or suspect, they’re too power-hungry or too tainted by the things they’ve been through. I’m not trying to re-litigate the 2016 election by proxy—Hillary was an imperfect candidate, to be sure. Maybe Bernie would’ve won. But some part of what felt true then feels true again: It’s really hard to be trusted with power if you’re a woman. And what all of the immediate, unbridled enthusiasm for Beto that I’m seeing on social media really drills home for me is that maybe what my mom told me growing up was a lie. Maybe a woman can’t be president.
I really hope that’s not true, but if it’s not one of these women, who would it ever be? In that way, I feel less bad because it means that it's not really about us. But it should still worry every self-proclaimed progressive, because if as a country we can’t get past our ingrained mistrust of women, how will we ever solve the myriad other problems facing us right now?
All that said, if Beto or Bernie or Biden or any other white, male Democrat wins the nomination, I’ll still vote for him enthusiastically. At least civic duty gets to be a bitch.