Apart from calling every Democrat a "socialist" regardless of their policy positions, one thing you can expect from the good folks at Fox News this coming election cycle is that they will show open disdain for "knowing things." This might seem like a way to paper over the cracks in the resumé of Donald Trump, American president-a man who proudly knows little about anything and cares less-but it's really part of a far longer tradition. Trump, after all, is a golem risen from the mud slung for decades by Rush Limbaugh, Frankenstein's monster who broke out of the conservative infotainment vortex, his brain less a high-powered processor of complex ideas and more a soundboard for resentful catchphrases.
He's a product of his environment, one which has for decades-since at least the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan-perpetuated the proud American tradition of anti-intellectualism. Expertise is elitism, and the experts are pencil-necked coastal urban-dwellers without a lick of "common sense." This is a clever redirection of entirely justified resentment against coastal urban elites on the basis they have sucked up nearly all of society's resources-a redirection that is necessary because those doing the redirecting are usually coastal urban elites who have sucked up a lot of resources.
Anyway, this all-American crap was on display this Thursday morning as Fox & Friends processed Beto O'Rourke's announcement that he's running for president:
Brian Kilmeade says the Vanity Fair feature on Beto O'Rourke "point[s] out that he has this huge library. As if it's a big plus that he reads books." pic.twitter.com/1mZaHEn5uL- Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) March 14, 2019
Brian Kilmeade, our tour guide through Betoland here, isn't the most reliable narrator. After all, this is the same millionaire TV host who suggested the immigrant kids separated from their parents by the Trump administration would otherwise be "fanned out to working-class neighborhoods" like his "and then a lot of them, sadly, in my neighborhood, turn into MS-13." OK, man. Nice of you to lay out all the faux-populist shite in one place.
Kilmeade's point seems to be that it's silly for a magazine profile to focus on O'Rourke's book collection, and that's a symptom of media bias in favor of the candidate. It's a fawning profile to be sure, but being a Book Reader is now a quality that differentiates you from the sitting President of the United States. It's a relevant detail. Moreover, the line in Vanity Fair's piece about how a collection of presidential biographies on the shelf suggests "there’s been some reflection on the gravity of the presidency" is also a differentiating factor. How many minutes out of Donald Trump's 72 years have been spent reflecting on the gravity of anything?
The part of all this that really tickles is that O'Rourke's problem isn't that he's some haughty intellectual snob who's pledging to cure society's ills through intricately crafted technocratic policies. It's something approaching the opposite: nobody knows what he stands for, including him. "I don’t know where I am on a spectrum, and I almost could care less," he said recently. "I just want to get to better things for this country."
It's a representative sample. While O'Rourke did back the Green New Deal, he's been cagey about Medicare for All, preferring to back a vague policy of "universal coverage." That's all well and good, but many on the left no longer believe you can get to universal coverage without at least a public option. Considering that O'Rourke has said healthcare is the number-one issue he hears about when asking voters about their priorities, you'd think he'd have more details on his way to fix things.
That last part, though, gets at his strengths. As even Kilmeade granted above, he's a gifted retail politician with genuine charisma. When you meet him, you like him. He embraced the building blocks of real democracy-traveling around the areas you wish to represent to listen to the people you're promising to represent-in his near-miss campaign against Ted Cruz for a Senate seat in Texas. But it remains to be seen whether his agenda of relentless positivity is of this moment. After all, he's no longer running against a man so detestable his Republican Senate colleague, Lindsey Graham, once suggested that, "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."
O'Rourke will not enjoy the unified support of People Who Hate Ted Cruz this time around. He will be vying for the votes of Democratic primary voters with people whose positions and attitude may well be more attuned to the moment. While O'Rourke counters Trump's divisive rhetoric on immigration well, and was powerfully straightforward in his defense of Colin Kaepernick, the Stronger Together message doesn't translate as well elsewhere. As Anand Ghirhardas said on Morning Joe this morning, "kumbaya" is not the answer when a small number of people are sucking up society's resources at the expense of the many-when they have designed the system to funnel the wealth it generates towards the very few. It will require some nastiness and some pugilism, because that is what the Haves will deploy to ensure they don't have to give up some of what they Have to the Have Nots.
In temperament, O'Rourke seems to have pulled into the Obama lane in the primary. But Obama never held anyone to account for destroying the world economy when we all knew their address. He bailed them out. He was a reliable friend to Big Business when the modern model of corporate governance, not to mention the explosion of monopoly power, was ratcheting up inequality year by year. The approach of tinkering with the system as constituted has failed, a problem Hillary Clinton failed to identify with disastrous results.
It requires a redesign, and anyone who can do the job will have to adopt the mantra of Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace-business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred.
Does Beto welcome anyone's hatred? It doesn't seem likely. But other Democrats in the race have already shown they know where the trenches are dug on this battlefield. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, has already staked out a position as a warrior against monopoly power. She has proposed workers at corporations should elect 40 percent of the seats on the board. She has proposed a wealth tax on the super-rich to pay for universal childcare and student loan debt relief and "down payments on a Green New Deal and Medicare for All." More than all that, though, she knows it will be a war.
In Congress, O'Rourke was a fairly conservative Democrat without many legislative achievements. That may be the root of his non-specific candidacy, but it will be a formidable obstacle in a Democratic field featuring Warren and Bernie Sanders. Still, Obama is proof that being the vessel for people's hopes is a formidable strength in presidential politics. Regardless of where he parks himself on the details, however, you can safely assume that Beto will be a socialist on Fox News.
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