In journalism, there are five fundamental questions: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? Beto O’Rourke’s re-launch on The View answered four of them: Beto, for president of the United States, in 2020.
The problem is, we already knew those answers. I watched Beto and saw a seemingly nice man with probably good intentions, but who still hasn’t offered any reason why he should be president. In fact, I’m still not sure if Beto himself knows why he should be president, other than because he wants to be.
Two months ago, I wrote about many of the things Beto was asked on The View: the hubris of his Vanity Fair campaign introduction; the way his campaign already—just one day in—was telling us more about the persistent gendered double standard in politics than it was about him as a candidate.
But it was just one day in and he still had time to prove himself. Two months and one reset later, he still hasn’t done so.
Meghan McCain Tuesday asked Beto about his Vanity Fair profile, his On the Road-style soul-search, and the fact that he said he helps raise his kids “sometimes,”—and noted that she couldn’t imagine a female candidate doing any of those things. “Do you think you can get away with more because you’re a man?” she asked.
Beto responded with a penitent “you’re right,” and something about privilege that led to him reeling off statistics about how much less white, African-American and Latina women are paid than their male counterparts. His plan, if he becomes president, is to do “everything within my power to help correct that,” and also to “work with others.”
Why doesn’t he know what would be in his power, though? Why doesn’t he seem to have any actual plans or policy specifics? These are not new questions or issues. It’s not like gender inequality just popped up in the last few weeks, as his campaign lost momentum. His rhetoric shows us he’s reasonably self-aware for a young white man, but not much beyond that.
He said that he’s aware that as a straight, white man he’s had “advantages that others cannot enjoy”—“privileges to do things in my life, that others have not”—and that he wants to change that system to make it right for those “others.” He didn’t say why a straight white man is the right person to make that right, let alone why he would be that straight white man.
He told the women of The View that when people criticized his child care comment, he called his wife to ask if he'd messed up. She informed him, very gently he said, that his comment “sounds flip” and “minimizes what I am doing and frankly what a lot of women in this country are doing.”
It’s great that he has the capacity to ask, reflect and consider if he was wrong. (Joe Biden does not seem to have that, for what it’s worth.) But being a good guy doesn’t make you qualified to be president.
When news of his campaign re-brand came out last week a few days before his appearance on The View—how was a candidate rebranding two months into his mediocre campaign not an episode of Veep, by the way?— the AP quoted O’Rourke saying at a campaign stop, “I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
And yet, on The View, he said that his declaration to Vanity Fair that he was “born for this” was misinterpreted—he meant he was born to be in public service, not to be president.
It’s wonderful to feel you were born to help others. He should do that. There are many, many ways to do that. Running for president is arguably, historically, the least effective path to reaching that goal.
The AP article also revealed that he’s got some idea that driving himself around the country makes him a down-home, folksy guy — “I can’t just sit and ride,” he says. “I have to be doing something” — when in reality, it’s a waste of time for someone who wants to be the chief executive for 300 million and change of us.
Beto! You should be doing something! You should be coming up with detailed policy proposals! You should be consulting experts! You should be figuring out exactly how to expand health coverage the way you claim you will! There are so many things you could be doing that are vastly more presidential, and important, than driving a Dodge Grand Caravan!
No one slips and ends up on the cover of Vanity Fair by “mistake.” Beto told The View hosts that his cover story ”reinforces that perception of privilege,” and stressed that “no one is born to be president of the United States of America, least of all me.”
Yet the longer his campaign drags on, the more it seems like he’s planning on figuring out how to be president once he wins. He is evidently devoted to the people-meeting part of campaigning, but seems to think very little, if at all, about the actual work of being the president.
I can’t help but wonder why he’s running. And I can’t help but wonder why on Earth we’re spending airtime on a person who is so obviously unprepared for the job, when there are candidates (hi, Elizabeth Warren!) who roll out new, interesting, detailed policy plans basically every day.