Beto O’ Rourke: a breath of fresh air in politics

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Politics is exhausting.

It feels like every time you open a newspaper or update your Google News feed (or however else you get your daily dose), the headlines are dominated by three recurring themes: controversies surrounding Kavanaugh, controversies surrounding President Trump, and maybe a few articles here and there about our international policy faux pas.

Unless you’re a robot — or are majoring in something related to current events — there are only so many articles about these topics that you can read before you lose your sanity. Even worse, news outlets recognize the fact that these are the stories that keep readers hooked, so if you want to read something other than what CNN or Fox or the Washington Post suggests, you must actively search for it.

With its fixation on the negative, the (liberal) media paints a very somber picture of our political landscape, making it seem like the future is even bleaker, and that all hope is lost. That’s the impression that most people get from this imbalanced reporting, and while I’d like to say otherwise, it’s mostly accurate. As it stands right now, American politics is anything but comforting, and as a nation, we’ve seen better days.

But the bad doesn’t invalidate the good, and there are politicians out there who are fighting against the tide, trying to remind us Americans about the values of our democracy and the principles that guide us both as citizens and as a proud republic.

One such individual is Beto O’Rourke (D – TX), the House representative currently running against incumbent Senator Ted Cruz (R – TX) for a seat in the Senate. If you haven’t heard the name O’Rourke before, I don’t blame you; with everything else that’s been going on, the Senate races have fallen by the wayside, though they’re important given how slim a majority the Republicans have.

So, what’s so special about this Democratic candidate?

Two things matter for politicians: their image and their message. In terms of his image, O’Rourke lucked out when, to discredit his legitimacy, the Texas GOP tweeted pictures from his past as a punk rocker, as well as his mugshots from his documented DUI offense.

On the surface, it seemed like a good idea; show that the opposing candidate was a hippie who lacks the authoritative personality for civil governance. What the GOP failed to anticipate was the cynicism and sense of humor that Twitter users tend to have, which caused this attack to backfire. In response to the released information, rather than feeling that O’Rourke was unfit for office, many users tweeted about how cool O’Rourke looked, or how awesome it would be to have a senator that was more relatable to the youth. Many commented on his mugshot about how hot he was, and some even likened his picture to a professional magazine cover.

If nothing else, the GOP helped O’Rourke with his image, revealing a rebellious and youthful side of the candidate that people connected with. This gave O’Rourke a lot of positive publicity which otherwise wouldn’t have happened without this stroke of serendipity.

Seizing upon this momentum, O’Rourke then focused on his message. His was more agreeable than the one championed by Ted Cruz, who warned that electing a Democrat would turn Texas into the next Silicon Valley.

I always caution from saying that a politician is a “good” politician, as politics is just another word for artifice. Officials eyeing election or reelection tend to flip their stances often to pander to the demands of their base and supporters, regardless of what they personally believe. Good examples of this would include Obama’s transition from being against same-sex marriage towards the beginning of his candidacy to being pro-same-sex marriage towards the end of his presidency, and the fact that many Republicans deny climate change to preserve environmentally damaging — but cost-reducing — practices for the large corporations that support them.

I won’t say that O’Rourke is a good politician, but relative to the vitriolic and incredibly polarized status quo, I will say that he’s better than most. At its core, O’Rourke’s campaign platform centers around traditional American values, ones that resonate strongly with Texans and conservatives. These include the right to free speech and protest (as evidenced by his response to the Colin Kaepernick controversy), an acknowledgment of the Second Amendment and diffusing myths about taking away everyone’s guns, and an emphasis upon the power of the people and the important role that every citizen plays in our democracy. This last point is crucial, as not only are Texans fiercely independent (the Lone Star State has threatened to secede from the Union more than once), but O’Rourke’s campaign doesn’t rely upon funding from any special interest groups or PACs, with most of its money coming from donations.

This makes a very clear statement: O’Rourke is running for the people, by the people, with the intent of bringing some compassion and decency back into American politics. In some ways, he evokes tones of the late Senator John McCain (R – AZ), especially when he defended Cruz over Twitter when the Senator and his wife were harassed at a restaurant this past Monday on Sept. 24. Standing up for an opponent is something that requires a sense of honor, something all too rare nowadays.

In truth, O’Rourke will likely lose, as Cruz is leading in the polls, albeit by a small margin. Regardless of if he wins, O’Rourke will have proven himself on the national stage and given us all some peace of mind that there are some decent politicians out there.