Beto O'Rourke, I'm not mad. I'm just disappointed

I've often thought about how I could have used white male privilege — and then I see Beto apologizing for his Vanity Fair cover like a total ingrate

Michael Arceneaux
New York
Saturday 18 May 2019 16:52
Beto O'Rourke apologises for Vanity Fair cover

I’m not in the habit of feeling sorry for privileged white men, but I have a smidgen of sympathy reserved for Beto O’Rourke. Part of that is rooted in me typically wanting the best for any non-Republican Texan because as a fellow native, I know the heat is bad enough so must we suffer fools, too? But with O’Rourke in particular, I’m genuinely perplexed at how he has somehow managed to rapidly bungle a credible chance at becoming the next president of the United States by turning into what increasingly looks like the political equivalent of the reflective Justin Bieber bop “Sorry.”

This week, O’Rourke sought to reset what has become an increasingly irrelevant bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. It started with an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show in which he conceded that “I recognize that I can do a better job, also, of talking to a national audience." Personally, I was most intrigued by O’Rourke’s acknowledgment that America’s meddling in the affairs of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua coupled with the War on Drugs contributed to migrants fleeing to the US through the years, but the admission that he could have done a town hall by now or whatever is what garnered headlines.

Shallowness of such outcome aside, it actually is mind-boggling to discover that Beto O’Rourke is not aware that his political ascension is largely driven by people in the national press who could not wait to cover a young-ish, conventionally handsome, white dude with somewhat of a messianic air to him but means well.

So, yes, it was confusing to see O’Rourke arrive at The View and apologize for effectively being a politician by announcing a presidential bid in a way that would command attention. Although I am somewhat tickled at the notion of Meghan McCain, testament to the unyielding power of a famous surname, lecturing anyone about the perks of his privilege, she is correct that O’Rourke yields more as a straight white man than any of his female competitors.

Such reality is why it was perfectly fine for him to offer pledges such as swearing to “be a better person” and become “more mindful to the experiences that others have had different than the experiences” that he’s had.

However, I don’t quite get why he’s so suddenly bothered about his Vanity Fair cover. After Joy Behar branded the decision “elitist,” O’Rourke said in response, “Yeah, I think it reinforces that perception of privilege and that headline that said I was born to be in this, in the article I was attempting to say that I felt that my calling was in public service.” He went on to add, “No one is born to be president of the United States of America, least of all me.”

As much as some like to pretend we have a widely informed electorate — despite ample evidence that the rising propaganda which fills much of our airwaves has long soiled public discourse — the rest of us understand that many political campaigns and outcomes are driven by media narratives. Even our imbecilic American president understands that and exploited his background as a former reality star and eternal scammer throughout the campaign.

All O’Rourke did was take advantage of the interest in him, and in now slamming that choice, he comes across as not less of an elitist but a veritable ingrate. Radhika Jones, the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, rightfully stood by the cover in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that aired on Friday. As she should have, because really, the problem isn’t the cover but O’Rourke stumbling on his own lack of political savviness despite being handed a path to the presidency.

O’Rourke became a folk hero after narrowly losing to Ted Cruz, who I’m not convinced has better favorables than Satan. HBO is about to release a documentary about said campaign later this month. Since losing the campaign, O’Rourke has spoken with Oprah, Univision’s Jorge Ramos, and met with former President Obama, who actually welcomed comparisons between him and his would-be acolyte. Did any of this happen to Andrew Gillum or Stacey Abrams?

After a press push that felt like a drafting effort, O’Rourke announced via Vanity Fair and raised $6.1m in his first 24 hours, topping the previous record set by Bernie Sanders.

O’Rourke didn’t have to offer much in the way of campaign specifics, or hell, even a central core theme to be a frontrunner. All he had to do was play the part and allow his privilege to let him skate by — a massive contrast with the female and nonwhite candidates he grossly overshadowed upon entering the race (despite not proving himself to be more knowledgeable, capable, or dynamic than any of them). Instead, O’Rourke stopped speaking regularly with the people responsible for his rise, allowing Pete Buttigieg to step in and build his own national following as a political press corps, still predominantly white, set their sights on his gay equivalent.

Now O’Rourke feigns guilt over a glossy mag spread as if that’s the real problem. But the simple fact is that he is going to get white male privilege no matter what, but he could use it in demonstrably more effective ways. FYI, live-streaming his haircut is not advisable usage.

One thing about growing up as a black person in America is that you are treated to countless examples of someone failing up, and no one can fail up better than a white man. I have often thought about the many ways I could have benefited from white male privilege, since it feels like it’s life’s winning lotto ticket — if employed correctly, anyway. Here, Beto O’Rourke, an affable but not necessarily exceptional politician, is catapulted to stardom largely due to the image of cute, popular “woke” white boy projected onto him by a national press. All he does then is squander it, and in his seeking to reboot a star that has since fallen, allowed himself to be owned on The View.

How dreadful.

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