Elections

How Beto Made Himself into White-Privilege Guy

Beto O’Rourke speaks with supporters and staff in Independence, Iowa, July 4, 2019. (Brenna Norman/Reuters)
Robert Francis O’Rourke is white. He’s very sorry.

Robert Francis O’Rourke is white. If it’s any consolation, he’s very sorry about that.

“Beto” has been running from his Irish ancestry for some time now. Long before the Left fell headlong into the logical termini of its triune fascination with race, power, and privilege, O’Rourke sensed that there was a currency to be had in becoming “Beto” rather than “Robert Francis.” For one, the latter was imbued with a stench of Gaelic papism that made him sound more like a rosary-wielding Catholic school boy than a dyed-in-the-wool radical. More damning for a would-be Democratic upstart, though, were the privileges that attended to his birth name: O’Rourke grew up a white male — itself a capital offense in the progressive universe — with plenty of money, and a boarding school education that would later lead him to the Ivy League. How could he rid himself of the odor of privilege, that stench which would only become more of a hindrance as his party grew in its disdain for (forgive the phrase) people like him?

Beto’s father Pat O’Rourke was an El Paso county judge who envisioned a future in state politics for young Robert Francis; it would be useful, Pat decided, to give his son a moniker that would afford him a cache and rapport with the local Hispanic population, which comprised an outsized share of the electorate. The Dallas Morning News reported Pat O’Rourke’s comments on the matter this way: “Nicknames are common in Mexico and along the border, and if [Robert] ever ran for office in El Paso, the odds of being elected in this mostly Mexican-American city were far greater with a name like Beto than Robert Francis O’Rourke.”

Consider it Pat O’Rourke’s promissory note for the Beto for President campaign.

¡De nada!

The myth of Robert-as-Beto is in its death throes, but it remained alive in O’Rourke’s home state in the not-too-distant past. Texas-based radio host Chris Salcedo told InsideSources in March that he would “still hear from Latinos who think that Beto’s Hispanic.” Political columnist Ruben Navarette told them the same: “Long before he entered the race against Ted Cruz, I was talking to a Texas lawmaker who was telling me all about Beto O’Rourke, and I said ‘Oh, he’s Latino, right?’ And he said ‘No, no, no — His real name is Robert Francis!’ And I said ‘Huh?’”

The genius of Pat’s appropriative moniker is that Robert Francis would inevitably become Beto in some essential way; even if he wasn’t Hispanic himself, the mere fact that he spoke extemporaneous Spanish and represented a majority-Hispanic area would, through a tenuous kind of osmosis, grant him minority status with none of the commensurate difficulty that entails. Stephen A. Nuño all but said so in his 2013 NBC op-ed “Why a non-Latino should be in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus;” in addition to his fluency in Spanish and the makeup of his district, Nuño reasoned, “O’Rourke is decidedly progressive on social issues and has been a vocal proponent of comprehensive immigration reform.”

What else is there?

In his almost certainly ill-fated pursuit of the 2020 Democratic nomination, O’Rourke is no longer on the warpath to oust the media-loathed incumbent like Ted Cruz. He’s now in a crowded field with other Democrats, many of whom are actual minorities (and one who tried her damnedest). The media no longer view him as the adorable, skateboard-riding, honorary Hispanic who would supplant a creepy religious senator from Texas, but instead a privileged white male standing in the way of some minority candidate poised deliver a symbolic rebuke to Donald Trump (and, by fiat, the no-good-very-bad racists who elected him.)

The Daily Beast writes of “The Unbearable White Privilege of Beto O’Rourke;” CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson said that Beto’s careerism “drips with white male privilege” and insisted that “O’Rourke, tall, handsome, white and male, has this latitude, to be and do anything. His privilege even allows him to turn a loss to the most despised candidate of the cycle into a launching pad for a White House run. Stacey Abrams, a Yale-trained lawyer, couldn’t do this.”

Beto, meet Robert Francis.

O’Rourke soon realized he must drag himself through that tired rubric of public self-flagellation and self-loathing expected of white progressive men who deign to challenge visible minorities for a chance at power. It has, as of this writing, been an abject disaster:

“As a white man who has had privileges that others could not depend on, or take for granted,” a fallen, emasculated Beto said on Meet the Press, clearly penitent for the accidents of his birth, “I’ve clearly had advantages over the course of my life.” And he is obliged to report that he, and the society that afforded him these ill-gotten gains, are irredeemable to at their very core. He told immigrants and refugees gathered at a campaign in Nashville that “this country was founded on white supremacy, and every single institution and structure that we have in this country still reflects the legacy of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and suppression, even in our democracy.”

Nia-Malika Henderson was right — look at what happened to Stacey Abrams!

Just as Robert Francis O’Rourke’s performative self-hatred was drawing to an apparent and merciful close, it was revealed that both he and his wife had distant ancestors who owned slaves. Not only was “Beto” no longer the hip, young, almost-Hispanic progressive arriviste poised to unseat a folksy social conservative in Texas — he was the descendant of actual slaveowners who owned actual slaves. And while those of us disabused of mammalian instincts for mob justice and imputed guilt don’t indict Robert Francis O’Rourke for the misdeeds of his great-great-great grandparents, Beto knew that this revelation could be the nail in the coffin of his quest for the Democratic nomination (if it required such a nail) and, ultimately, the White House. He released an extended reflection on the matter on Medium, reading in part:

I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others. That only increases the urgency I feel to help change this country so that it works for those who have been locked-out of — or locked-up in — this system . . . We all need to know our own story as it relates to the national story, much as I am learning mine. It is only then, I believe, that we can take the necessary steps to repair the damage done and stop visiting this injustice on the generations that follow ours.

There has been great, awesome injustice in America’s history, a fact which no one of import disputes. Advantages certainly accrued to those alive during the various de jure arrangements that have, to one degree or another, excluded minorities from the promises of America. Individual instances of injustice remain. Rinse, wash, repeat. But it is nevertheless unclear what the impropriety of Beto O’Rourke’s great-great-great grandparents should matter to the average American voter, or why O’Rourke is even discussing his ancestors at all.

The O’Rourke saga has been characterized by a consummate self-obsession, the presumption that Beto — or Robert Francis — matters in some essential and transcendent way, that his story is ours, and that the sins of Beto’s ancestors are America’s. Whatever his name is, the pitch isn’t working.

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