Blank Screen Beto: Liner Notes

I have another new column up at The Federalist this week, “There’s No Way Beto O’Rourke Can Duplicate Obama’s Success.” That headline is a bit more confident than I am (as headlines tend to be). But Beto will have problems trying to be the “blank screen” that Obama — and Trump, for that matter — were for many voters.

What got left out? Not the material about his weird road trip journal; that story had not broken when I submitted this column. (I tend to think this is a calculation on O’Rourke’s part, albeit a strange one.)

Rather, I cut more material about the weaknesses of populism, whether deployed by Beto or others.

For example, in the original discussion that led to me writing the column, I had noted that Tucker Carlson’s recent critique of modern capitalism was largely devoid of any actual policy, and that by his own admission, Carlson was “just asking questions.” And that as the Federalist’s publisher, Ben Domenech, pointed out in his newsletter (The Transom), when Carlson got specific on the issue of marijuana decriminalization, he got it backward: it was not an issue driven by elites (at least not by political elites). Similarly, while the column has a Big Lebowski-inspired joke about President Trump’s desired border wall, I would up skipping a bit about the wall not really being the top priority for immigration hawks in the policy sphere.

Unfortunately, as much as I like that bit, it tended to break the flow of the argument. This is what writers mean when they talk about “killing their darlings.”

I also wound up cutting more about the attacks on Beto from the Bernie Sanders types, including that Beto squirms about being labeled “progressive” and never joined the progressive caucus in the House. To the contrary, he belonged to a caucus that was more of a Clintonite, “third way” sort of group. The degree to which Beto and others (notably Kamala Harris) decide to embrace the democratic socialist agenda will probably be one of the major stories of the Dems’ 2020 presidential nomination, but it’s a story for another column.

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