To Beto, or not to Beto, seems to be the question among all of us who want to support the best candidate, or team of candidates, to beat Trump, flip the US Senate to the Democrats, and put humanity and the environment back to the top of this country’s agenda.
My son, Matt Villano and I met Beto last May at a fundraiser in Santa Rosa, California, when he was running against ‘Lyin Ted Cruz to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. We wanted to meet O’Rourke because we admired his courage to buck the odds, and take on such a despicable symbol of hypocrisy in a heavily “Red” state. We weren’t disappointed.
Much like he’s doing now in Iowa, Beto came to a small local restaurant and addressed a few dozen of us about why he was running for the US Senate. He was smart, personable, and well-informed on the issues, and when I asked him what he was going to do about the “cages for children” which the Trump Administration constructed on the Texas/Mexico border, near O’Rourke’s Congressional District, he didn’t shy away from giving an impassioned, detailed and impressive answer. As an El Paso native and Representative, he knew and cared about the issue of immigration more than any other public official of our time.
Beto’s charisma and passion for those without the privilege he knew he was fortunate to have, reminded me of Robert F. Kennedy. I told Robert Francis O’Rourke that I had campaigned for Bobby Kennedy in 1964, when he was running for the US Senate from NY against an entrenched GOP Senator when I was 15 years old. Now, more than 50 years later, in the presence of my 43-year old son, I felt we were experiencing another of those unique presences in American political life. Having worked with Mario Cuomo for eight years, I knew them when I saw them.
But, it was easy to be for Beto when he ran against the creepy Cruz. It was the quintessential battle of good vs. evil, Don Quixote vs. windmills, and a young, caring and charismatic public official struggling uphill, to unseat a shrivel-souled, cynical, hollowed-out man. Beto for President is not such an easy, nor binary, choice — not just yet. We have many miles to go before we vote.
Like many other sensible humans who care about the future of our world, I worked hard in 2016 to defeat Donald Trump, doing voter protection in North Carolina, only to discover that the Clinton campaign in that key state, like the candidate, was a catastrophe, as it was in swing states around the country. Like many other good people, I immediately supported the Resistance to Trump, marching and backing court challenges to his every illegal, inhumane act. And, like other citizen activists, I donated generously of both my money and time to Congressional campaigns around the country to flip the House of Representatives in 2018. We succeeded, and I will again do all I can to defeat Trump in 2020, keep the House Democratic and flip control of the US Senate.
How do we best achieve that? Who is the best Democrat — and the best team of people — to accomplish those imperatives? If we don’t bust up the Trump Criminal Enterprise, knock out the GOP from the White House and the US Senate, the future of this democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in this country is tenuous, at best, and the future of this planet, environmentally, is lost. That would mean a life of pure hell for my three granddaughters, ages 10, 7 and 3, and I will not sit silently by and allow that to happen.
I’ve given early money to the Presidential campaigns of Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, to the US Senate Campaign of Mark Kelly in Arizona, and the yet-to-be-announced Senate campaign of Amy McGrath of Kentucky against Mitch McConnell. I knew Beto would break all fund-raising records within the first 24-hours of announcing his candidacy for President, so, despite receiving 6 email appeals for money from his team on that first day — and three text messages — I resisted giving to Beto’s campaign just yet. I want to allow a few more flowers to bloom.
The truth is, like many Democrats and Independents, I’m not sure who the strongest candidate would be yet, to beat Trump and the GOP. Yes, Biden would be strong, but not without a younger female running mate, like Amy Klobuchar, or preferably a person of color who would electrify the electorate, like Stacey Abrams, or, perhaps, Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.
As a 70-year old white male, Biden’s age (76) cuts a couple of ways with me: I love the fact that he, like Bernie (78) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (85), prove that age is irrelevant to intellect and commitment to do good. But on the campaign trail, I just cannot see Biden bounding up on top of bars — Beto-like — in small pubs in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan & Pennsylvania — and I think it will take that kind of unrelenting energy to win. Vigor can’t be faked.
I love the depth and breadth of the Democratic field of candidates — from the bright, 37 year old Pete “Buttkicker” (as I’ve come to calling the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana), to 68-year old Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, who has made climate change the central issue of his campaign. No one is more articulate on financial, consumer and banking issues than Elizabeth Warren, nor is any other candidate as well-positioned geographically and politically as Amy Klobuchar, a star on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I want Julian Castro to be less formal than he is, but the thought of Florida’s Cubans voting for a President named Castro is incomprehensible. His twin-brother has a far stronger chance to flip a US Senate seat in Texas, especially with Beto — who has already demonstrated powerful coattails in his home state — at the top of the Democratic national ticket.
As someone who grew up in an ethnic, working-class family and whose older brothers detested the privilege of the Kennedys, I was affronted by Beto’s beautiful Vanity Fair all-too posed cover photo by Annie Leibovitz, and by O’Rourke’s Obama-like arrogance that he was “born to be in it.” Please spare us the hubris, especially after being bathed in maniacally false pride by Trump for three years. I’m not about to sarcastically christen him as the “magical man-boy”, as the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd did, but Beto, more than anyone in the Democratic field, has to be meticulously careful to avoid becoming the kind of celebrity candidate that working-families grow to resent, and vote against.
Yet, as a writer and media professional who worked with the eloquent Mario Cuomo, I recognize the power and great risk of becoming a media darling, and the potency and danger of skateboarding atop social media, especially when confronting a sick, symbiotic relationship between television, Twitter, and a twisted antagonist, like Trump.
Beto’s test, far bigger than the one he faced in Texas, will be to find just the right balance of riding the tiger of media and popular adoration without ending up inside, and taming it to come to this country’s rescue. If he can do that, O’Rourke will not only have earned the Democratic nomination, but the Presidency as well.