Will Beto Be America’s First Latino President? The Same Way Bill Clinton Was America’s First Black President?

Written by on March 19, 2019

Syndicated columnist and Fox News commentator Ruben Navarrette claims he’s “the most widely read Latino columnist in the country, and the 16th most popular columnist in America.” His perspective is distinctly right-of-center and over the weekend he was on the pretty massive anti-Beto bandwagon– using political correctness against him (cultural appropriation– which even liberals are starting to hate). The title of his USA Today column, For Latinos, ‘Beto’ O’Rourke Is Just Another Privileged White Guy Trying To Manipulate Them. Not as savage as Tim Russo’s brutal and highly personal take-down (complete with musical critique), Navarrette wrote that “O’Rourke hasn’t earned the familiarity he allegedly has with Latinos. He should know that life in America’s largest racial minority isn’t all fiestas… [T]hat’s basically the refrain I’ve heard from dozens of Latinos who– unlike the media, which is run by white liberals who are fascinated by other white liberals– refuse to go loco for Beto.”

They’re concerned that Robert Francis O’Rourke, who this week joined an already-crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, is trying to put one over on Latinos by tricking them into thinking he’s one of them. Or, at the very least, they think that his strategy, or that of his handlers, is to come across to Latinos as a simpatico who connects with them the way that Bill Clinton– who writer Toni Morrison mischievously dubbed “our first black president”– connected with African-Americans. At least until Barack Obama came along, and the Clinton machine tried, and failed, to destroy him.

So is that the deal? Is O’Rourke aiming to become America’s first Latino president?

Por favor. Please. Speaking as a Mexican-American, let me spare you the suspense: That zapato won’t fit. Sorry, Beto, you’re no Bill Clinton.

What actual Latinos tell me is that they resent the presumptuousness of this supposed familiarity that we’re told Beto feels with a community that he has done, at best, a mediocre job of representing when he had the chance.

For instance, at a time when Latinos feel under siege by ethnocentrism and anti-immigrant demagoguery, where was O’Rourke on the explosive immigration issue during his three terms in the House of Representatives? Judging from the comments by lawmakers who served with him, it appears he was in hiding.

But hey, let’s cut the guy some slack for going AWOL when Latinos needed him. O’Rourke hails from the border city of El Paso, Texas. Where would anyone encounter immigrants in a place like that?

The Democrat is also criticized for not reaching out to Latino voters in Texas during his Senate race last year against incumbent Ted Cruz, perhaps thinking he had them in the bag and so he could take them for granted.

One Mexican-American professor who teaches at a university in San Diego criticized that the politician called himself “Beto.” He said it seems like O’Rourke is taking advantage of his nickname to pretend to be something he’s not.

Another professor and lawyer, who is Panamanian-American, said that O’Rourke hasn’t lived the life of a Hispanic man. As a white male, his life was easier. And it still is.

A Mexican-American woman who works in public relations told me he seems condescending. Given his privilege, it is irritating that he seems to pretend that he knows and understands what bothers a demographic that he’s not part of.

The Beto backlash reminds of the idea of stolen valor, the righteous outrage felt by combat veterans when others who didn’t see action claim medals they don’t deserve.

You see, being a member of America’s largest minority– especially in the Donald Trump era– isn’t all fiestas and churros. And if you haven’t had your ticket punched, you don’t get to take the ride.

Now let’s deal with this business about the name. Who, or what, gave birth to the legend of Beto?

Robert Francis prefers to be called by that name, and he and his army of supporters– the Beto bots– swear it has nothing to do with politics. They even point to the fact that O’Rourke seems to have first gotten tagged with the moniker when he was a child, showing off a photo of him as a boy wearing a sweatshirt with the name “Beto” on it.

What they appear not as eager to talk about, however, is the fact that Patrick O’Rourke– Robert Francis’ father– once explained that he was the one who gave his son the nickname in the first place and the reason had a lot to do with politics, as well as geography.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the patriarch reasoned that if his son ever ran for office in El Paso, the odds of being elected in that largely Mexican-American city were far greater with a name like Beto.

When told of his father’s words, O’Rourke shrugged them off, calling his father “farsighted.”

I’d use different words, like cynical and dishonest and manipulative.

It’s certainly not respectful to assume that people can be so easily fooled. And, as any real Latino can tell you, respect goes a long way in our community. O’Rourke should take the time to get to know us better. And, if he did, more Latinos might have a better impression of him. 

So, that’ll be part of the Republican strategy if Beto makes it onto the national ticket. It’s divisive… but not unsurmountable. I just love the idea of conservatives taking up the cultural appropriation cudgel for their own use though! It always seemed to me to be tailor-made for them anyway.

Alex Shephard, at the New Republic, also went to town on Beto over the weekend: The Profound Emptiness of Beto O’Rourke. Like many of us, Shephard is offended by Beto’s “empty platitudes” and doesn’t particularly like the comparisons to Obama, “with whom he shares a message of optimism and unity. But the comparisons end there. He has all of Obama’s self-assurance with none of his intellectual fortitude, inspirational biography, or oratory power. His rhetoric is as empty as his platform, his paeans to ‘coming together’ the stuff of Obama fanfic… [T]he biggest thing that O’Rourke has in common with Obama, the 2008 candidate, is the belief that they can transcend a broken political system with lofty rhetoric about bringing people together. But when Obama spoke about healing divisions, millions of people believed him. And it still didn’t work. Obama came to his senses while in office, as the Republican Party committed itself to bigotry and intransigence, and he now spends his political capital and energy on reforming our broken democracy. Many of the Democratic candidates for president have their own proposals for doing so. O’Rourke just has a blog, and a big beautiful smile that some folks can’t resist. It’s as if the last ten years of American political life never happened.”

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