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Beto and the Danger of Bubbles

November 4, 2019
Beto and the Danger of Bubbles
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I’m going to avoid overwrought Icarus metaphors about Beto O’Rourke, but they are tempting, because the collapse of his presidential campaign was so epic. It might even be tragic, if it was not so overlaid with absurdity.

The hopes were so high. The hype was so lit.

The delusion was so intense.

In retrospect, the questions are obvious: how could Democrats have ever imagined that this guy was ready for prime time? How did they mange to pump up someone so callow? Sure, the skateboarding was cool, and there was a documentary about his Senate run! And he was on the cover of Vanity Fair!

He was . . . born to be in it.

It took only months to expose the flimflammery and shallowness, the dysfunctional campaign, the passionate but reflexive and incoherent ideology, and his addiction to political bullshit. As his campaign flailed, Beto called for the mandatory confiscation of assault weapons and the removal of the tax exempt status of churches that did not support same-sex marriage. Even his fellow Democrats rolled their eyes at his attempts to cast these ludicrous positions as bold and authentic.

His supporters and fans will undoubtedly find this deeply unfair, because they had projected onto him so many qualities they devoutly wished that he had. But now that he has fizzled, how can we explain the puffery that lead folks to compare him to the Kennedys?

Via Politico:

There was no simple way to explain his fall, the most spectacular failure of the Democratic presidential primary.

A year ago, in the aftermath of his near-miss Senate run, O’Rourke was already viewed as a top-tier presidential contender, improbably polling third, behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Former President Barack Obama was publicly drawing comparisons between the former Texas congressman and himself, while former Obama aides were privately encouraging young operatives to move to O’Rourke’s hometown, El Paso, to get in early on the campaign. The media would soon encamp on the sidewalks there.

Rival candidates feared O’Rourke would swamp them with his donor list, after raising more than $80 million in his near-miss Senate campaign against Ted Cruz.

Read the whole analysis. But I’d like to offer another point as well: Beto was both in a bubble and the product of a bubble. Liberals across the country fell in love with him because was running against Ted Cruz. He was their star . . . and they were dazzled. So they didn’t look all that closely. And, to be fair, he did far better in that Senate race than anyone thought he would.

But he was a political bubble; and bubbles can be dangerous things for political parties.

We are all, of course, living through the nightmare of the GOP bubble that has morphed into an alternative universe. But Democrats have their own bubbles, and Beto should be a cautionary tale.

I wrote about this phenomenon back in May:

Look, we all live in our tribal bubbles, but Democrats have something more – a political Holodeck for them to indulge their deepest fantasies. They have movies … and television shows … and glossy magazines that help engorge their wish-casting.

They can immerse themselves in glowing, warm, reassuring fictional worlds in which they are beautiful, noble, lovable… and where, as Al Franken might have put it in his pre-grabby days, gosh darn it, people like them, including their “ambitious environmental initiatives.”

I have questions. Could their addiction to political porn dull their instincts for the real thing? Is this why they have so much difficulty actually performing in an unscripted world? Or why they are so often surprised by reality?

Maybe that goes too far. But it is surpassingly easy for Democrats to fall into their gauzy comfort zones. Their idols are celebrated on social media and their detractors summarily canceled. They can convince themselves that shtick is substance and that voters want things that they want (Medicare for All. Green New Deal, Massive Tax Increases).

And they can believe that Beto O’Rourke was the second coming of JFK.

Until reality hits.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.