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Beto O'Rourke to seek Democratic U.S. presidential nomination: source

Beto O'Rourke to seek Democratic U.S. presidential nomination: source

Postby smix » Thu Mar 14, 2019 6:14 am

Beto O'Rourke to seek Democratic U.S. presidential nomination: source
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa- ... SKCN1QV00E
Category: Politics
Published: March 14, 2019

Description: EL PASO, Texas/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Beto O’Rourke, the Texan who gained a national following with his long-shot election battle against U.S. Senator Ted Cruz last year, will seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, a source close to the campaign said on Wednesday. O’Rourke, a 46-year-old former three-term U.S. representative from West Texas, will make his announcement via video on social media at 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT) on Thursday, the source said. “I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents,” O’Rourke said of his hometown in a text to TV station KTSM, which first reported his entry into the race. “It’s a big part of why I’m running. This city is the best example of this country at its best.” O’Rourke planned to follow his announcement with a trip to Iowa, the state that will hold the first Democratic nominating contest in February 2020. With his presidential effort, O’Rourke is hoping to leverage the fame he gained with his Senate race. He was a heavy underdog when he challenged Cruz, a Republican, in mostly conservative Texas, but he quickly demonstrated an ability to draw capacity crowds and raise money from voters nationwide. His Senate bid generated a torrent of media attention and excited voters in a party desperate for fresh political faces. He lost the race by less than 3 percentage points, the tightest U.S. Senate contest in the state in four decades.

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Early opinion polls on the 2020 race have consistently ranked O’Rourke in the top tier of more than a dozen declared or possible Democratic contenders, behind former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet said whether he is running, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a 2016 presidential contender who announced his 2020 candidacy last month. Vanity Fair quoted O’Rourke as saying in an interview published on Wednesday that he was aware of his disadvantage as a white man at a time when many in the Democratic Party want a woman or a person of color for president. “So if I were to run, I think it’s just so important that those who would comprise my team looked like this country. If I were to run, if I were to win, that my administration looks like this country. It’s the only way I know to meet that challenge,” O’Rourke told the magazine.
KEEPING IN PUBLIC EYE
Since his Senate bid ended, O’Rourke has worked to keep himself in the public eye, regularly staying in touch with his supporters and sitting for an interview with Oprah Winfrey. He took a well-publicized road trip across the American Southwest, stopping at colleges and diners. He visited with students in the key swing state of Wisconsin. He also held a rally in El Paso on the same night in February that Republican President Donald Trump staged one there. Both events in the Texas city that borders Mexico drew thousands and put the two men’s divergent positions on the border wall on sharp display. In El Paso, Trump ridiculed O’Rourke as “a young man who’s got very little going for himself, except he’s got a great first name.” O’Rourke accused Trump of stoking “false fear” about immigrants. Starting with the Iowa caucuses next year, the Democrat who amasses the majority of delegates nationwide in a series of nominating contests will be nominated at the party’s convention in the summer, and will likely face Trump in November’s general election.



Beto O’Rourke’s secret membership in America’s oldest hacking group
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/sp ... o-orourke/
Category: Politics
Published: March 15, 2019

Description: As the Texas Democrat enters the race for president, members of a group famous for “hactivism” come forward for the first time to claim him as one of their own. There may be no better time to be an American politician rebelling against business as usual. But is the United States ready for O’Rourke’s teenage exploits?
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> Some things you might know about Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who just entered the race for president:
* The Democratic contender raised a record amount for a U.S. Senate race in 2018 and almost beat the incumbent in a Republican stronghold, without hiding his support for gun control and Black Lives Matter protests on the football field.
* When he was younger, he was arrested on drunk-driving charges and played in a punk band. Now 46, he still skateboards.
* The charismatic politician with the Kennedy smile is liberal on some issues and libertarian on others, which could allow him to cross the country’s political divide.

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One thing you didn’t know: While a teenager, O’Rourke acknowledged in an exclusive interview, he belonged to the oldest group of computer hackers in U.S. history. The hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known for inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work. Members of the group have protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability. Now, in a series of interviews, CDC members have acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own. In all, more than a dozen members of the group agreed to be named for the first time in a book about the hacking group by this reporter that is scheduled to be published in June by Public Affairs. O’Rourke was interviewed early in his run for the Senate. There is no indication that O’Rourke ever engaged in the edgiest sorts of hacking activity, such as breaking into computers or writing code that enabled others to do so. But his membership in the group could explain his approach to politics better than anything on his resume. His background in hacking circles has repeatedly informed his strategy as he explored and subverted established procedures in technology, the media and government. “There’s just this profound value in being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” O’Rourke said. “I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that.” An ex-hacker running for national office would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. But that was before two national elections sent people from other nontraditional backgrounds to the White House and Congress, many of them vowing to blow up the status quo. Arguably, there has been no better time to be an American politician rebelling against business as usual. Still, it’s unclear whether the United States is ready for a presidential contender who, as a teenager, stole long-distance phone service for his dial-up modem, wrote a murder fantasy in which the narrator drives over children on the street, and mused about a society without money.
> ‘Footloose’ for the hacker set
O’Rourke was a misfit teen in El Paso, Texas, in the 1980s when he decided to seek out bulletin board systems – the online discussion forums that at the time were the best electronic means for connecting people outside the local school, church and neighborhood. “When Dad bought an Apple IIe and a 300-baud modem and I started to get on boards, it was the Facebook of its day,” he said. “You just wanted to be part of a community.” O’Rourke soon started his own board, TacoLand, which was freewheeling and largely about punk music. “This was the counterculture: Maximum Rock & Roll [magazine], buying records by catalog you couldn’t find at record stores,” he said. He then connected with another young hacker in the more conservative Texas city of Lubbock who ran a bulletin board called Demon Roach Underground. Known online as Swamp Rat, Kevin Wheeler had recently moved from a university town in Ohio and was having problems adjusting to life in Texas. Like O’Rourke, Wheeler said, he was hunting for video games that had been “cracked,” or stripped from digital rights protections, so that he could play them for free on his Apple. Also like O’Rourke, Wheeler wanted to find other teens who enjoyed the same things, and to write and share funny and profane stories that their parents and conservative neighbors wouldn’t appreciate. It was good-natured resistance to the repressive humdrum around them, a sort of “Footloose” for those just discovering the new world of computers. Wheeler and a friend named the Cult of the Dead Cow after an eerie hangout, a shut-down Lubbock slaughterhouse – the unappealing hind part of Texas’ iconic cattle industry. Most CDC members kept control of their own bulletin boards while referring visitors to one another’s and distributing the CDC’s own branded essays, called text files or t-files.

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At the time, people connected to bulletin boards by dialing in to the phone lines through a modem. Heavy use of long-distance modem calls could add up to hundreds of dollars a month. Savvy teens learned techniques for getting around the charges, such as using other people’s phone-company credit card numbers and five-digit calling codes to place free calls. O’Rourke didn’t say what techniques he used. Like thousands of others, though, he said he pilfered long-distance service “so I wouldn’t run up the phone bill.” Under Texas law, stealing long-distance service worth less than $1,500 is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. More than that is a felony, and could result in jail time. It is unclear whether O’Rourke topped that threshold. In any event, the state bars prosecution of the offense for those under 17, as O’Rourke was for most of his active time in the group, and the statute of limitations is five years. Two Cult of the Dead Cow contemporaries in Texas who were caught misusing calling cards as minors got off with warnings. O’Rourke handed off control of his own board when he moved east for boarding school, and he said he stopped participating on the hidden CDC board after he enrolled at Columbia University at age 18. Hana Callaghan, a government specialist at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said that voters might want to consider both the gravity of any candidate’s offenses and the person’s age at the time. Among the questions voters should ask, she said: “What was the violation? Was it egregious? What does it say about their character – do they believe the rules don’t apply to them?” If substantial time has passed, she added, voters should decide whether the person “learned the error of their ways and no longer engages in those kind of behavior.” When he was a teen, O’Rourke also frequented sites that offered cracked software. The bulletin boards were “a great way to get cracked games,” O’Rourke said, adding that he later realized his habit wasn’t morally defensible and stopped. Using pirated software violates copyright laws, attorneys say, but in practice, software companies have rarely sued young people over it. When they do go after someone, it is typically an employer with workers using multiple unlicensed copies. Software providers are more interested in those who break the protections and spread their wares. CDC wasn’t of that ilk. Although some CDC essays gave programming and hacking instructions, in the late 1980s, the group was more about writing than it was about breaking into computer systems. But its focus on creative expression didn’t mean there were no grounds for controversy. Like many an underground newspaper, the Cult of the Dead Cow avidly pursued it. A CDC member who joined in the early 1990s had previously used real instructions for making a pipe bomb to joke about shedding pounds by losing limbs. Three teenagers in Montreal found the file, and one lost two fingers after he tried to follow the formula, prompting outrage. Rather than remove similar posts and hide the group’s history, the CDC warned readers not to take the files literally and added a disclaimer that survives on its current web page: “Warning: This site may contain explicit descriptions of or advocate one or more of the following: adultery, murder, morbid violence, bad grammar, deviant sexual conduct in violent contexts, or the consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs.”
> Grabbing media attention
O’Rourke and his old friends say his stint as a fledgling hacker fed into his subsequent work in El Paso as a software entrepreneur and alternative press publisher, which led in turn to successful long-shot runs at the city council and then Congress, where he unseated an incumbent Democrat. Politically, O’Rourke has taken some conventional liberal positions, supporting abortion rights and opposing a wall on the Mexican border. But he takes a libertarian view on other issues, faulting excessive regulation and siding with businesses in congressional votes on financial industry oversight and taxes. His more conservative positions have drawn fire from Democrats who see him as too friendly with Republicans and corporations. His more progressive votes and punk-rock past helped his recent opponent, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, portray O’Rourke as too radical for socially conservative Texas. But the political balance allows him to appeal to both main strands of political thought in Silicon Valley – a key source of campaign money and cultural influence. O’Rourke credits the Cult of the Dead Cow with developing his thinking in a number of ways. Not least, he fought to restore net neutrality, the principle which prevented internet providers from favoring some content over others. Enthusiastically supported by large tech companies and consumer groups, net neutrality was formally adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. The major telecommunications companies argued that it limited their ability to offer new services to content providers, and under the Trump Administration, the FCC overturned the policy in 2017. An attempt to legislate its reinstatement failed last year, although tech trade groups are still trying in court. Hackers generally support net neutrality as part of a broader worldview that the free flow of information is necessary and good. “I understand the democratizing power of the internet, and how transformative it was for me personally, and how it leveraged the extraordinary intelligence of these people all over the country who were sharing ideas and techniques,” O’Rourke said. “When you compromise the ability to treat all that equally, it runs counter to the ethics of the groups we were part of. And factually, you can just see that it will harm small-business development and growth. It hampers the ability to share what you are creating, whether it is an essay, a song, a piece of art.” O’Rourke’s generation of hackers, and the Cult of the Dead Cow in particular, also thought deeply about how to grab media and public attention for a cause or a laugh. Group members, for instance, tossed raw meat from a Las Vegas stage, distributed an essay called “Sex with Satan” and falsely claimed the ability to hack satellites. That media sense echoes in O’Rourke’s political life. As a congressman in 2016, while he and others were holding a sit-in at the House of Representatives to force a floor debate on gun control, the Republican Speaker, Paul Ryan, called a recess. That invoked the congressional rule that C-SPAN can’t broadcast from its House cameras when the chamber isn’t in session. So O’Rourke began broadcasting the protest from his phone over Facebook, and the network aired that instead. The stunt drew attention to the majority party’s refusal to deliberate on the issue, and it showed O’Rourke’s willingness to upend convention. During last year’s Senate campaign, O’Rourke’s staff took videos of him interacting with voters all over the state, editing several that went viral on social media. That helped O’Rourke raise more money than any Senate candidate in history despite refusing donations from political action committees. While losing his race by less than three percentage points, he drew in new voters and helped flip House seats and other races down the ticket. While considering a presidential run, O’Rourke has gone on a multistate road trip and posted videos of everyday activities, even including a dental visit. “Part of my success was being exposed to people who thought differently and explored how things work,” O’Rourke said in the interview. “There are alternate paths to service and success, and it’s important to be mindful of that.”
> A murder fantasy and an end to money
O’Rourke, too, thought differently. His CDC writing from nearly three decades ago, under the handle “Psychedelic Warlord,” remains online. One article he wrote as a teen mused how the world would work without money. After changing the system, including the government, O’Rourke foresaw the end of starvation and class distinctions. “To achieve a money-less society (or have a society where money is heavily de-emphasized) a lot of things would have to change, including government as we know it. This is where the anti-money group and the disciples of Anarchy meet,” O’Rourke wrote under his pseudonym. “I fear we will always have a system of government, one way or another, so we would have to use other means other than totally toppling the government (I don’t think the masses would support such a radical move at this time).” Another t-file from O’Rourke, written when he was 15, is a short and disturbing piece of fiction. “One day, as I was driving home from work, I noticed two children crossing the street. They were happy, happy to be free from their troubles…. This happiness was mine by right. I had earned it in my dreams. “As I neared the young ones, I put all my weight on my right foot, keeping the accelerator pedal on the floor until I heard the crashing of the two children on the hood, and then the sharp cry of pain from one of the two. I was so fascinated for a moment, that when after I had stopped my vehicle, I just sat in a daze, sweet visions filling my head.” In another piece, he took on a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who maintained that Hitler was misunderstood and didn’t personally want Jews killed. O’Rourke and a Jewish friend questioned the man about his theories and let him ramble about Jews and African Americans, an attempt to let him hang himself with his own words. “We were trying to see what made him think the horrible things that he did,” he wrote in the file. O’Rourke added that if readers wanted to learn more about the subject’s Aryan church, they could write to the man’s post office box in El Paso. “Surely,” O’Rourke wrote, “they’d appreciate some ‘fan’ mail.”
> A rare woman in the hacker world
In addition to critiquing racism, O'Rourke tried to do something about sexism in the male-dominated world of hacking. O’Rourke befriended a 16-year-old California girl who was a regular on TacoLand, and he put her up for membership in the CDC. With Wheeler’s approval, she got in, making the CDC one of a very few hacker groups of the time that weren’t all-male. “I joined happily, honored, and proceeded to write crappy, horrific, 16-year-old bloody t-files,” Carrie Campbell wrote to friends in the group 20 years later. “I loved the community of smart people (and their girlfriends) to converse with and bounce ideas off of. The acceptance of my female gender is extremely rare in the hacker scene and I appreciate it…Somehow I ended up purely by accident as the only girl in the world’s most notorious hacker group.”

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Wheeler kept the Cult of the Dead Cow small, with no more than 20 active members at a time and about 50 over the group’s life. It continues today. The vast majority have remained anonymous, though most of the core participants agreed to identify themselves for the forthcoming book, called “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World.” Campbell and Wheeler were two of those who agreed to be identified as CDC members for the first time. During O’Rourke’s active period, “we weren’t deliberately looking for hacking chops,” Wheeler said. “It was very much about personality and writing, really. For a long time, the ‘test,’ or evaluation, was to write t-files. Everyone was expected to write things. If we were stoked to have more hacker-oriented people, it was because we’d be excited to have a broader range in our t-files.” O’Rourke wrote a few more essays before entering Columbia in 1991. The introduction of internet service providers and Web browsers in the mid-1990s wiped out most bulletin boards, but the CDC lived on. Its writing moved to web pages that were hosted for years by a famed Boston hacking collective called the L0pht, with which the CDC shared four members, including Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, future head of the cyber security mission at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA is the Pentagon skunk works created after Sputnik to create “strategic surprise” in international conflict, and it had launched the forerunner to today’s internet. O’Rourke saw other members socially until at least 1997, just as the Cult of the Dead Cow was ramping up a run of five or six years as the most famous group of its kind. “I was really at the margins, but I very much wanted to be as cool as these people, as sophisticated and technologically proficient and aware and smart as they were,” he said in the interview. “I never was, but it meant so much just being able to be a part of something with them…understanding how the world worked – literally how it worked, how the phone system worked and how we were all connected to each other.” At the hacker conference Def Con in 1998 and 1999, donning costumes and rapping to a light show, the CDC released two tools to hack into computers running Windows. Back Orifice and its sequel Back Orifice 2000 were condemned as reckless by some. But the idea was to cause enough chaos and scrutiny to force Microsoft to work harder to secure its products, and the stunts worked, company veterans and outside security experts said. Like O’Rourke, not everyone in the CDC pursued careers in the computer industry. Wheeler ran music venues in Texas and produced records in New York before turning to currency trading. Campbell is a freelance researcher near Seattle. When Campbell left the email group for CDC members in 2006, she asked everyone to keep O’Rourke’s identity secret, because he had just been elected to the El Paso city council. They did so, and a few stepped up in late 2017 and early 2018 to hold some of O’Rourke’s earliest out-of-state fundraisers for the Senate race. The first in San Francisco was co-hosted by CDC member Adam O’Donnell, an entrepreneur and a security engineer at Cisco Systems, and Alex Stamos, then the chief security officer at Facebook, who had worked under CDC members at a security provider in the previous decade. Both said that technology was playing an increasingly fundamental role in national and personal security, the economy and everyday life, and that O’Rourke’s background in the industry, no matter how unconventional, would be a huge advantage in office. “It’s really exciting,” Stamos said. “I have to support this guy, someone who has been active in this world since he was a teenager.” Chris Wysopal, a L0pht veteran who founded tech company Veracode with a friend from the CDC, said he had been happily surprised to hear last year of O’Rourke’s history. “We need people at his level who come from the hacking community and get it,” Wysopal said. “But it’s rare to see someone from that background have the leadership and communications skills. It’s hard to believe that we might even see a hacker run for president.” Back during one of his college summers, O’Rourke crashed at Carrie Campbell’s house when his punk band toured her area. She saw him in 1997, too, when he was working at a New York internet provider and the CDC came to the Hackers on Planet Earth conference. The next time was two decades later, at a Seattle fundraiser for the Senate race. O’Rourke singled her out in the crowd and told everyone she was a great person who didn’t complain that his band once had eaten all her cereal. But there was one thing he didn’t mention: how they met.



Democratic presidential candidate O'Rourke lays out $5 trillion climate plan
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa- ... SKCN1S51MB
Category: Politics
Published: April 29, 2019

Description: (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Monday laid out one of the most detailed climate policies so far in the crowded Democratic field, calling for a $5 trillion investment in clean energy technology and infrastructure over 10 years with a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, made climate change the focus of his first major policy announcement, unveiling the plan ahead of a campaign stop meeting with scientists at the iconic Yosemite National Park in California. “The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

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The plan lays out a series of executive actions that would reverse the “energy dominance” policies of President Donald Trump, who has been rolling back environmental regulation to increase domestic fossil fuels production. O’Rourke’s measures include U.S. re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement, ordering a reduction in methane emissions from oil and gas operations, halting new drilling leases on federal land and restoring pollution standards for power plants. His plan also calls for raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations to help fund some $5 trillion in projects to modernize infrastructure and clean energy technology over a decade. The net-zero goal in O’Rourke’s and other climate plans means reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent or offsetting them by as much as is emitted. “The bill will be funded with the revenues generated by structural changes to the tax code that ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share and that we finally end the tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks currently given to fossil fuel companies,” O’Rourke’s legislative proposal states. The plan appears to align with some of the principles of the Green New Deal, a bold set of policy goals introduced by congressional Democrats, that would transform the U.S. energy economy to 100 percent renewable sources by 2030, using federal funds to invest in modern infrastructure and green job programs. Most of the Democratic presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, have embraced the Green New Deal, which has become a focus of attacks by the Republican party, which calls it unfeasible. Other candidates have announced some specific policy measures related to climate change and the environment in recent weeks, and Warren has unveiled a public lands policy that would ban new drilling and mining leases on federal lands. Environmental group the League of Conservation Voters on Monday praised O’Rourke’s plan, saying that it offered “the kind of leadership we need from the next president.” Still, the upstart Sunrise Movement, the youth-led group that has pushed the Green New Deal into the spotlight, said O’Rourke’s plan fell short of what they said scientists said was necessary to fend off the worst impacts of climate change. The Green New Deal calls for achieving net zero emissions within a decade, not by mid-century, as O’Rourke’s plan sets out. “Beto claims to support the Green New Deal, but his plan is out of line with the timeline it lays out and the scale of action that scientists say is necessary to take here in the United States to give our generation a livable future,” said Sunrise founder Varshini Prakash.
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Beto 2020 Has No Reason to Exist

Postby smix » Thu Mar 14, 2019 7:13 am

Beto 2020 Has No Reason to Exist
Slate

URL: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/201 ... t-why.html
Category: Politics
Published: March 13, 2019

Description: Of all the major candidates, he brings the least to the Democratic primary.

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Beto O’Rourke is finally ready to end the suspense. The former Texas congressman is expected to formally kick off his presidential campaign Thursday, one day after tipping his hand to a local TV station in Texas. “I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents,” O’Rourke told KTSM El Paso via text. “It’s a big part of why I’m running.” His apparent confirmation came on the heels of a new Vanity Fair cover story—complete with glossy photo shoot—in which he told the magazine that he wanted to run. “I want to be in it,” he said, after describing our current political moment as an existential fight. “Man, I’m just born to be in it, and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment.” O’Rourke would seem to have much of what he needs to mount a serious run for the Democratic nomination. He has political celebrity after his stronger-than-expected challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz in the midterms. He has a devoted base of fans and network of small donors that would make him instantly competitive. He is already better known and better liked than a number of national Democrats who have been running for weeks. And in preparation for his launch, he reportedly beefed up his already valuable email list, lined up potential campaign hires, and has planned a multiday swing through Iowa this weekend. Beto is missing one important thing, though: an actual reason to run. O’Rourke would enter the race as a man without a clear political ideology, a signature legislative achievement, a major policy issue, or a concrete agenda for the country. Those in the know tell the Atlantic that Beto is planning to run as a candidate “offering hope that America can be better than its current partisan and hate-filled politics, and that the country can come together,” but that—brace yourself—he hasn’t yet “landed on how he’ll propose to actually make that happen.” That’s more of the same empty words Beto’s been offering in public since his loss to Cruz. “I don’t know where I am on a [political] spectrum, and I almost could care less,” he said at a recent stop in Wisconsin. “I just want to get to better things for this country.” “Beto 2020: Better Things” would not be the worst campaign slogan I’ve ever heard, but it’s nowhere near a fully formed vision of why O’Rourke thinks he should be president, or why Democrats of any stripe should want him to be. It’s possible that he’d be able to ride to the nomination on the force of his personality alone—it’s gotten him this far—but that would be a particular shame considering he’ll face one of the deepest and most diverse primary fields. If Democrats are in the market for soaring rhetoric about bridging the partisan divide, they can get that from Joe Biden, Cory Booker, or Amy Klobuchar—all of whom can offer their own specific cases for what that bipartisanship can produce, unlike O’Rourke. If Beto has a defining characteristic, it’s that he’s easily excited by possible solutions but frustratingly slow to choose which one he thinks is best. Knowing what you don’t know is an admirable quality, but it has limits. If O’Rourke is going to seek the highest office in the land, he should have some answers of his own. After three terms in the House and one run for the Senate, it’s not clear he does. For someone who famously swore off focus groups during his Senate run, it’s striking how much O’Rourke seems to be poll-testing his message in real time. Consider the interview O’Rourke gave to the Washington Post in January, in which he was stumped when asked what should be done to cut down on the number of immigrants who overstay their visas, a rather standard question on the topic. “I don’t know,” Beto said, before eventually suggesting that the United States and Mexico could potentially harmonize their visa systems to better keep track of who has entered the country and who has left. “That’s an answer,” he concluded, “but that’s something that we should be debating.”

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A month or so later, Beto included that same idea on a list of “10 Ideas for Immigration & Border Reform” he sent to supporters, but as the title made clear he was still just thinking aloud: “a first step could be text message reminders,” he offered by parenthetical in the bullet point on visa overstays. Curiously absent from this list was the boldest immigration idea he has discussed publicly: removing existing walls and fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border in places like El Paso. Beto floated that idea in an interview with MSNBC in February, shortly after he held his rally to counter President Donald Trump’s trip to Texas and a couple weeks before he released the list. It’s not just immigration, either. Asked by the Post about Trump’s plan to quickly withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, O’Rourke called for “a debate, a discussion, a national conversation about why we’re there, why we fight, why we sacrifice lives of American service members, why we’re willing to take the lives of others.” Asked about the Green New Deal, O’Rourke called the proposal “a perfect point from which to start a conversation” but then left the conversation there, much as he did during his run for Senate by advocating for climate science, then providing few specifics about what should be done to address global warming on the scale the global community has deemed necessary. A national conversation is healthy, but these topics are pressing. O’Rourke doesn’t sound like he’s eager to lead either debate. This is not some new verbal tic O’Rourke developed while thinking about the White House. It was on display before he was elected to the U.S. House, as Politico Magazine illustrated recently with the story of how he came to run a 2012 campaign commercial floating the possibility of raising the Social Security retirement age to 69—emphasis on possibility. During his Senate campaign, O’Rourke was similarly open to ideas without advocating for specific ones. He specifically avoided policy-specific language like “Medicare for all,” instead saying he was open to a variety of paths to universal health care coverage, “whether it be through a single payer system, a dual system, or otherwise.” (“Beto 2020: Or Otherwise!”) You don’t need to be a policy wonk to be president, but O’Rourke’s allergy to specifics is worsened by his refusal to give voters any real clue of his guiding ideology. As he put it at his final congressional town hall last year, when asked whether he was a progressive: “I’m not big on labels. I don’t get all fired up about party or classifying or defining people based on a label or a group. I’m for everyone.” Labels like progressive and moderate have limited meaning—especially as White House hopefuls blur the lines between both—but they’re not devoid of meaning. If O’Rourke is not going to get specific, the least he can do is get general. Unless he does, he won’t add anything of value to the Democratic race other than platitudes, which are hardly in short supply. There’s nothing special about O’Rourke’s dream to heal the partisan divide in this country when he can’t explain how he’ll do it. Because as exciting as his bid to take down Cruz was, it also showed the limits of bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake. Case in point: Last summer, Beto declared he was putting “country over party” when he declined to support the Democratic challenger to GOP Rep. Will Hurd, whom he had joined on a 2017 road trip from Texas to D.C. that doubled as a 1,600-mile ode to reaching across the aisle. Hurd went on to win re-election by less than 1,000 votes. Asked last weekend whether he’d back O’Rourke over Trump in a hypothetical 2020 general election, Hurd was clear: “My plan is to vote for the Republican nominee.”
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