One month ago, Beto O’Rourke came to Columbia’s campus to speak to a select group of students who had won the chance to see him by lottery. I counted myself as one of the lucky few who got to see O’Rourke, and even posted my picture with him on Instagram. I came away impressed by O’Rourke’s cogency, his willingness to answer questions from students, and his ability to speak extemporaneously. He seemed genuine, passionate, and above all else, extremely charismatic.
Like other liberals on this campus, I was captivated by O’Rourke’s Texas Senate campaign against Ted Cruz. It didn’t hurt that articles like this from Spectator fueled excitement that a Columbia alum was in perhaps the most highly publicized race of the 2018 midterms. In a journalism class I took last semester, it seemed O’Rourke was brought up every session because students were incredibly excited to talk about him.
Although O’Rourke lost, it’s clear many of his fans do not hold his failed Senate race against him; in the first 24 hours after his announcement to campaign for U.S. president, O’Rourke raised a record $6.1 million, higher than any other Democratic hopeful to date. Yet, I must admit, after the initial excitement of his announcement, I am left a bit bewildered by O’Rourke.
A quick glance at his website reveals absolutely nothing about his policy positions. There isn’t even an introduction to O’Rourke or any explanation for why he wants to run for president. But hey, at least you can buy some pretty swanky T-shirts! I am definitely not the first person to accuse O’Rourke of being “slippery” on policy positions, but it really struck me as odd to find that O’Rourke’s own website completely validates such criticisms. To exemplify O’Rourke’s inconsistencies, one may point out that after purporting that a single-payer Medicare-for-all program is the best infrastructural model for healthcare during his Senate campaign, he has recently backtracked, saying he’s “not sure” if single-payer is the fastest way to get to universal health care coverage, and that he’s open to hearing others’ ideas.
I understand that it is quite early in the election cycle and the first Democratic debate is still three months away. But still, shouldn’t a candidate’s stated vision for America be a prerequisite to an announcement for the candidacy of the highest office in the country? On an issue as central as healthcare, shouldn’t one have an opinion on the best way to improve our broken system, and not just be looking for suggestions? Candidates should offer solutions to our toughest problems, not be vague on the most important issues.
Articles like this New York Times profile romanticize the way O’Rourke spent his time in New York as a sort of bohemian drifter, and at this point, we’ve all heard the stories about his time on the crew team or that he played bass in a punk band around campus. I guess the question I’m trying to ask here is: Do any of these details really matter all that much?
Compare O’Rourke to someone like longshot candidate Andrew Yang who’s running a self-proclaimed “Campaign of Ideas.” Most Americans probably aren’t even aware of Yang’s candidacy, and of those who have heard of him, he’s most likely known only as the “Universal Basic Income (UBI) Candidate.” UBI, Yang’s most central and famous proposal, would see every American over the age of 18 get $1,000 per month to be spent, no questions asked. You can read the nearly 4,000 words Yang has written on the topic on his website to evaluate the position yourself, but a further look at his policy position page is shockingly detailed.
The point of this op-ed is not to say that Yang is better than O’Rourke, or any other candidate for that matter, but it is worth pointing out the contrast between these two. After evaluating Yang, you come away knowing in precise detail how he’d like to run the country. However, as somebody who wants to like O’Rourke, because of his charisma and ties to this specific university, I honestly cannot say the same is true for him.
While I understand the buzz surrounding O’Rourke, when it comes to something as important as the presidency, we should be evaluating candidates for the right reasons, examining their ideas of governance and their policy positions, not their alma mater.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore double majoring in history and American studies. You can hear his jazz radio show on WKCR.org on Tuesday afternoons where you may also call in to discuss this op-ed, or otherwise reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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