Column: O’Rourke may not win, but he’ll show us where politics stands


Illustration by Pete McKay

O’Rourke’s presence in the presidential race signals the beginning of a trend in politics to serve all American interests.

Matt Hersey, columnist

On Thursday, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, standing on countertops and chairs all along the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa.

While O’Rourke already had to address his complex past — like recent findings of past involvement in a hacker group — and contend with his electability since announcing his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, the campaign stands as a windvane for American politics.

O’Rourke may be just another Democratic hopeful whose charisma is viral but doesn’t transfer to presence at the polls. Or, he may be the next president of the United States. Either way, the 2020 election will demonstrate where American politics is headed, and the success or failure of O’Rourke’s campaign will show what Americans truly hold dear.

The election of President Donald J. Trump was a result of a 2016 campaign that thrived on division, but O’Rourke’s bid to encourage bipartisanship and bring out “the good” in the American people is just the opposite.

Early in his 2018 senatorial campaign for Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat, O’Rourke was considered a laughable underdog. Nonetheless, he lost the race by fewer than three percentage points and raised more than $70 million in non-PAC donations, all in the conventionally Republican state of Texas.

When Trump was elected to the presidency, many felt the United States regressed after progress seemingly catapulted forward with Obama’s presidency. The aftermath of the 2016 election showed us firsthand the racism and xenophobia that persists in our country.

Blanket misconceptions about immigrants from countries with large Muslim populations led to an executive order travel ban. Racist stereotypes perpetuated about Hispanic and Latino immigrants drove the creation of detention centers on our southern border, rife with human rights violations. These are not the ideals this country stands for.

Regardless of their political beliefs, Americans hold the inherent right to free speech — to express beliefs, whether they unite or divide us. The opinions we find offensive can be openly debated and the beliefs we share can be amplified.

While the political and social atmosphere today suggests our country is rewinding rather than pressing forward, there are people inspiring us to do better: The Pope called for action on climate change, the March for Our Lives movement — a movement started by teenagers — garnered support across the country and women are making strides for gender equality, whether to decrease the wage gap or for reproductive rights.

A universal truth of politics is that we all want the same things. Everyone who lives in the United States wants financial security, safety for themselves and their loved ones, shelter, food and opportunity.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, the priorities of our nation’s parties are what has grown apart, not our core values. For example, the topic Republicans prioritize most — the military — is what Democrats prioritize least. The environment, which Democrats consistently favor, is low on Republicans’ agendas.

We don’t need political parties at odds with one another, we need them working together. We don’t need a president with an out-of-control agenda, locked and loaded with veto power, who stands defiant against American interests. We need a president who can encourage Congress to create bills with American lives as the priority, not corporate money.

The United States was founded on the ideal of opportunity, on the promise of social and economic mobility and freedom of choice. The reality of those ideals changes as Americans do. The 2016 presidential election shocked us; it revealed the pockets of this country that many turned a blind eye to.

But now, we are awake and aware — or at least we have the 2020 election to prove that the extremes of our country do not define us. Moving forward is the only way to learn from the past and create a better future.

I see O’Rourke as the beginning, I hope, of a trend that will continue through politics. There is no use for a game of tug-of-war across the aisles of Congress when our representatives bring bills to the floor we cannot identify with.

O’Rourke’s presence in the presidential race should remind the United States that those who run for office work for us; they move legislation forward reflective of our interests, not to bicker and isolate our country in an ever-globalizing world.