Beto, come home: Editorial

Editorial Board, Houston Chronicle, Aug 10, 2019

Our thinking this week, amid all the carnage and grief and finger-pointing, has been in part on Beto O’Rourke, the presidential candidate from El Paso, where 22 people were killed last Saturday. Our sympathy is devoted to the dead and their families, of course — but Beto has been on our minds, too.

We keep coming back to a moment last Sunday when, for a few seconds, all the pretenses that are part of running for president in our age of constant exposure were peeled back, if only briefly.

There are times, it seems, in most presidential campaigns when the facades get stripped away like so many layers of paint. What’s left is a human moment, usually fleeting, and not always flattering. But real — and often more telling than a season of advertisements.

Hillary Clinton tearing up in New Hampshire in the winter of 2008. Ronald Reagan’s humor during a 1984 debate when, asked if he wasn’t too old to serve four more years, he replied that he had no plans to use his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Even Walter Mondale laughed with the audience.

Something like that happened last Sunday with O’Rourke, when a news reporter asked O’Rourke whether he felt there was anything President Trump could do to cool the atmosphere of hate toward immigrants.

“Um, what do you think?” O’Rourke responded bluntly. “You know the s*** he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. … Like, members of the press -- what the f***? It’s these questions that you know the answers to …”

Is that language presidential? Not normally. It certainly isn’t the normal fare for an editorial page in the Sunday paper, either, with or without the asterisks. But it struck us as so unscripted, so unexpected that its offense was somehow washed away.

The Atlantic called it the “art of giving a damn” in a piece last week about anger washing over the Democratic candidates.

O’Rourke has had these moments before. Last year, he was asked if he supported Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback whose protests by kneeling during the national anthem sparked a nationwide conversation. Instead of giving a safe, wishy-washy answer, he gave a heartfelt yes: “I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights, any time, anywhere, in any place.”

It went viral, the way his answer last Sunday did. We aren’t used to seeing candidates act like real people.

Frankly, it’s made us wish O’Rourke would shift gears, and rather than unpause his presidential campaign, we’d like to see him take a new direction.

So Beto, if you’re listening: Come home. Drop out of the race for president and come back to Texas to run for senator. The chances of winning the race you’re in now are vanishingly small. And Texas needs you.

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