Why Beto O’Rourke? Civility, Respect, and Hope

You may have seen these attack ads seeking to scare you about what we are trying to do for this State and our country at this critical moment. Now we can be defined by our fears or we can be known by our ambitions. I am confident that when we see each other, not as Democrats or Republicans but as Texans, as Americans, or as human beings, there is no stopping us. That’s why I am running to represent you and everyone in the State of Texas in the United States Senate.
— Beto O’Rourke, Texas candidate for U.S. Senate

We are at a crossroads. The hyper-partisanship and extreme politicization that we are witnessing in this country on almost every issue of importance (and even on those of little importance) is creating toxic divisions that are rapidly corroding our country’s democratic institutions.

Our nation is facing enormous tests, including the increasingly competitive global economy, the rise of hate groups within and outside this country, the use of cyber-attacks for economic and political gain, and the upsurge of authoritarian rule across the world, that demands our political leaders to work together, across political party divides, to find compromises that meet those challenges — both foreign and domestic.

That isn’t happening.

Even worse, we have reached a point where our President has dropped all pretense of representing all Americans. The President loves to host partisan political rallies where he condemns the American press and attacks political opponents, including both Democrats and some Republican patriots like John McCain, while simultaneously embracing foreign authoritarians like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump said he “fell in love”. At Trump political rallies, people are even wearing t-shirts that read, “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” and polls show many Republican agree.

We are a nation divided in ways that draw parallels to the Civil War. Families and neighbors are being split apart by the current hyper-partisan, toxic political environment.

Extremists love this. In fact, white nationalist hate groups and foreign leaders like Putin thrive when democracy, civility, respect, and basic humanity are in short supply. Russia is actively stoking racism and xenophobia in our country and is thrilled to witness our country being divided politically, culturally, and along urban versus rural, white versus non-white, men versus women, and red states versus blue states lines.

On this latter point, as Molly McKew explains, the Russians are waging a rather visible and public campaign to create American division “at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests.”

Before we reach a point beyond hope of repair, we desperately need a pathway back to finding a level of common political ground in our society and a “New Politics.” We must agree on common norms by which both political parties support and protect our democracy rather than attempting to undermine it for political gain through voter suppression, gerrymandering, the use of “dark money” campaign contributions, and even tacit approval of foreign efforts to meddle in our elections, as long as it benefits their side.

The number of pictures of a recently indicted Russian agent Maria Butina with American political leaders after she successfully had infiltrated American political organizations like the NRA is both astounding and disturbing. As a Russian “student” in our country, she reached a level of political reach and influence in our government that no normal American could. Things are incredibly wrong when this is the case.

Instead, citizens must demand that our political leaders return to some level of basic norms around civility, decorum, and respect for fellow Americans first (and no, not the red hat version that is actually about creating division) by voting against behaviors and divisive strategies that put political power, money, and even Russian agents first.

Our splitting apart at the seams won’t change until voters demand that declarations of war against fellow Americans are no longer acceptable. It requires that voters demand that its leaders end the rhetoric of politics as “warfare” and reward those that are working to bring us together as a nation.

In the Texas Senate race, Beto O’Rourke is clearly that person. In a bipartisan road trip O’Rourke conducted on Facebook Live with Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) from San Antonio, Texas, to Washington, D.C. ( 30-hour, 1,600 mile trek), the two congressmen showed America how we should have civil discourse and can come together across in a bipartisan way to respect one another and find common solutions to a number of issues, including the treatment of veterans, health care, and the border wall. They were rightfully honored and recognized with the 2018 Prize for Civility in Public Life.

The award for civility presented to O’Rourke and Hurd stands in sharp contrast to much of today’s current division and politics of personal destruction, which begin in 1988 when Newt Gingrich made a call to arms against fellow Americans by declaring, “This [partisan] war has to be fought with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars.”

Gingrich’s political action committee, GOPAC, issued a memo entitled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control” calling for all Republican candidates to “speak like Newt” and use words directed at Democrats like “betray, bizarre, coercion, corrupt, decay, destructive, devour, failure, greed, hypocrisy, incompetent, pathetic, radical, sick, and traitors.”

As Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, said, “Government is dysfunctional because the presidency and Congress no longer have the ability to compromise, and I put Newt at the heart of that.”

Rusty Paul, a former Georgia Republican Party chairman and onetime aide to U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, who worked closely with Gingrich was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointing out, “I am not sure we did the political system a favor. The language we have used over the past 20 years has so polarized Congress. . . . The society is as divided as the political rhetoric.”

If we want to meet the challenges facing our great country, we must do better and stop using the rhetoric of war against each other. Saturday Night Live satirized the growing divide within families during its Thanksgiving special back in 2015.

That was three years ago, and things have gotten even worse. And, since Adele is British, she can’t save us.

But with Willie Nelson and Leon Bridges’s assistance at a rally with 55,000 supporters in Austin, Texas, Beto O’Rourke demonstrated how he might one of those running for office and challenging the current hyper-partisan system to help us begin that journey back toward common civility and respect. As Beto said:

I don’t care about our differences. If you’re a Republican, you are in the right place. If you’re a Democrat, you are in the right place. If you’re an Independent, you are in the right place. Whoever you pray to, whether you pray at all, whoever you love, however many generations you’ve been in this country or whether you just got here yesterday, we’re all in the same boat, we’re all human beings, and we’re going to start treating one another that way.

The message is being heard. Texas Monthly’s Christian Wallace writes:

. . . there does seem to be an undeniable energy around O’Rourke’s campaign, anchored in his willingness to reach across an ever-widening divide.

At a rally at Texas A&M University (see picture of The Eagle story below), which serves as home to George H.W. Bush’s Presidential Library, he continued his emphasis about the need to find common ground. O’Rourke said:

This is a community that gets that before we see each other as Republicans and Democrats, we are Texans, we are Americans and we are human beings first and foremost.

At Baylor University that same day, he added:

You name the issue, we don’t have to look at it through a partisan lens, we can just look at it as Americans who are going to have to find some common ground to get this done. There’s almost no goal that we talked about out there that we don’t all share. We just find different paths to get there. Can we find a path in common? Can we not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good?

I have faith that we not only can, but that we must.

I grew up in Texas and Texans embraced God, football, and family — maybe even in that order. Differences of political opinion might have been something you might have debated and maybe teased somebody about but rarely did it devolve into toxic and inflammatory partisan rhetoric. Those days are long gone, as the political positioning of people like Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Senator Ted Cruz are intentionally acrimonious and highly partisan. They seek to stoke their extremist base while turning off or suppressing the vote of their political opponents and moderate Independents. In the Texas Legislature, Patrick sought to make the debate over bathroom become more important than the education of children. In this election, Cruz has even tried to attack O’Rourke’s campaign logo for resembling Whataburger’s spicy ketchup container (I am not kidding) while he purposely avoids discussing issues like child poverty, Medicaid, teacher pay, or the detention and caging of children along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Instead of division and hate, we need a “New Politics” in which our political leaders are rewarded for civility, working across party lines to solve our nation’s real problems, and where we can debate differences of opinion without demonizing one another and even children, such as the dehumanizing language directed at the asylum-seeking children that are being caged in tents along the U.S.-Mexico border or in detention facilities across this country.

Americans are dismayed and saddened by our actions toward these children and inaction toward the low pay afforded to our nation’s teachers, and yet, Congress does nothing. We need leaders who will reach across the aisle and try. Beto will and Cruz won’t.

When it comes to children, the fact is that O’Rourke has been both a champion and defender in the First Focus Campaign for Children’s Champions for Children Scorecard over the years and Cruz hasn’t. Beto has supported the health of children and families in support of Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and protections for those with pre-existing conditions while Cruz has taken the opposite position in opposition to the needs of children on all three issues.

True to form, Beto is also a strong supporter of protecting our nation’s public schools, students, and teachers.

Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke will make children and our nation’s future a priority. As Beto says:

This is also about bringing this country together — making sure that all of us can contribute to this country’s greatness. . . [T]his campaign is not about running against anyone else, it is not about running against anything, it is not against running against another political party. This campaign is running for every single one of us and running for the greatest country the world has ever known — the United States of America.

I have known Beto for much of his life (and yes, Rafael, he has always been called by his nickname Beto), as I also grew up in El Paso and knew his family quite well. It is important to note that he is the only born and raised Texan in this U.S. Senate race. And like every real Texan that I know, O’Rourke would certainly stand up to anyone that insults his family.

As this ad concludes, “Come on, Ted.”

But what inspires me is that Beto has an incredible passion for lifting up and helping all Texans — regardless of their politics or place in society. While Cruz typically holds carefully vetted events with Republican supporters and wealthy donors, Beto has visited and held open events in all 254 countries to hear from all Texans about their concerns and needs. He cares deeply about the future for all Texans, regardless of their political affiliation, age, sex, race, religion, sexual preference, or income.

As such, Beto is willing to listen to and work with anyone willing to find common ground and forge bipartisan Texan and American solutions to the problems and divisions facing the Lone Star State and our great nation. At this moment in time and for our future, we need our political leaders to be building bridges and not walls.

Beto is with us. We should stand with him. He is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate race in Texas that can help lead us on a path away from division and fear and to a place of respect, dignity, and hope.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.