Upon reading Vanity Fair’s profile of Beto O’Rourke, released in conjunction with the former Congressman’s “I’m running” announcement, one is left with a few questions, such as:
- Is this supposed to make people like Beto O’Rourke?
- Who’s Beto’s biggest fan? The author, the photographer, Mrs. O’Rourke, or Beto himself?
- Could it be that Beto’s just a real-life, born-in-the-70s, Forrest Gump?
- Are there videos of punk rock Beto? And if so, can they please be burned?
The “profile” includes one big answer, too – with which ethnicity does Beto identify?
“O’Rourke is acutely aware, too, of perhaps his biggest vulnerability—being a white man in a Democratic Party yearning for a woman or a person of color, a Kamala Harris or a Cory Booker. ‘The government at all levels is overly represented by white men,’ he says. ‘That’s part of the problem, and I’m a white man.'”
The Beto O’Rourke that author Joe Hagan attempts to paint is a man with a “mystique,” who’s “accessible,” selfless, dedicated to principle, and who has an unwavering passion to help the forgotten man. Instead, the effort results in an incredible (meaning, not credible) portrait of a boy who so desperately craves attention and approval from the masses that he tries to be all things to all people.
“Man, I’m just born to be in it.” Beto O’Rourke seemed to come from nowhere to the brink of a presidential candidacy—but he’s been on this journey for his whole life. O’Rourke spoke with Joe Hagan. Photographs by Annie Leibovitz. https://t.co/WhmQGZnbUg pic.twitter.com/a7DCoaZdtd
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) March 13, 2019
So, not surprisingly, there’s a little something for everybody in this telling of Beto’s Journey.
He’s a child of the ’80s, among the first to hang out in chat rooms, but he was also in a punk band. His family was among the first in town to have a swimming pool, but he came from nothing. His father’s businesses relied on cheap labor from Juarez, but he’s a hero to the immigrant community. He rowed crew at an Ivy League school, but he also spent time as a penniless musician traveling the highways of Texas with his band. He believes our country has a “gross income inequality” that poses an “existential threat,” but married into a family whose patriarch became extremely wealthy as the “Godfather of the REITs.”
The author’s descriptions of the breadth of experiences in O’Rourke’s life read (unintentionally, to be sure) as a mish-mash of movie characters woven together with the common threads of “destiny” and “overcoming obstacles.”
One version of Beto is the tortured philosopher/artist who escapes small-town life to find himself in New York City and inexplicably lands a Brooklyn loft with a kick-a$$ view for the squad.
“In Brooklyn, he and his friends threw parties, bashed out punk songs, and drank endless cases of Budweiser; on the roof was a trampoline and a perfect view of the Manhattan skyline.
“He describes the time as one of joyous indirection in which he surrounded himself with “some amazing artists and thinkers.” He read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, discovered Bob Dylan, deepened his devotion to The Odyssey, and went through bursts of enthusiasm for bands like Big Star and Guided by Voices. In the parlance of the times, he was a slacker.”
It’s confusing to follow the chronology, but at some point we meet traveling musician Beto on a “grand adventure.”
“[The band] organized a month-long tour, conscripting El Paso drummer Cedric Bixler-Zavala (later a member of a successful indie group, At the Drive-In) and driving across the U.S. and Canada in a station wagon. It was a grand adventure, but also a lesson in scrappy survival.”
Whether you were an Adam Goldberg type of nerd in the ’80s or into skateboards and punk rock, you, too, can identify with ’80s Beto.
“O’Rourke escaped into early computer chat rooms and made two close friends, Arlo Klahr and Mike Stevens. They drew comic books, read underground fanzines, wrote poetry, skateboarded, and, inspired by the Clash, took up guitar and went to local punk-rock shows.”
Yet another Beto is the hick from Texas who becomes a star athlete at an Ivy League school when he’s unexpectedly recruited to row crew.
“’I would just start throwing up and just forcing as many calories in, and then rowing in the morning and lifting weights in the afternoon every day,’” he says. ‘I really liked that. I really liked seeing myself get better or seeing the boat get better, learning a skill and a discipline I had never really understood or knew existed. Being good at something.’
“He remembered feeling ecstatic when he beat Harvard. ‘You win the other boat’s shirts and so I brought that shirt home, gave it to my dad,’ he says.”
Then we have drunk driving-but-chivalrous Beto:
“In his telling, he was pathetic but nonetheless chivalrous: When police left his friend in a gas-station parking lot, a handcuffed O’Rourke asked them to take cash out of his jeans so she could get home.”
The early 2000’s version of Beto was hipster before hipster was cool.
“At the apex of the dot-com boom, he launched his own Web-design company, Stanton Street Technology Group, with two friends from New York who had followed him to El Paso. To satisfy his creative itch, he also launched an online news magazine focused on El Paso. His father used the site to publish a diary about a cross-country trip on his recumbent bicycle in 2000.”
Because of course he had a creative itch to scratch.
What hero is complete without a similarly virtuous and “accessible” companion? Once Beto returned home, grew up a little, and started his political career, boom, the perfect mate with the perfect combination of old money, expensive elite college, and social justice consciousness appeared.
“While plotting his campaign, O’Rourke met Amy Sanders, the 23-year-old daughter of wealthy real-estate magnate Bill Sanders. Amy Sanders had grown up in Santa Fe and studied psychology at Williams College in Massachusetts, after which she spent a year teaching kindergarten in Guatemala City. She returned to El Paso, where her family had previously moved, to bide her time while she applied to grad school but then met O’Rourke through her aunt. They went on a date to Juárez and drank at some of the famous watering holes.”
In a nod to the Hispanic vote he’s courting, O’Rourke makes sure that people know that on their first date he took his wife to Juarez’s watering holes.
It’s likely that on the campaign trail O’Rourke won’t highlight the privileges he enjoyed that allowed him to pursue such a lifestyle. Thanks to a family business started by his maternal grandfather, O’Rourke has a reported net worth of $9 million. His grandfather (by marriage) was Fred Korth, a former secretary of the navy in the Kennedy administration. His politically-connected father, who served as a judge in El Paso, “arranged” a Capitol Hill internship for O’Rourke upon his graduation from Columbia. When he returned to NYC to again find himself, he was able to work for an uncle who lived there. After his election loss in 2016, he had the luxury of not working while he, again, found himself and contemplated his destiny.
Fully Actualized Beto is the current incarnation. He has the Millennial belief that even without data or a plan, if one just feels “it” and knows “it” is there, they can “do it”!
“Almost no one thought there was a path in Texas, and I just knew it. I just felt it. I knew it was there, and I knew that with enough work and enough creativity and enough amazing people, if I’m able to meet them and bring them in, then we can do it.”
Fully Actualized Beto is every dad having a lazy Sunday Funday with the fam.
“[H]e’s lounging on the front veranda of his house on a Sunday afternoon, barefoot in blue jeans and T-shirt, talking on his cell phone…and invited me inside to meet his wife and children. His son Henry had a fever, and Amy had fallen asleep on the couch while Dora the Explorer flickered on the TV. There was a Stan Getz LP on the turntable and a plate of homemade scones in the kitchen.”
If only every fam’s house sat on the site of a 1915 meeting between Pancho Villa and U.S. General Hugh Scott.
Any resemblance between Fully Actualized Beto and other men ends there, though. This Beto believes that his pursuit of the presidency is his destiny, something he was “born to do,” confirmed by the “abnormal, super-normal” vibes he gets on the campaign trail and his miraculous ability to give a speech without a teleprompter.
“’I honestly don’t know how much of it was me,’ he says. ‘But there is something abnormal, super-normal, or I don’t know what the hell to call it, that [Amy and I] both experience when we’re out on the campaign trail.’
“’There’s something that happens to me,’ he says, ‘or that I get to be a part of in those rooms, that is not like normal life. I don’t know if that has ever happened to me before. I don’t know if that would happen again.’
“I remember driving to [a certain speech], I was, like, ‘What do I say? Maybe I’ll just introduce myself. I’ll take questions.’ I got in there, and I don’t know if it’s a speech or not, but it felt amazing. Because every word was pulled out of me. Like, by some greater force, which was just the people there. Everything that I said, I was, like, watching myself, being like, How am I saying this stuff? Where is this coming from?”
Oh, so “it felt amazing” delivering a great speech to a supportive crowd, Beto? Nearly everyone who speaks regularly understands that feeling. It doesn’t mean you should be President of the United States.
Both O’Rourke and Vanity Fair lack any sense of self-awareness regarding this piece. Neither seem capable of understanding that this profile doesn’t show its subject in a positive light. It shows him as an elitist who is completely out of touch with experiences and challenges that the vast majority of people in America go through, and one whose positions and principles change regularly.
Thank U, next.
P.S. If for some reason Beto’s Vanity Fair cover looks familiar to you, check out this tweet.
Just remembered the last time a Conde Nast publication dressed a young Democratic hopeful in smart-casual workwear and posed them next to a dog and pickup truck in a cover story shot by Annie Leibovitz. pic.twitter.com/qvOzjdaUkw
— Freddie Campion (@FreddieCampion) March 13, 2019