Free Minds & Free Markets

Bernie Supporters Slam Beto O'Rourke’s Progressive Bona Fides but Mostly Ignore Pot, Immigration, and War

Democratic socialists prioritize economics first.

||| MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS/NewscomMIKE SEGAR/REUTERS/NewscomEven before Elizabeth Warren's announcement today that she's forming an exploratory committee about a possible presidential run, the 2020 Democratic shadow primary has been in full knife-sharpening mode. Supporters of the septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders have been attacking the progressive bona fides of vanquished Ted Cruz challenger and fundraising hearththrob Beto O'Rourke.

"What does Beto O'Rourke actually stand for?" wonders Zaid Jilani in Current Affairs. (Partial answer: The former congressman and city councilman from El Paso has "rarely, if ever, challenged the powerful.") "We don't need another photogenic media star with run-of-the-mill liberal politics running for president," declares Jacobin's Branko Marcetic. "What we're seeing is someone who's a big step up for red-state Texas statewide and actually a big step down for where the majority of Democrats are nationwide," progressive media grumpus Norman Solomon tells NBC. Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig summs up the O'Rourke-reticence:

I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don't see that in O'Rourke.

We still have time to pick a politician with a bold, clear, distinctly progressive agenda, and an articulated vision beyond something-better-than-this, the literal translation of hope-change campaigning....

As for me, my cards are always on the table: I wish the Democrats would run a left-populist with sincere, well-attested antipathy toward Wall Street, oil and gas, welfare reform and war, who is willing to fight hard to win Medicare-for-all and drastically reverse our current course on climate change. I would love it if they came from Texas, but I would take one from anywhere.

This fight among the Very Online Left has some real-world implications for the majority of us residing outside the Democratic Party. Because if progressive is going to mean virtuous within one of the two major political factions in this country, it's instructive to see which positions are prioritized under that description, and which are not. For instance, there are three non-trivial issues that go unmentioned in Bruenig's piece: immigration, criminal justice reform, and the drug war.

||| ReasonReasonThese are not incidental to O'Rourke's political career. They're central. While Ted Cruz was abandoning his criminal justice priors and taking populist potshots at his toothy challenger, O'Rourke was campaigning against mandatory minimum sentences, cash bail, and the "failed war on drugs."

The latter position in particular separates the Texan from 99 percent of elected Democrats. At O'Rourke's urging, the El Paso City Council in 2009 passed a resolution calling for debate and study of legalizing drugs. (Recall that at that time, Barack Obama, to whom O'Rourke is frequently compared these days, was making unfunny jokes about legal weed and initiating a vicious crackdown against state-legal medical dispensaries.) Two years later the city councilman co-wrote a book advocating marijuana legalization, then in 2012 he successfully primaried eight-term Democratic drug-warrior congressman and former Border Patrol officer Silvestre Reyes.

Bernie Sanders went full legalization in 2015—a big deal, given that he was the first truly competitive presidential candidate to do so. But considering the enormous damage that the drug war has inflicted on millions of Americans, particularly among the poor and minority communities that Democrats claim to champion, O'Rourke's timelier leadership on the issue seems worthy of more than just a passing reference. Jilani's piece, for example, puts a button on the drug-war conversation after a quick paragraph by saying that the victory over Reyes "may have been the last time O'Rourke waged a sustained campaign against the Democratic establishment," even though the congressman continued swimming upstream against his own party's drug policies upon arrival to Washington.

Immigration, on which O'Rourke has been (as Nick Gillespie pointed out yesterday) a welcome source of realism, also goes unmentioned in Jilani's brief. Pro-Sanders writer David Sirota, who has been leading the anti-Beto charge from the left, does spend a paragraph listing O'Rourke's immigration-related advocacy...then squeezes eight withering paragraphs out of a single vote for waiving polygraph tests on Customs and Border Patrol agents.

||| ReasonReasonYou can see why Team Bernie's attacks on Beto's immigration policies would be either hopelessly strained or non-existent, given the 2020 Democratic political climate of opposing restrictionist Donald Trump. Sanders, after all, dismissed the idea of significantly raising legal immigration levels as "a Koch brothers proposal" in 2015, and he helped kill comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 on grounds that it would reduce wages for native workers. Coupled with his career-long opposition to international trade treaties (because, he says falsely, they amount to a global "race to the bottom"), Bernie's Old Labor immigration skepticism has sounded rather Trumpy at times, even if the process of campaigning for president changed his emphases (as well as Hillary Clinton's) on the issue.

O'Rourke, on the other hand, has been consistently pro-immigration and pro-trade throughout his career. "It's in our interests to be facilitating trade and the flow of people, and to recognize the value of immigrant labor, whether it's low-skilled, low-wage or the very high skilled, high-wage labor," he told Reason's Mike Riggs in 2013.

O'Rourke's pro-trade posture is a main part of the progressive brief against him, along with insufficient enthusiasm for single-payer health insurance, free college, and the Green New Deal. He is not as pro-regulation as his critics would like, and not nearly hostile enough to the oil and gas industries. And fair enough—all these positions are indeed deviations from modern progressivism, even if they sound more comparatively pleasing to a non-leftist's ears. But what about, you know, war?

After all, O'Rourke was a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is a withering critic of both the Iraq and Libya interventions ("two incredibly ill-conceived regime change wars "), opposed bombing Syria, and has consistently called on Congress to end the open-ended post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force ("blank check for endless war") and reassert its war-declaration powers. "Troubling, unconstitutional, to be at war in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen & Somalia, in addition to Afghanistan, w/out informed authorization," he tweeted in 2017. "Why do we have such a hard time admitting the West's role and culpability in the problems in the Middle East?" he wrote in 2016.

O'Rourke has many policies I disagree with, including some unearthed by his critics this month—voting for the awful FOSTA/SESTA law, for example. But by prioritizing economic policy complaints far above the life-and-death questions of war, human mobility, and the police state, progressives are adding to the suspicion that the beating heart of Bernieism is nowhere near the civil libertarian issues where libertarians and lefties overlap.

Reason interviewed O'Rourke in 2013, 2015, and 2018.

Photo Credit: MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • TuIpa||

    So in that other other other other other other other thread I made the judgementless observation that sparky seems to constantly be scolding people, and the not very bright Fagamammon proved he doesn't know the difference between scolding someone and observing thwir behavior.

    It was deeply embarassing for both the scold, sparky, and the idiot, fagamammon

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Gosh. I was hoping for a little change of paste, but no, same old drivel. maybe he's got a bot running, refreshing its cache, watching for new posts, adding the same vaporous comment, and when the parole officer came for him, no one bothered to shut down the bot.

  • TuIpa||

    "Gosh. I was hoping for a little change of paste"

    I'm not in charge of your diet. Cry to someone else.

  • Agammamon||

    Here you are, scolding someone else.

  • TuIpa||

    And AGAIN, because you are not very bright, you are proving you don't know what scold means.

  • JesseAz||

    Isn't his comment more mocking a misuse of a word?

  • TuIpa||

    Yes. Or a suggestion to seek advice elsewhere.

    He's just upset because I pointed out that he's stupid.

  • Fancylad||

    "I was hoping for a little change of paste"
    "I'm not in charge of your diet."

    Get it? "Paste" instead of "pace".
    Then the inference that... Oh, nevermind, why bother.

  • TuIpa||

    I guess it was alphabet dupe's parole that was up.

  • spork||

    Good grief, give it up already. You're a buffoon. It is the internet. Get a life. You've been spamming this same shit on every article. Nobody gives a fuck. Sick of scrolling past your inane rambling.

  • A Lady of Reason||

    The only priorities they have is that which will get them votes...

  • AlmightyJB||

    So Beto likes to kill prostitutes then?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He looks like a strangler that likes to see the dying breath.

    Psycho eyes.

  • Fancylad||

    So Kennedyesque.
    I wonder if his father tried to finance the Nazis too.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    It was pretty obvious that the media was trying to run the Obama playbook with him--pimp a photogenic state politician spouting Current Year liberal shibboleths to gain enough of a following to get elected to Senate, then run for President in 2020.

  • MoreFreedom||

    I agree Red Rocks.

    Seems like O'Rourke got his seat, by choosing an issue (legalization of weed) and going against the Dem establishment that preferred all the money spent fighting drugs and using it to lock up people they wanted for doing things that didn't harm others. A smart move to distinguish yourself from a bunch of other candidates all spouting the Democrat line, to win by plurality. But now that most of the rest of the government has come around to more freedom on the issue, it appears he's playing it safe, with the hope-change approach of promising great things without any specifics, or otherwise hewing to the Democrat establishment position on issues.

    If O'Rouke the Irishman starts supporting deregulation and free markets, then I'll be interested, provided it's backed by votes rather than just talk. You can't believe most politicians, because they'll lie to get elected. Look at Bill, Hillary, George, Herbert, and Barrack.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    O'Rourke's main downfall was that he ran during a mid-term, not in 2016, so he didn't have the chance to deliver a convention speech that would allow the media to lick his balls for a whole week as another "rock star" Democrat politician. He'd have talked about how there aren't "two Americas, but one country" (a statement that has more bullshit than the Augean stables), and allowed the media to pretend that he could make hopeenchange great again.

    When you get down to it, it really does show that the Democrats and the media were permanently traumatized by JFK and RFK's assassinations, and have been trying to recreate them ever since.

  • CE||

    It's better to lose the Senate race first actually -- fight a good fight in an unwinnable Red State, gain a national following, then run for Prez with no pesky voting record to defend.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Democrats do like to kill whores. To be fair though, whores don't get second chances.

  • Jerryskids||

    I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles.

    "No Compromise!" is both a winning campaign slogan and a virtuous ideology in a democratic republic such as ours. There's no way an unwillingness to compromise could ever lead to bad things.

  • CE||

    Yeah, but OBL's fave Cortez is still too young to be president this time.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I wouldn't be surprised if an astroturfed movement emerges demanding the presidential eligibility requirements be amended, or the constitution abandoned, or a rainbow added to the Stars and Stripes, or... eh.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Its not about immigration, debt, war or pot.
    Its about putting the biggest moron in the White House.

  • GlLMORE||

    Can you beat the current occupant? I kid of course. Trump isn't a moron... he's a lying narcissist who caters to racists on the one hand and to elitist billionaires who know he's going to butter their bread plenty. Like I said, he's no moron— just corrupt and without principle.

  • Fancylad||

    who caters to racists
    Tell us again how Mexican and Muslim are races.

  • Trollificus||

    Hush with that knitpickery. The point of the slur "racist" IS the slur, not the details or facts of the matter.

  • CE||

    His principles aren't your principles (or mine), but he has them.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Gilmore, you have nothing to contribute. Your ideas are TDS drivel.

  • Jerryskids||

    Democratic socialists prioritize economics first

    "You got some shit I want, hand it over or I'll shoot you in your fucking face" is hardly "economics". As I've said many times, capitalism is an economic system for producing wealth and socialism is a political system for redistributing wealth. Socialists don't know the first damn thing about producing wealth, they only know how to steal it once somebody else creates it. Generally by pretending the wealth wasn't in fact created but was merely lying around somewhere minding its own business when some evil capitalist snuck up on it and seized it and called it his own.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Isnt it funny that the Reason cover with Obama and "Bummer" written on it was clearly that staff at Reason thought Obama would be different.

    Then Trump is elected and rolls back more government in Libertarian manner than any president in 80+ years.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Drumpf is expanding government in the ways that are most offensive to us Koch / Reason libertarians. He's using the reprehensible ICE to wage war on undocumented Americans. And he's stacking the Supreme Court with dangerous right-wing extremists who are literally trying to turn this country into The Handmaid's Tale. Who cares if a handful of obscure economic regulations may have been repealed.

  • GlLMORE||

    You forgot to mention the 750 billion dollar defense budget, lefty.

  • Eric Bana||

    Deficits don't matter, especially when they approach a trillion dollars, and especially when I like the guy in charge.

  • GlLMORE||

    Deficits? What's that? I haven't heard about them here since 2016.

  • Trollificus||

    It's a well-known economic fact that as a debt figure grows, each succeeding zero has less and less negative impact, until eventually (in the $bajillion range) the deficit starts to produce actual wealth!!
    ~Economics for Liberals, 4th Edition, 1982

  • Brian||

    What we really need is a president more in line with Jacobin's ideas and mindset.

  • Eric Bana||

    The cover reads, "Bummer - Barack Obama turns out to be just another drug warrior".

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yup. As I said, Reason was hoping Obama was not a Lefty and then turned out to be a Lefty drug warrior.

  • MJBinAL||

    Reason was perfectly happy with Obama being a lefty ... he just turned out to be the wrong KIND of lefty. Reason just wants the right kind of progressive. Sadly.

  • Carlos Inconvenience||

    The cool kids table expects them to be anti-Trump and pro-Obama. Much like Romney its all opportunism and a desire to be liked by the mainstream media.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Good article Matt. I learned a few things about this guy I hadn't bothered to find out for myself.

  • GlLMORE||

    socialists prioritize economics first

    I hate it when socialists do that! Geesch...

    From the dictionary: socialism: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

  • JeremyR||

    If only Reason would understand that socialists are not libertarians.

    Many times even when they supposedly overlap, policy wise, it's the supposed libertarians at Reason that are bending. Like abortion is something the government should fund. That illegal aliens should get welfare. That drugs should be taxed to be sold legally.

  • GlLMORE||

    Yeah the only true libertarians here are those that turn a blind eye to Trump's authoritarianism and immigration policies and equivocate on abortion and wars in the ME. Those are the real libertarians. REAL LIBERTARIANS ONLY CARE THAT HRC IS PROBABLY CRYING IN HER COCKTAIL WITH HER PARKINSONS AND ARTHRITIS. THAT'S WHAT MATTERS!!

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Both Hillary and Trump are authoritarians on multiple issues.

    Hillary is a worse authoritarian than Trump.

    That is the only salient point of comparison.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "But by prioritizing economic policy complaints far above the life-and-death questions of war, human mobility, and the police state, progressives are adding to the suspicion that the beating heart of Bernieism is nowhere near the civil libertarian issues where libertarians and lefties overlap."

    Economic rights (freedom of contract, private property rights) ARE civil liberty issues just as much as anything else is.

    I don't doubt that Beto is just as much a statist authoritarian as Bernie is regarding attempts to impose ever more socialist schemes on the country.

    And those type of things are the ones that have the most real world impact on my life and therefore are at the top of my list in opposing attempts to further infringe on my personal economic freedom and well being.

  • Mickey Rat||

    There was a debate video on Reason where the editor of The Jacobin called for making employment for wages illegal unless by government or worker co-ops. If the Reason staff is going to take The Jacobin as a voice of democratic socialism, then they are going to need to acknowledge what a radical, anti civil liberties position those people have. You cannot separate economic liberty into a separate box.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Libertarians and leftists do not overlap on civil rights. If there is anything that should be apparent over the last ten years is that the Left's belief in civil rights is purely situational, not ideological. How many times do they have to actually come out and say things like free speech and due process are out the door on their asses if they get in the way of their present cause du jour, like sexual assault on campus?

  • CE||

    The Left believes in civil rights only for protected classes.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    And even then, by situation. Witness the panty-twisting over young black men accused of campus sexual assault.

  • Widhalm19||

    In these United States, there is no such thing as a Left-Libertarian. They are all Leftists. Libertarians are centered on liberty, solid money and property rights.

  • Len Bias||

    Maybe we'll get the best of all worlds where he abandons his drug law reforms and emphasis on civil liberties, but goes full retard on lefty economic policies. Sound familiar?

  • CE||

    They're not really democratic socialists, they're socialist Democrats.

  • loveconstitution1789||


  • CE||

    Warren will blow them all out of the water anyway.

  • Widhalm19||

    Sanders (drooling onto the microphone): I AM A MORE PURE COMMUNIST THAN THIS BEJO BOY!

    Beto: (wearing a dress and makeup): Zee .... Zir .... Zot .... He .... Her .... Bot ... Duck .... Cluck .... Fuck

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Someome should start a conservative sketch comedy show. Then hire Jackie Mason to play Bernie.

  • jomo||

    One thing the last few years has taught us is that "conservatives" are incapable of producing any kind of comedy show, considering they just thrash helplessly about calling for SNL to get shut down for being "mean" to Trump and fail. They'd rather rally around a boycott.

  • Benitacanova||

    It looks like reason has found its candidate.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Coming soon to Reason.......

    "The Libertarian Case for Robert O'Rourke"

  • ||

    I think a Bernie and Beto combo will win out (barely) over Hillary and Biden at the convention, with Beto accepting the #2 spot and Bernie being the last presidential candidate standing after Hillary and Biden destroy each other. Note how the mainstream media is already trying to destroy Hillary and amplify Joe by simply pretending that Clinton no longer exists.

    This is the legacy media's powerful blackout or stonewall propaganda weapon. If they don't talk about it, it doesn't exist.

    However, Hillary is not to be dismissed so easily. She still has the mighty Clinton Foundation staffers (available for full time campaign work) and the support of a whole lot of special interest groups who either still feel she was wronged or expect to benefit mightily if she finally makes it in.

    So, Hillary and Biden will destroy each other fighting over the same delegates who are as "centrist" as Democrats get anymore and Bernie and Beto will join forces and scoop up the real heart and soul of the party, the crazies.The crazies will win. The Democrat Party will rally to them. On the Republican side, watch Trump beleaguered by this point with indictments and likely impeachment proceedings, move to the center and behave in a calm and presidential manner, likely touting some fairly impressive achievements by that point.

    Showdown at the OK corral, coming in Nov. 2020.

  • MJBinAL||

    "However, Hillary is not to be dismissed so easily. She still has the mighty Clinton Foundation staffers (available for full time campaign work) and the support of a whole lot of special interest groups who either still feel she was wronged or expect to benefit mightily if she finally makes it in."

    Yes, as an example, there are still a few US owned uranium mines that the Russians have not been able to buy below market. Hillary in office could finally facilitate Russia buying the rest .... after Bill gives a few million dollar speeches in the Moscow Hilton of course. THEN she can push her red "reset button" and make things happen!

  • Carlos Inconvenience||

    Reason should just admit the only policy they really care about is legalized weed. On everything else, they'll accept a candidate's statist impulses just as long as they think he might legalize marijuana.


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