Beto O’Rourke has been many things in his life—a former Senate candidate in Texas, a former three-term congressman from El Paso, a current Democratic candidate for president, a shitposter, a blogger, an alt-weekly publisher, a friend to developers and Chamber of Commerce types, and so on. But the dominant personality of Beto O’Rourke is obvious: Punk. We know this because he simply will not shut the fuck up about it.
When stories about O’Rourke’s past playing in a touring punk band started popping up during O’Rourke’s run for Senate last year against Ted Cruz, I admittedly thought it was pretty cool. Like O’Rourke, I played in a punk band when I was younger, which did a few tours up and down the East Coast. I booked shows at barns, churches, the basement of the house I was squatting in, my parents’ basement, other people’s basements, and so on, and savored that sense of community that can only stem from begging someone in a Tragedy shirt carrying six pack of PBR to pay $5 for a show featuring a touring band from a thousand miles away.
O’Rourke has been especially vocal about his love for Dischord Records and the bands of Ian MacKaye, the frontman of hardcore band Minor Threat and guitarist and vocalist of the seminal punk band Fugazi. Here he is in SPIN back in 2017:
I don’t know how old I was when i first started going to shows, maybe 14 or 15, but very quickly I discovered Dischord Records in D.C., and loved all the music on that catalog. I was a big Rites of Spring fan, Minor Threat of course. What I also really loved was the way that they did it. They were running this out of a house. They started their own label, they were booking their own tours, everybody wrote their own songs. There was an honest ethic to everything they did. Some of the Dischord bands—Fugazi later on—wouldn’t allow the shows to charge more than five bucks or ten bucks to get in, and it was always all ages. I remember ordering records out of the Dischord catalog in the ‘80s, and there would be a handwritten note.
It was people instead of a machine in every way possible. And that, for me, could describe punk rock.
A good sentiment and fun quirk? Sure. But it’s 2019 now, and Beto is still talking about Ian MacKaye, and still trying to tie his punk past to his political identity. From the Vanity Fair profile that dropped the night before his announcement:
“I have so much reverence for him and he means so much to me in my life,” O’Rourke says of MacKaye. “He really did represent this super-ethical way, not just of being in a band, or running a label, or putting on shows, but of just living.” (The punk ethos, Ian MacKaye tells me, is for “people who can’t figure out how they’re supposed to fit into society. And I think in many ways they’re the right people.”)
And this, from Sunday:
Beto, my man. Stop. There is no way you can model a presidential campaign off of DIY. The primary reason for this that you have to be an absolute egomaniac to run for president. To think that out of all of the hundreds of millions of people in this country, that you—you—are the best prepared to run it, to make decisions about who lives or dies on a daily basis, is patently insane.
There is nothing less punk in the world than having confidence, let alone that level of confidence. As Philly hardcore band Paint It Black tweeted last week:
Beto’s constant references to punk serve a simple purpose, aside from gift-wrapping political reporters and feature writers a narrative. It’s supposed to show that O’Rourke can connect with the grassroots and move people to completely buy in to his campaign. And to his credit, O’Rourke has proven that by coming closer than any Democrat to winning a statewide race in Texas in a few decades, and by raising (according to his campaign) $6.1 million on his first day in the race.
But politics, like punk, is less about appearances than it is about what you believe. And O’Rourke’s record in office as a fairly middle-of-the-road, pro-business Democrat, and the fact that he’s already flip-flopping on a key issue that would make access to healthcare easier for pretty much everyone (which doesn’t bode well for the vague support he’s given to the Green New Deal), raises questions about how serious he is about challenging the status quo in American politics. And if you’re not willing to fuck shit up—albeit in a considerate way, respect the space, absolutely NO stage-diving—then, well, what kind of punk are you?