After a guy chuckled at O’Rourke’s explanation of how weapons of war killing children at point blank range is bad, the former congressman delivered a sweet bit of catharsis.
For years under the leadership of former President Barack Obama, these were the principles by which Democrats were urged to abide in the face of an increasingly cruel, violent, gleefully malicious conservative movement. It’s an admirable sentiment that plays to liberal fantasies of overarching civility and West Wing-style optimism. It’s also one that has proven itself wholly incapable of addressing the Republicans’ MAGA-tinged descent into a fascistic cult of personality that revels in meanness for meanness’ sake. While some Democrats still seem locked into that Obama-era mindset, there is a growing hunger among many for politicians to abandon the notion that high-minded discourse can somehow trump an entire political movement predicated on spite and vindictiveness. What they want, instead, is someone who is willing to beat conservatives at their own game.
That was the sentiment in Mineral Wells, Texas, during a town hall stop by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday. There, in the heart of deep-red Palo Pinto County, the onetime congressman-turned-Senate candidate-turned-presidential candidate-turned-governor candidate was speaking on the recent school shooting in Uvalde, decrying the proliferation of AR-15 rifles designed, as he repeated over and over again during his remarks, “for use in combat.”
“[The Uvalde shooter was able to] take that weapon that was originally designed for use on the battlefields in Vietnam to penetrate an enemy soldier’s helmet at 500 feet and knock him down dead, up against kids at 5 feet,” an animated O’Rourke was explaining to the crowd. A supporter of current Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, whom O’Rourke is trying to unseat, loudly chuckled.
“It may be funny to you motherfucker,” a visibly irate O’Rourke responded, adding, “It’s not funny to me.”
Without hesitation, the crowd burst into raucous applause and cheers.
There’s a clear cathartic release on display here, an outpouring of celebration for someone perfectly willing to abandon the high road in order to voice an obvious — and seemingly untapped — reservoir of anger and frustration toward people who would laugh at the notion that “guns designed for war being used to kill children might be bad, actually.”
Obviously the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde is a uniquely charged issue, particularly in Texas. And O’Rourke is a savvy politician, who is keenly aware that it resonates particularly strongly with his base, as it did this past May when he confronted Abbott during a press conference about the tragedy. Would he have allowed himself to be as visibly frustrated — and vulgar — over, say, voting rights or inflation rates? Would the crowd have responded as positively if he’d been discussing something less fraught? Perhaps not. But perhaps, based on the strength of this incident, O’Rourke may take the hint that there’s little to lose and everything to gain from embracing the obvious hunger among some Democrats for politicians to infuse genuine combativeness into their responses to bad-faith attacks from the right.
For now, at least, it’s a hopeful sign that at least some in the party are understanding that going high is nice in theory. In practice, however, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply call a motherfucker out.