Beto: Wrong on Guns, Right on Guts

Beto O'Rourke
Beto O’Rourke photo by Gage Skidmore
via Wikimedia Commons

Are Democrats impeaching the president?

Yes. No. Maybe.

You see, it could be the right thing to do, but it’s also the risky thing to do. So they kind of are and kind of aren’t.

God forbid they just choose one and fight for it.

It’s a perfect Democratic stance, meaning not a stance at all. More of a straddle. Balanced, but wobbly.

And it sends the one big meta-message that so often drowns out everything else Democrats say: “Looking for leadership? Please, look somewhere else — anywhere else.” So, many voters do.

At the most recent Democratic debate, Beto O’Rourke came out and said what many gun owners believe all Democrats would say if they had the guts: “I’m coming for your guns.” (Assault rifles, in this case.)

Now in fact, I’m one of many Democrats who think Beto’s position here is a mistake. I agree with him that the average person shouldn’t own an assault rifle — but millions do. And I believe that in a democracy it’s both better and more sustainable to build support for a dramatic change like this instead of using the power of the government to force it.

I also think that Beto has created a political problem for all the Democratic candidates. Chris Coons is right when he says Beto’s statement will be repeated over and over in the other side’s attack ads and fundraising appeals.

But I think Beto’s boldness is exactly right. And it’s exactly what more Democrats need to find within themselves.

Instead, too many Democrats seem to think they can find a way to appear bold without taking a risk. In so doing, they come across as fearful and untrustworthy.

There’s because here’s no way around it: leadership requires — is — the taking of risks. If a leader can’t take a risk, they’re not a leader, they’re a follower, and what do we need them for? Followers are not in short supply.

Democrats have a natural electoral advantage that should mean we almost never lose: there are far more of the non-rich people we care most about than the rich people the Republicans care most about.

And yet, way too often, we do lose — including, in 2016, to the worst presidential candidate in history. It’s easy to blame Republicans for this by pointing to malfeasance like their race-baiting, gerrymandering, and institutionalized lying.

But Democrats also need to look in the mirror and ask themselves this question: Why are there millions of natural Democratic voters who can’t bring themselves to choose our candidates?

We need to remember that ultimately that choice is not based on policies, but the person. It’s the same as it has been since we were hunter-gatherers. We’re looking for the biggest, strongest, and bravest among us, and we identify them based on actions and nonverbal cues like posture, eye contact and tone of voice.

And yet so many Democratic candidates will happily disappear down policy rabbit holes, as they did again at the most recent debate, as if they think a presidential campaign is just a long seminar, instead of a crucible of character.

By taking a stand, even if a mistaken one, Beto showed voters what they want more than any particular policy, a strong leader. In doing that, I suspect he may even win over some hard core gun rights backers who’ll respect his gumption more than they hate his position.

Note that Donald Trump, who in reality is weak and incompetent, only proves my point: he fooled people into thinking he was a strong leader by showing them who he really was. By blurting out everything that popped into his head during the 2016 campaign, he came across as authentic. The far more qualified Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, came across as someone who had poll-tested whether to say “hi” or “hello.”

Imagine the power of marrying authenticity with actual character and ability.
Luckily, imagining that is not too hard. Barack Obama gave us a great example.

And happily, Beto’s risky statement on guns wasn’t the only bright spot at the debate. Pete Buttigieg nailed what matters most in one powerful sentence:

“Part of how you can win is to know what’s worth more to you than winning.”

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