The Swamp in Action: The Tale of Beto O’Rourke


Jakob Benedetti – Staff Writer

For the past several months, as gossip about the impending Democratic primaries has ramped up, one name that’s been thrust into the spotlight is that of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke—who narrowly failed at unseating Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. At face value, his inclusion in these conversations is logical.

O’Rourke is certainly a charismatic guy and a skilled orator, and has a broadly liberal platform. Winning a Texas Senate primary and a Democratic presidential primary are two different things, however, especially after certain details about O’Rourke’s record in Congress were revealed by journalist David Sirota, among others. Sirota showed that O’Rourke voted with Republicans on key parts of Trump’s agenda, including support for weakening Wall Street regulations and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, waiving liability for utility companies who cause environmental harm and passing another round of massive tax cuts for the rich—in addition to a failed Republican plan to undermine protections for preexisting conditions.

Normally, all these votes would be non-starters in a presidential primary where they would undoubtedly haunt him from the moment he announced his candidacy. The reaction to these revelations, however, was mixed.

On one hand, many people were rightly disgusted at these votes and soured on O’Rourke as a potential candidate, especially after we also learned that he broke a promise not to take money from fossil fuel companies or executives in his Senate campaign. Yet there were many people, especially those on TV news, who rejected Sirota’s reporting. They decried his work as yet another attack of the “Bernie bros,” and proceeded to launch personal attacks against Sirota and anyone who listened to him.

The question I think we need to ask ourselves, is how we got to a place in our political discourse where investigative journalism uncovering disturbing facts about a politician’s record could be seriously considered out of line in any way? How did we get to a point where suggesting that a congressman who represents one of the bluest districts in the country shouldn’t vote with the Republicans literally 30 percent of the time is somehow considered taboo?

The answer is simple: follow the money. If you want to know why O’Rourke voted against consumers and people with preexisting conditions and for fossil fuel companies and the wealthy, all we must do is look at who financed his campaign. Despite signing a pledge to not accept money from fossil fuel companies or executives, an investigation by Sludge revealed that O’Rourke did just that. This caused the organizers of the pledge to remove his name from their list. Neither they nor Sludge were able to reach him for comment.

When these donations are taken into account, O’Rourke was second only to Ted Cruz himself in terms of the money received from fossil fuel companies in 2018. Coincidentally, Beto has not signed onto the Green New Deal or any other major climate legislation. In addition, most of the “Beto-hype” in the media has been driven by members of Third Way, a pro-business think tank in Washington that is almost entirely comprised of and funded by Wall Street executives. No wonder he’s in favor of deregulating Wall Street.

But why the backlash to these revelations about O’Rourke’s record? It’s not like these economic elites are also funding the mainstream media networks.

Except, they are.

Here’s how it all works: first, wealthy elites such as pharmaceutical company executives or Wall Street bankers buy advertising on, or simply buy outright, media companies while simultaneously funding “think tanks” in Washington. These think tanks advocate for the best interest of the people paying them, which usually means lobbying lawmakers to adopt austerity and voodoo economics as a guiding principle and to deregulate all major industry. These lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, then take campaign contributions from PACS and SuperPACS also set up by these elites, or, in the case of O’Rourke, directly from elites themselves.

They then go on the news outlets owned by these same elites in order to aid the hosts with propagandizing the American people into falsely believing that the best interest of billionaires is also their best interest. Then, when members of the public and other journalists begin to push back with accurate reporting on the corruption and gaslighting taking place, the mainstream press and establishment politicians decry the dissidents as sexist “Bernie bros” who know nothing about how the government works. Ironic.

Make no mistake: this episode with O’Rourke and Sirota is the swamp in action. Uncovering previously unknown details about a politician’s record is literally the core function of investigative political journalism. Look, O’Rourke isn’t all bad, but at a certain point we either choose to reject the swamp and all of the politicians and so-called journalists who comprise it, or we submit to the whims of a wealthy few and allow our country to slip ever closer to outright oligarchy.