Beto O'Rourke put a passionate if totally undefined call for fixing democracy at the center of his presidential announcement today.
"The challenges that we face right now – the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate – have never been greater, and they will either consume us or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America," the former Democratic congressman from El Paso declared in his announcement video. "In other words, this moment of peril produces perhaps the greatest moment of promise for this country."
O'Rourke went on to tick off an expansive roster of topics he would address as president including job creation, access to medical care, immigration, criminal justice reform, the rural economy and climate change. But, he said before enumerating those challenges, "We can begin by fixing our democracy and ensuring that our government works for everyone and not just for corporations."
He did not say anything more specific – about campaign finance, partisan gerrymandering, access to the polls, voting rights, ranked-choice voting, government ethics or any other topic in the "democracy reform" playbook.
Presumably, his agenda would include legislation designed to reduce the influence of money in politics, reflecting his Senate campaign in Texas last year. He came surprisingly close to unseating Republican Ted Cruz after cultivating a celebrity brand rooted in a decision to forgo donations from political action committees – and instead cultivating an ocean of small-dollar donors across the country and shattering fundraising records with almost $80 million in mostly lesser amounts.
With his announcement, though, O'Rourke is positioning himself as the most prominent White House aspirant so far – at least from the party's center-left wing – to make the challenges facing our democracy a campaign focus. Further to his left, of course, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont put criticisms of big-money politics at the heart of his 2106 quest and is starting to do so again.