JFK to Beto: From a Canadian Who Loves American Politics

My parents met in Toronto after emigrating from Ireland, and I am a first generation Canadian.  I’ve always loved politics but was especially intrigued by the American political scene.

I remember visiting my grandmother in Ireland as a young child and she, like many in the older Irish generation, had two pictures on the shelf with her teacups and plates. A picture of the Pope and a picture of JFK.

I asked about John F. Kennedy and was told he was the first Irish Catholic president of the United States. That he fought for civil rights and he could give a good speech.

I learned more about his journey as I got older and ended up naming my firstborn son Jack in homage to him.

When I traveled to Ireland for the World Irish Dance Championships a few years back with my three children, I visited the Little Museum of Dublin and was shown a wooden music stand that JFK used. When he made his first and only trip to Ireland – this was shortly before being assassinated – the Irish government realized they didn’t have a podium for his speech. JFK liked to set his notes down in front of him when he stood to speak, so a music teacher from the local university donated the stand for him to use. I placed my hand on its well-worn edges and thought about how one person can change the world.

I’ve often said that I wish we had more JFK-esque candidates running in elections. People who stir something deep in your heart and make you want to take action. Knock on doors. Share stories. Change minds.

When I heard Beto O’Rourke for the first time, it was in the viral video about football players taking a knee and I thought to myself, “His response was perfection.” Later, I heard that he was a Democrat running in the famously red state of Texas where a state-wide election had not gone blue since 1994. I read that over the 22 months he was running, he visited every single county in Texas. 254 to be exact. He didn’t take money from political action committees, and he raised more than any Senate candidate in the country’s history – a lot of it from folks living right in Texas. I was beyond impressed.

And then he lost by a small margin. Not by a landslide. He was a massive contender.

I thought to myself, “He reminds me so much of JFK. His stature. His charisma. His speeches.  His energy. His ability to inspire.”

O’Rourke is fourth generation Irish and his mother was the stepdaughter of Fred Korth, the Secretary of the Navy under JFK.

I hope that Beto keeps the momentum going and continues campaigning all the way to 2020. A strong Democratic candidate is needed, and he fits the bill. And there are so many people that are fired up by his journey and would help him along the way. To get the vote out. To share his story. To make a difference.

Two things that JFK said that have always made sense to me were:

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.  Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past.  Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

And

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Those sayings made me believe that anything is possible if we follow our gut and fight for what is right. If we work towards less division and more inclusion. If we own our path and decide where we want to go.

Beto was able to bring out the vote for a Democrat in a very Republican state. His message was universal. It spoke to everyone.

During his Senate run, Beto said:

“This campaign is proving every single day that going everywhere, fighting for everyone and running without PACs or special interests isn’t just the right thing to do, but the best way to win.  Something really special is happening in Texas, and it’s the people in all 254 counties that we’ve visited making it possible. One town hall, one volunteer shift, one $5 donation at a time.”

That makes me want to head to Texas and join the O’Rourke campaign. And I’m Canadian.

There is something about the underdog. A boxer racing up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. An African American senator who couldn’t get in the 2000 Democratic Convention, was the keynote speaker at the event in 2004 and President in 2008. A tall, bearded, one-term Congressman in the mid-1800s who had never held a state office and had lost two Senate races.  An Irish Catholic senator from Massachusetts. And a young Congressman from El Paso, Texas.

Underdogs are the names we remember forever. The people who show us that anything is possible if we believe in ourselves beyond reason. If we never give up.

Whether Beto is the new JFK or the next Democratic star, I think his loss in the Texas Senate race might be a gain for American politics for years to come.