Children Playing Baseball

Must every politician have a remarkable personal story?

Believe it or not, there is a thing or two that current Democratic candidates for president could learn from the Brett Kavanaugh story. For all of Kavanaugh’s transgressions, he has at least been honest in saying that he grew up in a life of privilege. Yes, some people do have that good fortune. In fact, if they didn’t, no one would live the conventional definition of the American Dream.

In last week’s Democratic debate, the candidates were asked by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, “What’s the most significant professional setback you’ve had to face? How did you recover from it, and what did you learn from it?”

While a few of the candidates actually answered the question and talked about professional setbacks, most talked about personal ones. And indeed, some of them have had life experiences that any of us would like to avoid. Most particularly, the loss that Joe Biden has experienced would send most people to the sidelines and into a psychological spin that would be difficult to ever overcome. He seems to have recovered as well as anyone could.

But then there are the Kavanaughs of the world, for whom privilege is the norm and exclusive of his own bad behavior, virtually everything seems to have gone well. Why is it that virtually all of the candidates have “stories” that seem to make their personal achievements seem remarkable beyond believability. If they are not rags to riches, they are victim to forgiver.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing, wouldn’t it be realistic, to hear just one candidate to say that he or she has lived a life of good fortune. He or she may not quite as fortunate as George W. Bush who former Texas Governor Ann Richards described as being “born on third base and thought that he hit a triple.”  At least a few other candidates could say that they grew up in a non-traumatic or neurotic household in a well-to-do neighborhood and enjoyed school and had plenty of friends. That must happen to some people in our world.

Of the ten Democratic candidates who were on stage for the September debate, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke may come closest to having had a healthy childhood. He was born and raised in El Paso. His mother owned a high-end furniture store and his father was active in politics. As a child, Beto went to a Montessori school and later to Woodberry Forest School, a private boarding school in Virginia, and college at Columbia University. He seemed to have a healthy childhood which included being a bass guitarist.

We do not know of him being bullied or experiencing trauma as a child. O’Rourke is very loyal to El Paso and has been deeply hurt by the senseless shooting at a Walmart store there on August 3 of this year.  He answered Stephanopoulos’ question about resilience by saying, “when we finally confront the racism that exists in America, when we’re defined not by our fears, but instead by our aspirations and our ambitions, it will be, in large part, I think, thanks to the example that El Paso has set.”

Credit goes to him for not portraying himself personally as a victim. But at some time in this campaign, it might be propitious for him to say that he has lived a personal life of good fortune. He could tie this in to his assertions that as we address problems such as gun violence, hopefully our country will be a place where more young people can grow up as he did. It has been said that many Americans suffer from “compassion fatigue.” There is much to care about and towards which we can and should address our empathy. But once in a while it might be refreshing to hear a politician talk about the good fortune that has characterized their life. This is not to fault O’Rourke, who I think may be among the best of the Democratic candidates. But it would be refreshing to hear some candidate for some office not use the word ‘hardship’ when talking about their life.