Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke is a rising star in the Democratic party and has gathered steam as a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Perhaps threatened by his ascension, Bernie Sanders militants have relentlessly attacked him, claiming amongst other things that he is not a real progressive.
The attacks on O'Rourke have been led by Sanders acolyte David Sirota, who claimed O'Rourke was the second-biggest recipient of fossil fuel donations in 2018. We published a lengthy rebuttal of Sirota's spurious claims pointing out the fact that Beto explicitly disavowed PAC money. The donations that Sirota claimed were from these companies were actually from people employed by the oil and gas industry, not the companies themselves.
Regardless, Sirota and many other Sanders supporters are continuing to smear O'Rourke for the crime of taking donations from private individuals who happen to work in the oil and gas industry. The likes of Liz Bruenig, Katie Halper, Nomiki Konst, and Zaid Jilani have followed Sirota's lead, with articles, podcasts, and interviews voicing disapproval of O'Rourke, causing some observers to wonder if these attacks were coordinated to bring him down before he leaves the starting gate.
Yesterday, Nathan J. Robinson of Current Affairs weighed in with an article called "Is It OK To Criticize Politicians For Things They Have Done?" argued that criticizing O'Rourke now, before the primaries begin, is crucial to ensure that a true progressive becomes the nominee. Although people on both sides of the Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders divide have spoken out against these criticisms of O'Rourke, like Neera Tanden and Shaun King, Robinson dismisses their concerns. He believes they are attacking the act of criticism itself, claiming they demand party loyalty above all else so that the Democrats can beat Trump.
Some of the arguments Robinson puts forward are not without merit, but his bias for Sanders has an extremely dangerous effect on his journalism. His piece misrepresents both me and my work on this subject, with errors that are beyond egregious. He writes:
"Jeremy Fassler of The Daily Banter, in attempting to “debunk” this claim and defend O’Rourke, ended up conceding that it is completely true: '[Since most of his donors were Texas residents,] it’s only natural that people who worked within the oil and gas industries would have given to his campaign. And while he was the number one recipient of funds from oil and gas employees, he was also number one across many other fields as well.' This amounts to saying 'Of course he took oil executives’ money, he’s from Texas. And he didn’t just take oil money.'"
To be clear: I did not concede David Sirota's argument. Sirota completely misrepresented the data, and as a result, his argument makes no sense whatsoever. Robinson is engaging in word play to make you think that personal contributions from oil executives are the same thing as money coming from the oil and gas companies themselves. It is not, and following Robinson's logic, private citizens in any industry should not be able to contribute to politicians they support. O'Rourke was the number one recipient of funds from accountants, architects, and people who work in health services. Is he in bed with those industries too?
It is also worth pointing out that only a small number of the donations from employees in the oil and gas industries came from executives -- a point Robinson of course did not include.
To reiterate the point once more: Beto O'Rourke did not accept money from oil and gas companies. He accepted them from employees of those companies. Anyone who argues otherwise is lying to you, including Nathan J. Robinson.