Beto: Sorry about all that kid murdering stuff

Yesterday, Ed looked at recent revelations about newly minted presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s early history as a “hacktivist” with the Cult of the Dead Cow. Since any crimes he committed with the group are long since past the statute of limitations, he has little to fear there. But some of his published writings from that period are also coming to light and leading to questions. Most notable thus far is a short piece of fiction that involves the narrator murdering a large number of people, including children that he runs down with a car. The political press reluctantly asked him about it during one of his many campaign stops in Iowa and O’Rourke at least owned up to it. (Associated Press)

Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke on Friday acknowledged making mistakes as a teen and as a candidate, responding to criticism of his campaign rhetoric toward his wife as well as writings he produced online when he was young…

O’Rourke, 46, also said he was “mortified” when he reread the violent fiction he wrote as a teen, which received fresh attention Friday after a Reuters report outlined his involvement in a hacker group as a teen. O’Rourke wrote a handful of posts on the group’s message board under the name “Psychedelic Warlord,” including a fictional piece he penned when he was 15 about children getting run over by a car.

“I’m mortified to read it now, incredibly embarrassed, but I have to take ownership of my words,” he said. “Whatever my intention was as a teenager doesn’t matter, I have to look long and hard at my actions, at the language I have used, and I have to constantly try to do better.”

Beto is being criticized for a couple of things already, but none of it seems to be lethal to his prospects. He repeatedly told a joke where he talked about his wife raising their kids, “sometimes with my help.” If he’s acknowledging the fact that his political activity keeps him on the road a lot and the duties of caring for their offspring fall largely on his wife’s shoulders, is that really so bad? Has anyone asked Mrs. O’Rourke if she was offended? We’ve heard far worse from far more successful candidates.

That fiction piece was a bit more disturbing, but there’s zero indication that it was more than fiction. If that’s a disqualifying event, then Stephen King can never run for public office. For his part, O’Rourke is “taking ownership” of all of this and simply promising to do better as he goes forward. That’s a fairly smart political move in my opinion. If he tried to justify it, explain it away or defend it, that only opens the door to more questions and drags the story out even longer. He’s basically just saying, “yep. I said and wrote those things. Won’t happen again.” This cuts off further questions from any members of the press who are at all interested in doing more than just cheerleading for the Betomania crowd.

What’s perhaps more interesting is the phenomenon of seeing contenders for national office with a life-long set of tracks to follow on the web. O’Rourke is of that age where he’s one of our first presidential candidates to have grown up at the dawn of the internet era. As such, he has a full history online, including his “rebellious youth” phase. We’re already seeing this with congressional candidates and elected officials because the age limits are much lower.

Going forward, there will be a full online history for nearly everyone running for office, unless they’re very good at purging records and covering their tracks. For Beto, it was a bit of dabbling in hacking and some dark prose. For AOC it was a topless picture and some video of her dancing in college. Neither of them was derailed by what turned up… at least not yet. (And AOC’s dancing video wasn’t even a “scandal.” Why people tried to make it out as such remains a mystery.) But everyone who wants to run for office from here on out will need to make sure they’ve cleaned all the skeletons out of their digital closets before announcing.