Musings: Failure to Launch

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Musings, Opinion

Enigmatic actor and self-described “poet-philosopher” Matthew McConaughey did a fresh round of press last week, and while the talented thespian has assertively kept the door ajar on a potential bid for Governor of Texas, he has also assertively kept afloat the most potent criticisms of his could-be candidacy.

First, let’s acknowledge that McConaughey has the name ID and popularity to be a real factor in the 2022 race to be the next governor of Texas. Where the man, who is practically an avatar for a certain brand of Austin Cool, continues to inflict harm upon his potential ambitions is the extent to which he keeps revealing himself to be an empty vessel.

While McConaughey is a talented orator who has at times captivated Texans with his impassioned pleas to lean into a more compassionate life and to take the Covid-19 pandemic more seriously, he has continued to attempt to ride the fence politically, describing himself as “aggressively centrist.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing to swing voting Texans, but he continues to reveal a startling naivete for someone with hopes to occupy the largest executive office in the second largest state in the nation.

It’s no small job, and I’m not an elitist with respect to who is or isn’t qualified to run for public office. I think it would be a good thing if more bartenders ran bold campaigns for Congress and got elected like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. I want to see more moms elected to the United States Senate. I’d like to see more scientists in the room when we’re grappling with pandemics and climate change.

The only thing I really insist on from a candidate is that they stand for … something. The world is a big place and people care about a lot of different things. I’m the type of person that can get excited about whatever you’re passionate about, you just need to be passionate about it.

We’ve now been speculating about McConaughey running for governor for over a year, and frankly, I don’t know what he’s passionate about. I don’t know what he believes in. I have a vague sense for the way he looks at the world, but his dogmatically non-committal approach to public policy betrays those perceptions.

Take, for example, his answer about SB 8 to Kara Swisher on the New York Times podcast “Sway.” While the answer had glimpses of a nuanced position against the terrible six-week abortion ban, McConaughey openly said he wouldn’t publicly take a position on abortion or the bill. 

That’s a punt that women across Texas will remember if McConaughey’s name makes the ballot in 2022 and reveals the hazardous road that awaits McConaughey if he actually makes an independent bid for the highest office in Texas. His attempts to ride the middle and try to reach Texans on both sides of the spectrum openly risks frequently alienating both sides of the spectrum. Without a genuine policy platform that voters can sink their teeth into, he isn’t giving the middle much to vote for either.

And the upper limit of being one of the coolest people on the planet might not be enough to enchant voters who are hearing answers on important issues that are frankly not very bright. Sorry, Matt, but you’ve let some whoppers loose lately, most especially when asked how you felt about SB 1, the insidious voter suppression package Texas Republicans stopped at nothing to pass.

When asked what he thought about that package of laws, which make it harder for Texans of all stripes to vote and goes out of its way to target the major cities in Texas that serve as Democratic powerhouses, which led almost half of the Texas legislature to break quorum in protest and was a daily source of news coverage and discussion across Texas and nationally, McConaughey revealed his greatest weakness.

“You know, I don’t know enough about that to be able to discuss the details on how I feel about that,” the actor boldly intoned. 

I’m sorry, but the only way that’s possible is if you weren’t paying attention. Texans are already suffering from one governor who doesn’t pay attention to what’s important, and McConaughey keeps revealing himself to indulge in that same bad habit.

And, to be fair, there are greater crimes than inattention. But at a time when Texans of color and Texas women have been fighting tooth and nail for their basic rights to exist and participate in our society, to not be aware of what exactly Texas Republicans are up to is pretty unforgivable to me.

And yet, somehow, in a September poll, McConaughey leads Governor Greg Abbott by nine points.

Texas, are you kidding? 

Don’t get me wrong. If the choice is between McConaughey and Abbott, alright, alright alright. I’ll punch his box. I will sign on to the experiment. But in a world where more credible candidates do presumably exist, it would be irresponsible for me to vote for someone that seems to be this out of their depth on the biggest issues we’re grappling with.

While he hasn’t officially entered the race or confirmed that he’s about to, Beto O’Rourke is widely expected to jump into the race in the weeks ahead, and Texas Republicans have been busy trying to hammer O’Rourke for statements he made during his presidential campaign to try to soften his launch.

But here’s the thing I’ve found about Texans on both sides of the aisle: they would much rather hear you speak your truth and piss them off than listen to you talk out of both sides of your mouth. While O’Rourke has taken some bold policy positions in the past, Texas voters have a pretty definitive sense of where he stands at any given moment. 

They may not like all of it, but in time they’ll come to respect the most impressive thing about O’Rourke, what makes him a hellacious opponent and could make him a transformational governor: he isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. 

The most troubling thing about McConaughey’s putative candidacy isn’t that it feels like he’s lying. It genuinely feels like he doesn’t know the truth. At a time when the Texas GOP has been deliberately denying the truth and trying to rig the next generation of elections, that’s a very  dangerous quality for a potential governor to have.

Senior Advisor | + posts

Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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