2018 midterms

In Praise of Beto O’Rourke, the Sweaty Man

Beto O'Rourke soaking through his shirt at a town hall meeting.
Beto O’Rourke soaking through his shirt at a town hall meeting. Photo: LARRY W SMITH/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Democratic Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke sweats. In photos with supporters, the bib of his shirt is always soaked. Embracing Willie Nelson at a rally, he lifts his arm to reveal a damp pit. He constantly looks like he should be wearing one of those mylar space blankets that people get after running a marathon. Decades of Gatorade commercials weren’t lying about sweat as key signifier of an idealized “hustle” — O’Rourke has raised $38.1 million in small donations over the last three months. That’s 802,836 contributions, all in one-dollar bills I presume, soggy and wadded in his pockets. Hillary had pantsuits, Beto has sweat. He is a Sweaty Man.

His opponent, Ted Cruz, is not a Sweaty Man, but he is a Damp Man. Cruz frequently licks his lips, and has an unpleasant dewiness about him. I imagine that shaking his hand feels like gripping a steamed pork bun.

I, too, am a Sweaty Man, though my perspiration is localized to the forehead. There are no pit-stains or soggy undershirts telegraphing my hard work or my anxieties, but I’m frequently wiping my brow. I’ve tried cutting out caffeine in hopes that this would mitigate the sweating, to no effect. Without it, I am less alert, but still sweaty. An all-season iced coffee drinker, I have my morning cup on the subway, and sweat. The plastic cup from Dunkin’ Donuts, like me, is sweaty.

Friends and co-workers always have questions for the Sweaty Man, like “why are you so sweaty?”; “is it raining outside?”; and “are you having a heart attack?” I’m less self-conscious about it now than I have been in the past, largely due to my vigilance in warding off sweatiness’ dirtbag cousin, stinkiness. The soap scent from my morning shower lingers in my arm hair through the day, and I prefer to wear a women’s fragrance, MAC’s My Heroine. I sweat about saying that publicly.

O'Rourke sweats alongside Willie Nelson, who does not appear to be sweating.
O’Rourke sweats alongside Willie Nelson, who does not appear to be sweating. Photo: RICK KERN/WireImage/Getty Images

Whereas sweatiness doomed Richard Nixon in 1960, O’Rourke has transformed it into something cool. He was in a punk band, a famously sweaty musical genre. He skateboards in the Whattaburger parking lot, a sweaty activity in a place serving sweaty food. His is the opposite of effortless cool — the visible effort is what makes it cool.

The Sweaty Man’s lifestyle is not exclusively one of work. At home, I frequent the subreddit r/SweatyPalms, where people post GoPro videos of Eastern Bloc teens climbing scaffolding and playing with hoverboards perilously close to rooftop edges. Watching these POV clips, my brain cries “too high up!” and the palms of my hands and feet start to get clammy. This is a good feeling to me, or at least a thrilling one.

So too is the ascent of Beto O’Rourke thrilling. Running as a Democrat in Texas is at least as foolhardy as breaking into a construction site to film yourself dabbing on top of a crane. He sweats as he climbs. We sweat as we watch. In 2018, everyone is a Sweaty Man.

In Praise of Beto O’Rourke, the Sweaty Man