And what does the mayor of South Bend, Indiana have to offer in his bid for president? Sure, he’s smart — brilliant, even; Mayor Pete’s a Rhodes Scholar who speaks at least eight languages — but what does the openly gay mayor of a podunk Indiana town really have to offer the country? Quite a lot, as it happens; read on and I’ll tell you.
Buttigieg’s blurb in the Not Fake News 2020 Scorecard doesn’t say much about him or his positions aside from a couple of allusions to his intelligence. Part of this is because there’s not much to say; the man’s still young. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard and went on to take first-class honors in philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford. His time in the military was eight years spent as an intel specialist in the Reserve; his active duty service was, according to him, mostly “military Uber”, working with a joint intel taskforce in Afghanistan.
But election as mayor eight years ago didn’t come out of the blue; the man we now know as Mayor Pete is extremely well-connected in the Democratic Party. He was highly sought after as a policy specialist in major campaigns, turning down Barack Obama to work for Kerry in 2004. After university he was recruited to the prestigious yet secretive McKinsey consulting group, leaving in 2010 to focus on his own political career.
Mayor Pete’s time in South Bend was hardly placid; minor scandals and unpopular decisions have been the hallmark of his career thus far. And yet the remarkable aspect of this is not the errors but rather his handling of them; when faced with opposition for some urban projects, he commissioned independent studies and followed their recommendations — often to pursue his original goal, but now with validation. He’s demonstrated a disarming humility and willingness to learn that contrasts somewhat with what one might expect of such an intelligent and able executive.
As for his policies and positions, he’s surprisingly moderate for this Primary field — a traditional Plains Progressive, in fact. Although a longtime fan of Bernie Sanders, Buttigieg holds significantly different views; rather than immediate free healthcare, he proposes a gradual approach, and instead of free college he supports methods of making it more affordable. While this would seem to be indicative of a pro-Wall Street bent, Mayor Pete has also come out publicly in favor of disentangling politics from corporate investment. Overall, he comes across as an incrementalist, favoring gradual change as a way to prevent chaotic repercussions.
And this too is worthy of mention: Among the Democratic candidates, Buttigieg is unique in the breadth of his experience. He has significant expertise both in foreign and domestic policy, he’s served in the military, and he’s been top executive in a not-inconsequential city. He’s remarkably accomplished for one so young.
However, all we have to judge him by is eight years as mayor of a small city, his writings and speeches (which are, it must be acknowledged, remarkably brilliant and finely detailed), and a large measure of wit and poise on the debate stage. He’s never been a legislator, never drafted or practiced law. He’s never been tested under the extreme stress of a national campaign, much less the temptations of the power of high office. Unlike many of his rivals, he’s eagerly pursuing bundled money, SuperPAC assistance, and corporate aid. And, let’s face it: That constant smile is Stepford-level spooky.
The bottom line on Mayor Pete, then, is that we must acknowledge his youth, energy, and undeniable ability are balanced by a certain inexperience and a lack of that tempering under fire which proves one’s mettle. Buttigieg is still largely an unknown quantity; choosing him to oppose Donald Trump, a powerful and charismatic incumbent, is a gamble. Nevertheless, I am confident in his potential, and if he can survive what promises to be a grueling campaign, he’ll have gone a long way toward demonstrating his competence for the high position he so assiduously pursues.