In many ways, I see parts myself in Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I see a 37-year-old who grew up in the Midwest. Someone who is spiritual, ultra-driven, and family-oriented. Someone who shares my values. (And someone who, like me, has even adopted a one-eyed fur baby.) But it’s not just about me, and it’s not even solely about my country. I see in Pete Buttigieg the type of leadership that could unite severed ties both here and abroad — and it’s a shift that we desperately need.
1. As a mayor of a diverse community, he’s tackled real issues with real people, firsthand.
Mayors are tasked with working from the bottom up, rather than the top down, to make things happen. They see and hear the struggles that people face on a daily basis, and they have actual relationships with those people rather than using them as convenient anecdotes for their cause. As mayor of Sound Bend, IN, Buttigieg jumped in with fervor, rolled up his sleeves, and began to work within a system to inspire real, lasting change for his community.
2. As an older millennial, he’s in touch with multiple, vastly different generations.
It’s a unique time in history to be bridging generations. Someone in their late 30s has experienced a time without cell phones and a time when household computers weren’t the norm. He has lived through both war and peace, and through both Democratic and Republication administrations. He saw a pre- and post-9/11 America, and saw the growth of a chilling proliferation of mass shootings. He’s seen a drastic economic shift, as well as a shift toward diversity in education and in the workplace. He’s seen cities both rise and fall. All without quite being “middle-aged” yet.
At his age, he’s able to embrace a savvy youthfulness and energy, without being totally out of touch with the way older generations think and thrive. And he’s young enough to carry wisdom without being jaded. (Yes, wisdom can come with age — but apparently not when you’re a silver platter-fed hotel mogul and reality TV star.)
3. He understands the severity of current working-class wages.
Working class wages have been stagnant since the early 1980s. Today, it’s not necessarily an issue of being able to find work — it’s an issue of having a job that pays the bills. And often needing more than one job. And then trying to somehow balance family obligations amidst working 60+ hours/week.
He recognizes that this needs to change, and it’s not a matter of just jacking up minimum wage or throwing money toward the trickle-down economics myth (a practice that may have had some effectiveness in the 80s but isn’t feasible in our current economy). He recognizes the wage struggle is a complicated web that’s driven highly by changing business models, and that we need to empower workers through practical policies.
4. He gets that there’s an actual demand for private health insurance.
He trusts that people will make the best decisions for themselves and for their families — and recognizes that for many people, private insurance is a better option, even with a free public alternative. Yet he also cares about paving paths for people who struggle in getting their basic healthcare needs met.
In general, I’m a very healthy person with minimal medical needs. I’ve forgone health insurance in the past. This year was different, and came with some nasty medical surprises. I’m grateful that I had a private insurance plan that footed most of the bill — a plan in which I was able to carefully pick my own doctors, make next-day appointments, approach surgery with confidence, and have a support network through my insurer to rely on for counseling and 24/7 resources. My medical situation was nightmarish enough, but it could have been an even crazier nightmare had those things not come easily.
Full disclosure, I also happen to work in the health benefits industry, and it makes me sad to see the industry as a whole demonized by people like Elizabeth Warren. My colleagues are passionate about empowering people to improve their health and maximize their benefits. Sure, greed and unfairness exists within the industry. But obliterating it is not the solution. Offering more choice and opening more doors is the solution.
5. He’s not afraid to admit mistakes.
Throughout his career and through his position as mayor, he has made some mistakes. He speaks candidly about them and what he’s learned from them. His pride does not stand in the way of admitting that he’s not perfect; that he is, in fact, a complex and fallible human like you and me. This, to me, is one of the many tests of a true leader.
6. He has an inspiring marriage.
It’s bad enough that Donald Trump objectifies women left and right and almost certainly has broken his marriage vows (and possibly even violated women against their will). And disgusting enough that he’s admitted feeling rage when dinner isn’t ready on the table when he gets home. But have you noticed how sadly, he never looks at his wife with respect and admiration? Watch an interview with Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten and you’ll immediately feel uplifted by the profoundness of their partnership in contrast.
So why does this matter in a political candidate? Character, pure and simple. If someone values fidelity, sees their partner as their equal rather than their inferior, and projects a loving and healthy relationship, it means that they are emotionally mature, disciplined, and capable of great responsibility.
7. He has military experience and has seen war firsthand.
Buttigieg spent six years as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, and had a 6-month deployment to Afghanistan, in which he worked on bases to identify and disrupt terrorist finance networks. He also often took on missions outside his job description, like driving and guarding vehicles (he counted 119 trips outside the wire).
He voluntarily responded to the country’s call of service in ways that most of us would cower away from. Not only does that kind of bravery, courage, and sense of duty far surpass our current president — it demonstrates that he recognizes the highest office as something beyond fame and power, but of service.
8. He aims to unite, rather than divide.
Pete Buttigieg sees a nation suffering from frustration, hatred, and blame. He sees two sides being wedged further and further apart, clinging to what is left of common ground. And he wants to restore that common ground. He urges politicians to drop the identity politics act, and he doesn’t demean those who disagree with him.
Pete refuses to play the fear-mongering game. Politicians will often create a false or exaggerated enemy in order to play on the fears and insecurities of the general public. They’ll then portray themselves as the hero in defeating the false enemy (e.g., building a wall to keep “those Mexicans” out that are supposedly draining our resources and committing crimes). Fear politics have been used to gain support for increased security measures or foster intolerance, and in extreme measures, they’re even used to sneakily prop up dictators. Democrats are not immune to these antics, but Pete relies on truth to get his message across — not hyperboles and tall tales.
9. He takes climate change seriously.
Buttigieg has practical ideas for clean energy implementation, but most of all, he recognizes that it’s not just about saving the planet — it’s about people, here, now, today. He understands that his own community of South Bend has been impacted by global warming, and that we’ve far surpassed the time to start acting aggressively to preserve what’s left of our future here on Earth.
10. He stands by the 2nd Amendment but recognizes the need for practical gun reform.
Guns are getting into the hands of too many careless, impulsive people. The solution isn’t to take everyone’s guns away, or even to take certain types of firearms away. The solution is to make it more difficult for guns to get into the wrong hands, and to promote responsible gun ownership. The 2nd Amendment states that we have the right to bear and keep arms — not that those arms have to be super easy to come by or that your local Wal-mart is required to stock your weapons of choice (despite what the NRA may lead you to believe).
11. He holds a compassionate stance toward reproductive freedoms.
He trusts that women are capable of making sound decisions for themselves and for their families. He understands that if we want to lower the number of abortions that happen in this country, the solution isn’t to punish women who are typically caught in desperate and devastating circumstances — rather, the solution is to promote ways for people to have planned, responsible paths toward parenthood.
When asked about his position on later-term abortions, he acknowledged that women in this position probably have a crib and a name picked out for their baby, and then get horrible news that they wouldn’t wish on anyone — and who is the government to mandate such a decision? I have been there. I had more love and enthusiasm for the baby in my womb than you’ll ever imagine, only to learn that there was no way he would survive birth. Even if he made it to term, he would have immediately suffocated because he wouldn’t have been able to breathe on his own. I didn’t abort and rather had an induced labor following his demise, but that decision came with risks. I ended up okay — but for some women, risks like these are deadly. That’s why choice is always paramount.
12. He’s not afraid to answer, “I don’t know.”
I’ve learned to never trust a person who thinks they know the answer to everything. When asked why he made a business decision that he later regretted, he searched for a moment and then landed with an honest, “I don’t know.” We often expect leaders to be hyper self-aware and to hold all the answers. But sometimes there’s not an immediate answer, and that’s okay. He could have hemmed and hawed or even crafted a careful politician-style response, but when that type of response didn’t come or didn’t seem authentic enough, he simply admitted to not having an answer. That shouldn’t be just acceptable, it should be encouraged and applauded.
13. He answers questions directly.
Ask Elizabeth Warren a question with the word “tax” in it, and she’ll likely respond with, “taxes aren’t the point.” Repeat the question and she may say, “I’m committed to not raising overall costs” (but will still avoid addressing taxes specifically). Ask Mayor Pete about taxes and he’ll give a forthcoming answer about who exactly will be affected by a tax, and by how much.
One of the reasons why we have a Buffoon in Chief is because he was a “straight shooter” while campaigning and debating. There were times he danced around a topic or gave a dishonest answer, but his overall bluntness was reassuring to people because it felt so apolitical. People may be naive at times, but they’re usually smart enough to know when a politician is blowing smoke out their ass.
14. He has pragmatic solutions for fighting student debt.
Some politicians would prefer to tax the hell out of the people who have already worked hard to pay off their student loans so that the government can foot the bill for unpaid debts. But Pete’s ideas are more practical, more creative, and more fair than that. He wants to find ways to refinance student loans the same way homes are financed, and also offer non-monetary alternatives for people to pay down parts of their loans, such as through public service.
15. He is comfortable in his own skin.
Pete speaks of his sexual orientation with pride and of his faith with pride. He doesn’t pander or shift gears depending on which audience he speaks to; rather, no matter what room he’s in, he looks people in the eye and speaks with authenticity. And he speaks as sharp as a razor, with no visible attempt to “dumb down” to certain audiences.
Grounded and confident, his ego isn’t threatened like our current president’s. While Trump pokes fun of Pete’s name and appearance (because that’s the only type of jab he’s capable of), Pete shrugs it off and says, “I don’t care.”
Rather than having a president who writes 3rd-grade style bully-ish letters to foreign leaders, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a thoughtful, articulate president who literally knows 6+ languages — who would pick up the phone and have a dignified conversation with a foreign ally in their native tongue? It’s hard to imagine since it’s the complete inverse of who sits in the White House today. But trust that it’s possible.