I’ve noticed that much of my political activism as of late has been on the part of actively criticizing our current administration and its abhorrent policies toward almost everyone who isn’t a rich, white, cisgender male. Although I identify quite strongly as a Democrat, I intentionally try not to wrap myself up within intra-Democratic Primary Presidential debates, partly because of the variability and almost-arbitrary nature of what types of candidates get to command the national spotlight at any given moment. However, with the Iowa caucuses just about one month away, I’ve been wrestling with who I feel as though would embody the values of the Presidency that our current Commander-in-Chief has almost completely eroded away. In other words, how can the role of the Presidency be restored and transformed, in terms of symbolic and statutory legitimacy, from a man who occupies the role in name only?
I believe this can happen — and thrive — under an administration in which Pete Buttigieg is the President of the United States.
I say this with caution, but also with an odd sense of certainty and confidence. Do not get me wrong — I will wholeheartedly support whichever Democratic candidate receives the nomination. But I want to explain why I believe Mayor Pete is exactly who we need at this pivotal moment in history:
1. He embodies and understands what it means to be an American millennial.
Many people throw around the facts about how Mayor Pete is a 37-year old gay midwestern Mayor, a Harvard graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, a polyglot, an Afghanistan veteran, and a concert pianist as the bases for his qualifications for office. Yes, each of those accolades is extremely impressive, but we should not treat the office of the Presidency as a university admissions process, where it is almost a necessity to go above and beyond just to be noticed by principal actors.
Rather, I see Buttigieg as a young, ambitious individual who chose to return to South Bend — a city most people either pass through on Interstate 90 or stop briefly in to tour Notre Dame University — with a purpose to serve. He is indebted with nearly $130,000 worth of outstanding student loans. He is the only non-millionaire or billionaire running for the Democratic candidacy. He is a newlywed, whose right to love is still under attack throughout our nation. He is a Chief Executive, whose duty to serve the city of South Bend has allowed him to understand the challenges and frustrations of the executive branch, without being gated inside the haven of Washington, D.C.; in other words, he is, even statistically speaking, a much more accurate representation of who we are as a people than almost any other candidate in the race. This should never be overlooked, especially with the radically changing landscape of the American population.
2. His experience in public service, although not sexy by Washington, D.C. standards, has equipped him with the tools to lead with purpose and diligence.
I’ve always struggled with how to determine if a candidate has enough “experience” to hold a certain office. After all, we’ve had Presidents who were some of the greatest military commanders of all time (George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower), and some who spent less than one term as a Senator (Barack Obama). All four of those people have transformed the United States in unimaginable ways, and have, for lack of a better term, made America great. Great, in the sense that Washington established precedent and class for the office of the Presidency, Grant ended the first inception of the Ku Klux Klan, Eisenhower connected our cities via the Interstate Highway Act, and Obama architected the most revolutionary and comprehensive healthcare reform in our country’s modern era, ensuring the coverage of tens of millions of people in the span of two terms.
I see strategies by candidates such as Amy Klobuchar to minimize his experience as Mayor as desperate attempts to gain airtime in a political era defined by sound bites and zesty one-liners. The cold hard facts are that Buttigieg has served eight years — most of his professional career — as the chief executive of a Rust Belt city of 100,000 people. The accountability, involvement, hands-on work, and sheer personal investment needed to manage such a diverse and vibrant city is more taxing than most can imagine.
Being able to sustain consistent economic growth throughout his tenure while also being reelected with over 80% of the vote in 2015 gives me a strong indication that he is a steadfast leader in the face of the crosswinds of American politics. It seems counterintuitive to minimize his experience and qualifications because of his regional-level political involvement. To me, that speaks more volumes about his character as a leader than any other young political hopeful immediately involving themselves in the crosshairs of D.C. in hopes of gaining influence in the sphere of the Beltway.
3. He is transparent, and he listens.
I understand why many people may be taken aback with this claim. Because of his corporate ties at McKinsey or because of his difficulty in handling situations such as the tragic death of Eric Logan earlier this year, Buttigieg has certainly been on the receiving end of not being transparent or forthcoming enough about certain issues. Frankly, in this era of Trumpism — defined at its very core by the use of the office of President for personal and familial gain — the need for almost a polar opposite candidate in this sense should be one of the most important things on the mind of the Democratic voter. But the attacks on Buttigieg, which I believe has much to do with the fact that he has risen from an obscure candidate to a legitimate contender for the Democratic nomination, is simply ridiculous, for lack of a better term.
Besides Bernie Sanders, every single other Democratic candidate has accepted corporate money and held secretive, private, corporate events at some point in their political careers (yes, including Elizabeth Warren). Let’s not even get into what Joe Biden is doing by going back on his pledges to stay away from Super PAC money.
Many of those buzzwords are obviously dirty and scary to voters who are not involved in those spheres. I get that. I’m a senior in college. I don’t want a government that is run by Wall Street executives benefitting only the top 1% either. But I believe deeply that neither Buttigieg nor Warren, nor Biden nor Sanders, nor any Democratic candidate wants to maliciously trap the most vulnerable members of society in a perpetual cycle of poverty and oppression. The Occupy movements of 2012 are working. Bernie Sanders’ mobilization of younger voters is working. This country is waking up.
Besides Tulsi Gabbard — who was the only Democratic Representative to vote “present” on both Articles of Impeachment — voting records of every Democratic candidate show that these political leaders are willing to fight tooth and nail for policies that matter most to benefitting the common good of the United States. One quote from Buttigieg’s remarks at the Iowa Democratic Party’s fall fundraising dinner last month sticks out to me the most:
“…but I also will not tire from the effort to include everyone in this future we are trying to build — progressives, moderates, and Republicans of conscience who are ready for change. The time has come.”
I have many friends who would interpret this statement as political wishy-washy bullshit with legitimate lines of reasoning. However, one of the most important takeaways I have found that the Buttigieg campaign tries to incorporate is the extremely blunt emphasis on healing the wounds of Washington polarization, along with the inclusion of those in a movement who legitimately feel isolated by the forces that they feel as though are trying to suppress their voices. I don’t know about you, but that seems like something that all of us should be fighting for, in the United States of America.
I also emphasize that Mayor Pete is transparent and listens because of his eager mindedness in trying to eliminate any silence surrounding the activities of his campaign and mayoral tenure. Specifically, two weeks ago, Buttigieg sat down with Michael Harriot, who wrote a critical article describing Buttigieg as a “lying MF,” and had one of the most insightful, meaningful, and educational conversations I’ve heard in a long time about police brutality, black poverty, and inequality from the perspectives of both an activist and a civil servant (the video is included below). Actions like these may seem small, but prove that he is willing to reach beyond the scope of the four walls of his office and actually advocate and educate himself for the constituents he is constitutionally obligated to serve.
4. His outreach efforts are working, but he needs to do more.
A friend of mine semi-joked to me when I was abroad last school year about donating to Buttigieg’s campaign — I remember specifically thinking to myself how he could have spent his money in such a better way, such as on a beer at Delirium in Brussels (where we had this conversation). I vividly recall going to bed that night thinking that this dude who I never heard of would burn out quicker than other candidates, like former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper or New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Fast forward to now: I can’t open any news article about the 2020 election without seeing his name or seeing clips of him effortlessly explaining political policy and philosophy to people who legitimately want to understand what is going on in a city so far away that somehow affects them so intricately. Whether you like it or not, people are now beginning to take Mayor Pete seriously. That is starting to scare other candidates — now that he’s leading in key states such as Iowa and New Hampshire (according to some of the latest polls), candidates who previously rested comfortably in the top tier of candidates, most notably Elizabeth Warren, are beginning to treat him as a Democratic antichrist.
Ah, that damn wine cellar! Curse you, $900 cabernet sauvignon!
In many key battleground states such as Nevada and South Carolina, Buttigieg, along with many other candidates besides Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, struggles simply with name recognition. The familiarity of the Obama-era coalition obviously gives former Vice President Biden an incredible upper hand with securing key coalitions historically consistent with Democratic representation, most obviously in the form of black support.
Nobody can deny that Buttigieg’s lack of support in the black community is troublesome. But in the span of merely a few months, Buttigieg has proven himself to be a constructor of coalitions himself in states where his initial recognition was close to zero percent. He is leading in both Iowa and New Hampshire in multiple polls, some by almost ten percent. I have absolutely no doubt that he will continue this meaningful course of work onto the many other states which have so far been ignored because of the flawed structure of the Primary system.
5. He most embodies, to me, the archetype of what a President should be.
Everyone who votes views the Presidency in a different way. After all, much of the reason that many rational voters chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was because of their desire for an institutional shake-up, or because of their view of the Presidency as an ideological bastion in the face of a swampy Congress.
A sad reality is that lasting political change needs to occur with the support of the Presidency, House, and Senate. As we see with Trump, the era of simply undoing executive action that doesn’t align with current administrative goals is in full swing. We need a President who can — and will — strategically build inclusive and bipartisan coalitions, not a President who even appears to have the intention of plying wider the crevasses of our already-fractured representative governmental system. If you want to understand why I believe Buttigieg embodies this unifying type of leader in full, I invite you to reread point number three.
Democratic infighting and the need to compensate for the extremism perpetuated by this administration are alienating key allies in the fight to defeat both Donald Trump and the toxic nationalist mentality which brought him to Washington in the first place. Righteousness and virtue signaling are certainly indicative of passion, but we need to break the all-too-common mold of fighting fire with fire in the political arena; moreover, we need to also break the mold that the political scene itself is an “arena,” and instead realize that the power of this great nation lies with our forgotten ability to identify the common good and forge a mutually beneficial path for every single person in this country.
Maybe I’m screaming into the void, but it seems like so many others who realize the absurdity of purity tests and the need to be so black and white in politics are screaming into the void as well. I don’t think it’s irrational for me to say that we need a President who will not consistently give Fox News, Breitbart, and InfoWars an unlimited daily supply of propagandized ammunition for its viewers.
Vote with rationality. Vote with conscience. Vote with information. But most importantly, vote with passion and intention. I certainly will be, come New York State’s Primary. I certainly hope that you will, as well.