Scroll through Twitter long enough and you’ll learn that Pete Buttigieg is a pandering centrist full of hot air. That Mayor Pete is a conservative newbie still waiting to hit puberty. That Mayo Pete is a privileged, white, neo-Romney capitalist vampire lusting for corporate dominance, a closet Republican bent on setting the planet aflame with secret oil drilling and horrific flash mobs that will multiply exponentially and gyrate nerdily to the swelling sound of Mark Zuckerberg’s maniacal cackling into a loudspeaker and…
Woa. Excuse me a sec, just need to go throw my phone into a volcano pit.
To be fair, there are currents of truth rushing down this vitriolic river. Buttigieg spent nearly three years working for McKinsey & Company, an elite management consulting firm with ties to unethical corporations and authoritarian governments around the world. His husband posted a regrettable Instagram photo of him at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a couple years ago. And, yes, he looks like a high school math teacher who wears his Eagle Scout medal to bed every night.
Since Buttigieg emerged as the new leader in Iowa and New Hampshire polling this week, progressive diehards have launched a voracious excavation of Mayor Pete’s past, seeking to dig up any trace of dirt and, upon finding it, to declare him canceled, absolutely finished, completely disqualified. The assault promises to carry into tonight’s Democratic presidential debate, where more established candidates will take aim at the annoying millennial stealing voters from the elderly.
As always on social media, all the noise will build into a fever pitch that obscures the underlying truth: Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate that can beat President Trump in 2020, and his ascent could precipitate a new era of Democratic leadership.
It’s time for a pragmatic look at the race’s most pragmatic candidate. But first let’s address some of social media’s quibbles with Pete.
Why does Pete keep criticizing Bernie with logic, reason and nuance? Can’t he dumb it down for me and say something presidential like, “Medicare for all is very, very bad for our country, which is very sad, because people really are saying it’s a total disaster, just like Crazy Bernie’s hairdo, believe me!”
After enduring a president who treats the English language like a fast-food urinal, I don’t know how you can look at Buttigieg’s eloquence as anything other than a refreshing change. The man has gone from complete unknown to first place in less than a year largely because he’s been the candidate most willing to field any question and give it a thoughtful answer. He’s whip-smart. If that’s elitist, then alright! The idiocracy is officially upon us!
Buttigieg is a middle-class guy paying off student loan debts totaling $130,000. Few had heard of him when he launched his campaign in April. No Senate war chest, no name recognition, no personal fortune. You don’t go from zero to competitive in a presidential race without big-money donations.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren shot to the top because they each transferred $10 million from previous campaigns to their 2020 presidential committees. They accepted contributions from big-money donors during their Senate runs and stashed them for later. FEC records reveal that Warren accepted large contributions from CEOs, media moguls and hedge fund owners, while Sanders has hosted high-dollar fundraisers in New York and Los Angeles to help bankroll his presidential campaign.
If you believe those two when they claim 100-percent grassroots support, you’re as naive as a farmer at a Trump rally.
Who would you rather have taking on the most pressure-packed, exhausting, round-the-clock job in the world: an 80-year-old or a 39-year-old? Joe Biden can’t complete a coherent thought on a debate stage, and Sanders has already hit the average American male life expectancy.
Also, how is becoming a mayor at age 29 the marker of someone who’s never accomplished anything? He helped revitalize a Rust Belt town that was featured in a 2011 Newsweek article titled “America’s Dying Cities.” Pushing any meaningful change through the grinding gears of City Hall almost always requires a minor miracle, so I’ll count that as an accomplishment.
Congressmen make six figures to work 121 days out of the year, their “work” mostly consisting of showing up to vote for a bill that will probably get shot down before heading back to the office to do some more campaigning. I’ll take the naval intelligence officer who’s been running a city the last eight years.
Here’s a classic example of how misleading headlines can tweak the truth and breed on social media, proliferating to the point that legions of progressives believe Buttigieg is aiming to keep insurance away from poor people.
The truth is that Buttigieg hasn’t wavered on his position regarding Medicare for all. He believes the best path toward universal health care is his “Medicare for all who want it” plan, which would bring down insurance costs with a public option and serve as a “glide-path” toward a Medicare for all system that Americans will eventually embrace wholesale. Here he is back in February hammering the same talking points he does today.
Buttigieg’s recent change has centered on emphasis, not substance. He’s prudently calling attention to his opponents’ unrealistic pathways toward Medicare for all as a way to distinguish himself during the election process. The only thing resembling flip-flopping lately has come from Warren, who subsequently conceded that her path toward Medicare for all would be far more incremental than her supporters wanted to believe.
Buttigieg’s long-term vision for Medicare for all represents Democrats’ best hope for beating Trump and kickstarting the kind of long-term Congressional power that will be required to implement Medicare for all in the first place. It will take more than four years to restructure a quarter of the economy and move 160 million people off private insurance, so if Warren or Sanders is elected on promises for radical change, what will low-income Americans — the sort who take such promises on faith, without weighing political realities — do when the 2024 election rolls around and nothing has changed for them? They will vote the other way (or stay home), and the country will lurch back to the radical right, thus derailing any progress that had been made to that point.
Also this: Reality suggests that, in the fall of 2020, Trump will be coming off victories against Mueller and impeachment probes (20 Republicans wouldn’t vote Trump out if they watched him stab Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor), and the economy will likely still be strong. Under those circumstances, do you really think swing-state independents will vote for what they regard as the radical left?
It’s OK to be angry at Trump voters (trust me, I am). It’s also OK to recognize that not every Trump voter is an enemy, that not all of them are irredeemable, racist slugs subsisting on liberals’ corpses in the shed. There also exist a great many single-issue Trump voters who trusted him to save their factory, or to fight for farmers, or to support veterans. These are the voters Sanders and Warren have already alienated, and these are the voters gravitating toward Buttigieg. Like it or not, Buttigieg’s Midwestern roots and inclusive message position him to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, maybe even Ohio, all states that Clinton ceded to Trump. Win those states and you win the presidency.
Imagine what the debate stage will look like next year. If it’s Sanders or Warren against Trump, the average voter will see two angry old people yelling at each other and throw up their hands. If it’s Buttigieg against Trump, that voter will see a calm, measured candidate offering a stark contrast with a dim, flailing incumbent whose go-to line of attack invariably will be, “I mean look, the kid’s a midget! Come on, let’s go back-to-back.”
Unlike Biden, Buttigieg has said over and over that getting Trump out of the White House won’t cure America’s ills. He wants to abolish an Electoral College system that saps agency from minority voters. He wants to end incarceration for drug possession and release prisoners held on that charge. He wants to install universal background checks and ban assault weapons. He promised to fill his cabinet appointments with at least 50% women. And, perhaps most importantly, he has prioritized confronting climate change, often wondering aloud what the world might look like 35 years from now, when he hits Trump’s current age.
Being the first (openly) gay president is no small thing either. As much as we want to assume that we live in a postmodern society that no longer even needs to bring that up, the rise of someone representing a persecuted group absolutely instills a hope in people who feel constricted for being different.
Buttigieg still has a long way to go. He is not a perfect candidate, and his struggles with black voters present a huge obstacle. But if you stash the pitchforks and traffic in reality, you might see he’s a vastly superior alternative to the venal goblin currently watching Fox News in the Oval Office.
Or maybe he’s tweeting in there. Yet another reason to log off.