Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has announced that he's running for president. I've had serious doubts about Buttigieg's presidential prospects -- he's 37 years old, he's openly gay, he has a surname most people can't spell or pronounce ("Buddah - judge," we're told), and he's the mayor of a city of 100,000 people. But the laudatory pieces keep piling up -- here's one from last Sunday's Washington Post Magazine ("Could Pete Buttigieg Become the First Millennial President?"), here's one in The Atlantic ("Pete Buttigieg Thinks All the 2020 Democrats Are Too Old: The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has announced his candidacy, promising 'intergenerational justice'").

There's some excitement among Democratic voters about Beto O'Rourke, and I'm not ruling him out either, but I'm skeptical because I know why he's got buzz: He's not just eloquent, charismatic, and inspirational, he's a handsome straight young white guy with all those attributes. But 2008 proved that you don't have to check all those boxes to get bumped up a grade or two -- just being young and male and maybe a tad more self-confident than everyone else can get you there. Barack Obama got there even though he's black. The fact that Buttigieg doesn't have Obama's or O'Rourke's cheekbones and the fact that he's not straight don't seem to matter -- he has Many Ideas, and he wants you to know he has Many Ideas, and that, plus the fact that he's reportedly a pretty good speaker, has the press captivated.

I don't mean to sound resentful -- maybe he really is the one we've been waiting for -- but I know that no woman with a lot of ideas riding on a sense of unquenchable self-confidence would have her cocksureness validated this way by the media. The coverage of Kamala Harris has been okay, but the press isn't agog. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar (assuming she runs) have had mediocre-to-hostile coverage. None are being asked what they understand about the electorate that the other candidates don't. None is expected to have an overarching theory of American politics, which journalists will listen to with rapt attention. That's just for guys.

Also, I'm still stuck on this incident from the Post profile. It's 2018 and Buttigieg is in Virginia campaigning for Jennifer Wexton, who would go on to beat Barbara Comstock for a House seat:
Earlier in the day, Buttigieg had told me how much he relishes coming into an environment like this, where “nobody knows me from Adam,” and seeing what happens when he starts speaking. “Sometimes you can watch people as you go up to the podium and they’re like, ‘What’s the deal with this guy?’ And then it’s, ‘Okay, he’s up there, he can talk.’ If it’s going right, I love to watch the faces then: Partly I like to study them to see what’s working and not, what to cut out next time or maybe expand. But there’s this look, when you know you really have them. It’s hard to describe, but it’s unmistakable.”

... Standing in front of a big fireplace and a huge TV showing the Redskins game on mute, Buttigieg is in his element, opening with some banter about where he’s from — “You might know us for our football team” — before segueing into the message he’s honing for 2020. “It’s very important for people in communities like mine to know there’s a formula for moving forward that isn’t resentment, that isn’t nostalgia,” he says, recounting his first campaign for mayor. “We didn’t go around saying we’re going to make South Bend great again.” The folks laugh heartily at the implicit dig at Trump. “I didn’t go around thumping my chest saying I alone can fix it. We came together and identified problem-solvers to get things done and actually change the trajectory of our future.”

I’m watching the faces he’s watching, seeing folks whisper low to their spouses: Who is this guy again?

“We’re finding a whole new vocabulary for why people should vote,” Buttigieg is saying. “We’re reclaiming some territory that our party, in my opinion, foolishly left to the other side. Like freedom, right? The so-called Freedom Caucus, as you know, has the most fanatical members of Congress. But they don’t seem to know that you’re not free if you can’t change jobs because you’ll lose your health care. And that you’re not free if you can’t sue a credit-card company that’s ripping you off. And you’re certainly not free if somebody you’ve never met gets to tell you who you can and can’t marry based on their interpretation of their religion.”

There’s one little hitch in the performance, when he praises Wexton for being in the minority in the state assembly and still passing four pieces of major legislation. (“Actually, it’s 40,” she says, interjecting with a smile but an unmistakable note of sharpness.) Buttigieg plays it off laughingly, saying he’s so much more impressed with her now, since “in our legislature back home, four bills for a Democrat would be quite a feat,” and hands over the mic to the candidate, who smiles a bit warily, looking like she knows she’s been upstaged.

When Wexton finishes her spiel, Buttigieg is mobbed by wine-sipping admirers. It takes [Buttigieg aide Matt] McKenna a bit of elbowing and sorry-ing to push his way near enough to start nudging his man out the door; there’s another crowd of tony Democrats waiting on the other side of Fairfax County. Buttigieg grips and grins his way out the door, feeling that feeling. As we bustle out to the SUV, he looks over at me and says, “Yep. You saw that, right?”
So it's good that Buttigieg upstaged the candidate? We're supposed to admire him for that?

Yes, we are. The press (and yes, the author of this profile is male) has a mancrush on Buttigieg. I'll reserve judgment.

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