President Pete

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Pete Buttigieg in a middle school gymnasium in northwestern Iowa, January 2020

I was sitting in a Sioux City coffee shop one day before the 2020 Iowa Caucuses, seated roughly where an eventual 2020 presidential candidate stood in February 2019, the first time I’d visited the place more than eleven months earlier.

Eleven months. The joy and pain of being a resident of Iowa.

Tonight it’ll all be over and the survivors will move on to New Hampshire, then Nevada, South Carolina, and so on.

And just now, early Monday afternoon, an earnest young Bernie supporter, undeterred by the freshly planted PETE 2020 yard sign, knocked on the front door and asked who my second choice might be. “I think Pete will be viable, but we’ll see,” said I.

People have been knocking on our door for months. One of the billionaires running for the Democratic nomination has been sending us mailers for about a year. He’s not by any means alone, he just has a lot more money to waste on junk mail about how he’s going to save the world from climate change and fix Congress by pushing term limits. Right.

I get texts. I get email. I get phone calls. The airwaves, cable and Internet are saturated with political ads. You can’t swing a yard sign in Iowa without hitting somebody who’s running for president.

And yet, being first is a privilege that none of us can justify. The socially conscious among us are ever mindful that we have a responsibility to try to figure out who might make a good president and let the world know. We take it seriously.

Selecting a candidate is what this is all about, in my opinion. Getting them elected comes later, and if we pull that off, making them the best they can be should become the business of all of us.

I’m caucusing for Pete Buttigieg tonight and in a nutshell here’s why.

Freedom, Democracy and Security

One of the earliest pieces I read about Buttigieg was a January 2019 column by Jonathan Capehart in The Washington Post. Capehart, and Barack Obama before him, were certainly ahead of the curve in recognizing something special in a young Indiana mayor with a funny last name. Buttigieg talked about what his candidacy would be about. He distilled it to freedom, democracy and security, then explained what he meant and why it mattered. This is a smart, articulate guy.

Breakout Moment

Mayor Pete’s April 2019 appearance at a CNN town hall was the first time I really listened to this guy. He stood out. He was willing to confront some difficult questions and own some possible mistakes. He was sharp, personable and relatable.

A Gay President?

Be serious: would Americans vote for an openly gay presidential candidate? I don’t know. And neither do you. See my prior post, The Electability Conundrum, for some thoughts on this, as well as the pointless guesswork that too many of us engage in when trying to find a candidate to support.

But will black people vote for him?

See above. I don’t know. I’m not a black person. I know a lot of people who have taken some verbal shots at Buttigieg on this score and I think he’s handling it pretty well. What I truly can’t stand is a narrative that asserts Mayor Pete can’t get the support of Blacks or any other group. It remains to be seen. Give the guy a chance.

I’ve seen Buttigieg speak in person five times during this campaign cycle so far. One of those occasions was a snowy night last November when Pete had been disparaged by a black writer for The Root. The writer had called Pete “a lying MF” over comments he’d made when he was running for mayor in 2011. Pete called the writer that very day to talk about the article. A follow-up article appeared and Pete was asked about it in Sioux City that night. And he answered. “If you live in the United States, you are part of this issue; we are all part of this issue.”

Walking the walk

Pete is a vet. He’s worn the uniform of the United States military in a war zone as a volunteer. Contrast this with the current commander in chief, who took ROTC and got multiple draft deferments to avoid service. And Pete served during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, when he would have been drummed out of the service for simply stating that he was gay. Who has more street cred here?

Did I mention he’s smart?

There are no dummies running for the Democratic nomination, though I question how clued-in some of them are. Buttigieg is one of two Rhodes scholars who sought the presidency this year; the other was Cory Booker, who has since dropped out.

But I’m not just talking book smart or wonky smart. I’m not talking plays the piano smart or speaks this many languages smart.

I’m talking smart enough to formulate an articulate answer on the fly. I’m talking about somebody who is apparently thinking a couple sentences ahead. I’m talking about somebody who can slightly mangle one of the lines from a stump speech and rework it so it still makes sense.

I’m talking about somebody who is smart enough to realize that he may not be the smartest person in the room at any given moment, but more importantly, that he doesn’t WANT to be the smartest guy in the room when making decisions and setting policy. This guy is smart, but there’s more.

A campaign based on values

Early in Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, they published the “Rules of the Road” — a list of values meant to guide the campaign. I found this handwritten list on the wall in the local campaign office:

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If you were running for president and were trying to come up with a short list of values and aspirations, could you do better? Is there something there that you think doesn’t or shouldn’t matter?

My point here is that this, to me, is an example of a really thoughtful candidate who can tap into and articulate stuff that matters to virtually everyone. THIS is one of the reasons I think that Pete Buttigieg can build support across a broad, diverse, and polarized country, and possibly bring us back together and help us get on a better path.

Whether or not you think Iowa deserves to have such an outsize influence in American presidential politics — and, come on, very few people honestly think so — there is no doubt that Iowa IS influential. Iowa Democrats have helped bring underdogs into the national spotlight and helped eliminate supposed favorites. Barack Obama’s 2008 win in Iowa and his subsequent victory speech made many people, including yours truly, take notice and think that, just maybe, yes we could.

It’s about possibilities and hope and potential, or it’s about those things when we’re at our best. Pete Buttigieg inspires me. Buttigieg wins my endorsement.


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