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Fri Mar 29, 2019, 03:07 PM


Is Pete Buttigieg a Political Genius? [View all]


Is Pete Buttigieg a Political Genius?
The South Bend mayor is unlike any other Democratic candidate for president, and he's staked out the middle ground among them all.
By Alex Shephard
March 29, 2019


In a Democratic primary still haunted by the ghosts of 2016, Buttigieg stands out in part because he can’t be slotted into the familiar narratives. His unique profile is unlike any other presidential candidate, ever: He’s a married gay man, a devout Episcopalian, a Harvard graduate, a McKinsey alumnus, a Rhodes Scholar, a skilled pianist, and a Navy veteran who took a six-month leave of absence as mayor to serve in Afghanistan. He’s also hard to pin down politically. He wants to abolish the Electoral College and is even open to the idea of packing the Supreme Court. He’s a supporter of Medicare for All, though not for abolishing private insurance. An advocate of “democratic capitalism” and thoroughly earnest, he sometimes seems like a mix between Elizabeth Warren and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Except he’s not; he’s sui generis.


Like O’Rourke, Buttigieg’s appeal rests on his authenticity. In Shortest Way Home, he casts himself as a regular guy who just happens to be mayor. He writes about what it’s like to attend festivities that often involve heavy drinking as a politician (“retail politics is never fun among the intoxicated”), an angry and bigoted constituent who happens to be a neighbor, and trying to figure out how “a gay mayor—or any mayor” navigates the dating scene. His willingness to peel back the curtain has found him a number of admirers already. “Perhaps his success to date tells us the secret to unifying the country does not rest with fighting Trumpian fire with fire nor in being a celebrity candidate of the left,” wrote Jennifer Rubin, of all people, in The Washington Post. “The secret to unifying the country, to underscoring Trump’s total unfitness to hold office and to breaking through the media noise is to eschew cynicism and artifice. Refusing to sound like a politician running for president or to buy into the media narrative makes him unique in a pack of sameness.”

Of course, Buttigieg is very much running for president; he’s just really good at not sounding like he is. This has been true for years. In December of 2016, he published an essay on Medium, “A Letter from Flyover Country,” arguing that Democrats have lost touch with voters in red and purple states and are overly focused on national politics. “When it comes to my part of the country, we will recover our ability to reach people only when we take them seriously, connecting our plans to their actual, personal lived experience rather than focusing on The Show,” Buttigieg wrote. “We need to invite individual people to assess how their individual lives changed—how their safety, their income, their access to health care, their gun rights, their marriages—have actually been affected, if at all, by what goes on in Washington.”

This remains Buttigieg’s message through today: that a midwestern Democrat attuned to struggling voters in “flyover” country is best positioned to lead the party post-Trump. It is Buttigieg’s luck that he happens to be the only such Democrat in the race right now—but his guile got him here.
If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:
Joe Biden

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