I have already talked about most of the core reasons why Mayor Pete Buttigieg has my vote in the Democratic Presidential primary. If you haven’t read it, you may want to start there.
Today I want to address the objections. I am not aiming to defend the way that he stands on any specific issue; if you disagree on his positions on the issues, that’s entirely valid and you should examine other candidates to find the best fit. (I would argue that some disagreement on issues is inevitable and you may also want to consider personality and leadership skills, but I am not planning to make that argument today.) In this post, I want to address the following four objections that I believe are invalid:
- He lacks experience at a national level.
- Voters won’t elect a gay candidate.
- He can’t beat the sitting President.
- He doesn’t have specific policy ideas.
1. Buttigieg lacks experience at a national level.
I do not think that this is a totally invalid objection. We must examine every candidate’s experience to determine if she or he is a good fit for the office of the President. Simply due to age, Pete has less experience than many candidates in the race. He also has a non-traditional background for the highest national office. Those are valid considerations.
I am not going to give the campaign standard answer that “being a mayor of a city of any size” is the perfect experience for US President. I do think it’s valuable experience, but that alone would still leave a candidate vulnerable to the objections around foreign policy or national legislative experience. I think military service is also exceptionally valuable in a Presidential candidate, but that still does not fully address the lack of foreign policy experience.
What the campaign is not stressing – and there are likely some good political reasons for it that I just don’t understand – is that Buttigieg has been on a path to national politics since he was a teenager. In high school, he won the JFK Profiles in Courage essay contest. At Harvard, he was the president of the Harvard Institute of Politics. Buttigieg was a summer intern for Senator Ted Kennedy. He went Oxford and studied philosophy, politics, and economics, apparently debated convincingly (and some might say obnoxiously) about the future of the Democratic party. He worked on John Kerry’s Presidential campaign. His run for DNC Chair in 2017 was unsuccessful, but not improbable.
My point is that while Buttigieg may not have yet held an elected role in the federal government, he’s been studying it – and its impact on the country and the world – for the better part of his young life. He may know Washington better than Washington knows itself.
2. Voters won’t elect a gay candidate.
Really well-meaning people, including my own mother whose political perspective I respect and admire, have said this out loud. And it drives me batshit freaking crazy. Maybe it makes me crazy because I think there might be a kernel of truth to it that I just refuse to play into.
If Buttigieg is the best candidate to lead the country and the fact that he is gay is still a problem for voters, then I guess we don’t deserve the best candidate to lead the country.
3. Buttigieg can’t beat the sitting President
First, I will remind everyone that it is really early. (I have to remind myself of this fact daily.) There’s still almost a year before the first primary votes are cast. There is plenty of time to build support for a win in the general election. Buttigieg does have a few hurdles to overcome, including overall name recognition (rapidly being solved), gaining the support of black and Latinx voters, and overcoming the objections covered in this post. But if you believe that Buttigieg is the best choice for President in 2020, you have a chance right now to get him there.
I also believe that Buttigieg is one of the few candidates who is going to be able to energize young voters. (By “few” I mean that there are probably like … four or five others running who I think can appeal to young voters. Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke. Maybe Harris and Booker?) If Buttigieg is the nominee, the general election campaign will focus on generational change, and I think Buttigieg’s campaign – particularly with the help of Chasten – has the ability to mobilize young voters.
4. Buttigieg does not have specific policy ideas.
This has to be the single most frustrating objection for the Buttigieg campaign, because it’s obvious that not coming out with detailed policies at this point in the campaign is a deliberate choice. And if it isn’t obvious, you aren’t paying attention.
I’ve heard otherwise smart journalists opine that Buttigieg’s lack of specific policy plans is due to the fact that his campaign has grown faster than expected. However, I think the one thing that the campaign has been really clear about – and the very reason that it has been so successful in capturing attention – is that Democrats need to talk about values. The campaign is built on the idea that before you can convince someone that your policy idea is sound, you have to make sure they believe that your moral compass and values are aligned with their own.
Buttigieg also is right when he points out that when it comes to policy, the vast field of Democratic candidates is not going to differ that much. Hell, when it comes to values the field isn’t going to differ that much. What differs is how well a candidate can communicate those values and connect with voters. I would say that Buttigieg has done a damn good job of that so far.
When it comes to policy, there are going to be good ideas coming from every candidate, and those ideas are rarely entirely original. Candidates should be listening to the ideas of everyone in the field, and highlighting and lifting up the ideas that really stand out, whether they came up with them or not.
What Buttigieg is not afraid to do at this point in the campaign, however, is to fully and honestly articulate how he feels about a policy or an idea. One thing that is regularly said of Buttigieg’s style is that he is not afraid to answer a question. He isn’t evasive. He doesn’t say what he thinks the audience wants to hear. He’s consistent, he’s clear, and he’s thorough. And sometimes that means saying, “I’ve not really thought about that before.”