Photo from Vogue, April 2019.
It’s no secret that Mayor Pete Buttigieg has my vote in the primary. I could happily support most of the candidates currently running in the general election if he does not end up being the candidate, but I believe with every fiber of my being that Buttigieg is the person that we need in the Oval Office in 2021.
There’s no shortage of media coverage to try to explain why Buttigieg has captured people’s attention, but I still think it is worth explaining why he’s captured MY attention.
The person who sits in the office of the US President leads the nation – and the world – by personal example. It’s not entirely about what the individual does in terms of policies; it’s also about what that person does in terms of how they speak about other people, what they choose to focus attention on, and where they show up literally and figuratively. Personality matters. Personal integrity matters.
Buttigieg has a calm, thoughtful presence, with a humility and integrity that seems to be fully genuine. He is also, however, incredibly confident and at ease with himself. It’s the combination of those things that make him so compelling.
- Allow and invite people to evolve
Of all of the things that Buttigieg has articulated that seem to have been pulled from my own brain, his understanding that “bad habits and bad instincts are not the same as people being bad people”. (Time, May 2, 2019.) This is a fundamental truth that guides the way that I personally try to engage with people, and while it might sound obvious, it is also very often misunderstood.
The pace of social change has been pretty swift over the past few decades. Not everyone is able to keep pace with that change; people come around to important social changes at different speeds. When Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency, he did not necessarily support full marriage equality. However, through the engagement and advocacy of any number of LGBT leaders, he evolved in his understanding and we now give him the grace to consider him an LGBT ally. Someone who, today, is still struggling to complete that same evolution is not likely to be engaged in compassionate dialogue about their view, rather they may be criticized and preached to about their wrong-headedness. Shame and condemnation isn’t likely to bring about an evolution to the right side of history. People need to be invited to evolve.
Buttigieg tells a story in his book and often on the campaign trail about an older, conservative woman in South Bend who met his then-boyfriend Chasten, and later told the Mayor that his “friend” was wonderful. Rather than be critical of this woman coming up short on using the word “boyfriend”, he recognized her effort to move in the right direction and simply accepted the compliment.
One of the other subtleties that Buttigieg seems to understand and articulate better than anyone I’ve ever heard before is the difference – and the battle – between what is fair and what is merciful. (It’s similar, albeit from a different perspective, of the difference between equality and equity.)
There is already some concept of fairness versus mercy built into our system. A woman who kills a violently abusive husband is likely to serve a lesser sentence than a woman who might kill her husband because she finds out he’s cheating. (I recognize that our criminal justice system lacks both fairness and mercy in so many other ways.)
Governing means creating a system (criminal justice, immigration, foreign policy, etc) that is fair, but that allows for mercy when necessary.
- Technical Problems versus Moral Problems
Similar to the challenges of fairness versus mercy, Buttigieg explains his understanding that governing requires the ability to solve both technical problems and moral problems. The technical problems have a solution that can be defined and implemented. Often, however, a technical problem can have more than one possible solution – none of which is without negative consequences.
It then becomes a moral problem. Which solution provides the best positive result with the least negative impact? Those are answers that cannot be quantified, but rather require a leader who is able to gather the right input, evaluate the options, and make and implement the best decision. And, perhaps most importantly, takes personal responsibility for that decision whether it ultimately proves to be the right one or not.
If I can point to a single leadership trait that is most important to me, it is this – and the fact that Buttigieg not only displays this type of leadership, but is able to be self-aware enough to TALK about it… That says a lot to me.
Buttigieg is not entirely alone in his willingness to articulate that the policies that are laid out on the campaign are not always possible to translate into governing reality. Most voters know this at some level, but we still look for candidates to tell us what they plan to do, because it highlights their priorities. What I appreciate about Buttigieg’s approach to the campaign, though, is that he wants voters to understand his priorities in terms of values and moral compass before he creates the policy detail that often then becomes a distraction. (I’m planning to talk about this a little bit more in another blog post.)
- Reclamation of Faith, Freedom, Security and Democracy
This is at the bottom of my list, not because it is the least important to me, but because it is the most understood by those following the campaign. Buttigieg ran for DNC chair in 2017 for much the same reason – he recognizes that conservatives have done a great job of continuous framing traditional American values in conservative terms. Even the concepts of patriotism and the American flag have become more recognized in terms of conservative messaging than progressive messaging.
I believe – and there might be another blog post coming about this, too – that Buttigieg’s primary purpose in entering the Democratic primary was to get this message in front of the Democratic party and its leaders. As Democrats, we believe in freedom, security and democracy. Our party is made of many people of many faiths. Our values align with these core ideas. It’s time that we started helping a larger audience understand it.
This is the first of a planned six part series of blog posts on why Buttigieg is my candidate in the primary, so stay tuned for more. Eventually.