Buttigieg: The Chasten Factor

There are still a lot of people who don’t know who Pete Buttigieg is.  None of those people follow me on Facebook or Twitter, obviously, but they exist.  (If you don’t follow me, you might have missed part 1, part 2, or part 2A of this series.)

For those who do know who Mayor Pete is, they likely also know at least something about his husband, Chasten Glezman Buttigieg.  Chasten is a 29 year old teacher originally from Michigan.  (The Washington Post did a great profile on him, if you want a bit more about his background.)

And as a political spouse, Chasten Buttigieg is pretty much the perfect “running mate” for Mayor Pete.

Chasten speaks his own truth.

Chasten left his teaching job in January (at least temporarily) to join his husband’s campaign.  It is not uncommon for a spouse to tag along on the campaign trail, but Chasten is no tag-along.  In addition to joining his husband at events, Chasten often makes appearances and speeches on his own.  His role on the campaign is not as a surrogate for Pete, but rather as a messenger in his own right.  Chasten speaks his own truth, draws from his own experiences, and focuses on his own priorities.

In a CBS Sunday Morning interview, Pete talked about Chasten’s visibility in the campaign:

Chasten is one of the more visible spouses as these things go and that’s not a function of our gay marriage, but that’s a function of who he is and how he brings so much to this process.

chasten_hrcGiven his background in theater and education, Chasten is often found visiting organizations that emphasize education, the arts, LGBTQ issues, or issues impacting young people.  He understands many of the challenges that exist within those spaces, and he’s able to translate where the vision of the Buttigieg campaign intersects with the needs of those communities.

And I’m sure Chasten, himself, would want folks to remember that he spoke at an HRC event several weeks before his husband did so.


In many ways, Chasten serves as a counterbalance for his husband.  And while I suspect this may be true in their marriage, I can only speak to the public perceptions of who Chasten and Pete are as people.  But, so the saying goes, politics is perception.

Where Pete’s personality can be perceived as more reserved, calm, intellectual and serious, Chasten balances that with wit, humor, and a willingness to be a little silly sometimes.  Not only does Chasten’s humor bring welcome levity to what can be a really dry process, but he’s also able to share personal moments and stories that humanize his husband.  As a politician (as Mayor or Presidential candidate), Pete can certainly choose to be funny, but he can’t be perceived as being less than serious about the job or the process.   Chasten, on the other hand, can tease him about the consistency of his message by encouraging Twitter followers to create Town Hall Bingo cards,  announce to the world that Pete is a Hufflepuff, or acknowledge that some standards in campaign fundraising are just dumb.

Different Worlds


In addition to a counterbalance in personality, the backgrounds and experiences of Pete and Chasten are quite different.  While Pete is an only child of university professors and a first generation immigrant, who went to Harvard and Oxford largely on scholarships, Chasten was one of three sons of small business owners and he worked a number of different jobs to put himself through school.  While Pete came out in his 30s to parents who were immediately supportive, Chasten came out as a teenager and left home temporarily because he felt unsupported and unwelcome.  (His relationship with his parents is reportedly great now, and I do not pretend to represent or even know the full story.)   The two backgrounds provide really rich soil when talking about how policies impact every day lives – and it would be more difficult to use Chasten’s story if he were less visible.


Where Pete has shown the most vulnerability is when speaking about his struggle with being gay as a teenager and a young adult.  In a speech to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Pete admitted that he would have done anything to not be gay as a teenager.  It was a powerful admission – honest and likely to resonate with many gay and lesbian listeners.

However, that same story might be perceived differently by the listeners who, due to any number of reasons, just did not have the option to be closeted or to “pass” as straight for much of their lives.  It is here that Chasten’s story might resonate: a young man who found safety in the theater program, studied abroad to get away from high school, came out in his late teens, left home for awhile due to a lack of parental support, and was a victim of sexual assault in college.

I am aware that much of what I’ve said above is true because the world is problematic.

aachasten_twitterprofileIt has not escaped my notice that the existence of sexism and homophobia have a lot to do with why Chasten’s role in the campaign works so well.  If Pete were a woman, there would be a concern that a husband playing such an active role would make the candidate appear weaker in comparison.  If Chasten were a woman, quitting a job to join your husband’s campaign would be perceived as giving up on your own dreams for a man.  And if Pete, as a gay man running for our nation’s highest office, were to be the one who talked openly about being the victim of sexual assault, it would make far too many people uncomfortable and uncertain how to process the information.

The world is problematic, but what Chasten brings to the Pete for America campaign can do so much to change that world for the better, even as it benefits from those privileges.  And I know that I’m not alone in hoping that Chasten continues to be an active voice in this campaign.

I’m updating this post with a video from an event last night (May 17th) that was happening at the same time that I was writing this.  Chasten spoke to educators in Philadelphia, and… it’s just really worth your time to watch.

Buttigieg: Non-Objections (Addendum)

In my previous post, I addressed objections that are often brought up as barriers to supporting Buttigieg in the primary.  I am embarrassed to say that I forgot one of the most important ones. 

buttigiegButtigieg is not a person of color or a woman.

My own journey as a Feminist Buttigieg supporter

I can’t say that this is not a valid objection, because it is well past time in this country that we have a female President. I’ve struggled myself to come to terms with being a feminist and a Buttigieg supporter, with well-qualified women running in this race. 

For me, I had to really take a look at the things that were important to me in our next President – and make sure that the things that Buttigieg brings to the table are more than enough to outweigh the advantages of supporting a female candidate.  I had to know that even if I overcorrect and give female candidates an edge, Buttigieg would still come out on top in my evaluation.

What Buttigieg must do to earn my continued faith

It has also been vitally important to me that any male candidate that has my support is more than just “not a misogynist”.  A male candidate winning the Democratic primary damn well better be prepared to be a Feminist and an active advocate of the rights of women and an active partner in understanding and solving for the challenges facing women.  That includes all of the intersectional groups, such as women of color, trans women, trans women of color, single mothers, and more.

To this point, I do not think there is any male candidate that comes close to Buttigieg on these issues*.  It’s not just the issues that he focuses attention on – addressing the challenges of trans women of color, the maternal mortality rate of black mothers, and the absolute necessity of a woman’s right to control her own body and healthcare.  It is also the little things, like deliberately and consistently using the phrases “she or he”, “woman or man”, “hers or his” – putting women first in all of the simple, everyday ways that women have always been put second.

Buttigieg has also specifically acknowledged that if a male candidate – particularly a white male candidate – should win the Democratic nomination, he must be committed to an administration that is genuinely diverse, with women and persons of color in all levels of the administration.

It’s what he hasn’t done that has also earned my faith

In addition to the things that Buttigieg needs to keep doing, it is also what he hasn’t done that has earned my trust.  While being an openly gay man could be used as the diversity card to get out of tough conversations about privilege, he has refused to play that game.  He may acknowledge that being gay is still a challenge in the world we live in.  He talks about his ability to stand up to bullies, such as our current President, as a result of being used to homophobic attacks.  But he never uses the fact that he’s gay as “proof” that he understands the challenges of other marginalized groups.

Did I forget any other objections?  I can’t believe that I forgot this one in my original post.  Thankfully, Pete brought it up himself in his HRC speech tonight.

* Updated 5/19/19 – When I originally wrote this, I felt like Buttigieg was doing the most among male candidates to talk about issues facing women.  In fairness, I may have just been paying more attention to him – and certainly given the recent abortion bans in several states, more male candidates have been really explicit about their perspective.  I have been impressed, specifically, with Cory Booker on these issues – and again, I suspect that my original dismissal of him here was due to simply not paying enough attention.

Buttigieg: The Non-Objections

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.

pete2Today 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:

  1. He lacks experience at a national level.
  2. Voters won’t elect a gay candidate.
  3. He can’t beat the sitting President.
  4. 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.”

Are there other objections that I should address?  Did I get it wrong?  Please feel free to engage in comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook if you have a differing (and reasoned) opinion.

UPDATED:  I absolutely forgot a big one–Pete Buttigieg is a white man. 

Pete Buttigieg: For so many reasons


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.

  • Demeanor and personality

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.

  • Fairness versus Mercy

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.

  • Campaign versus Reality

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.