The first votes of the 2020 presidential primaries are about 10 months away, early to stake out camps, but not too early to watch the field. There is one candidate that Mac students should pay attention to and learn how to pronounce: Mayor Pete Buttigieg (boot-edge-edge).
A quick Google search will reveal a flood of darling news coverage and enthusiastic social media posts about him. On paper, Buttigieg is a laundry list of appealing factors to voters across the political spectrum.
For young progressives, he is 37 years old, potentially America’s youngest President. As a millennial, he would have faced the consequences of dramatic climate change alongside years worth of Macalester graduates. Mayor Buttigieg would be the first openly gay, major party presidential nominee, bringing America’s first First Gentleman into office. Buttigieg is both a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, brains that match Presidents Obama and Clinton. He is a concert pianist and a polyglot, speaking Norwegian, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, Dari and French. Furthermore, he appears electable in the general, appealing to wide-ranging values across American voters. Buttigieg served in the Navy and would be the first veteran of Afghanistan to serve as president. As a lifetime resident and two-term mayor of South Bend, Indiana, it is hard to dismiss him as a “coastal elite.” Mayor Buttigieg’s work in a crippled Rust Belt city addressed many of the central economic anxieties that President Trump tapped into to win in 2016. Buttigieg’s broad bipartisan electoral majorities prove it.
But Mayor Pete, as he is affectionately known by constituents, is more than just a laundry list.
Buttigieg offers smooth contrasts to some of the rough-edged Democrats already in the race. It will be 2058 when he is the same age as Joe Biden is today, and he comes without years of fraught history with women and adverse policy towards African-Americans. He has executive experience, unlike many of the senators in the primary. He is the only member of the LGBTQ+ community in the field. He offers more tangible progressive policy positions than Beto O’Rourke and more realistic, defined ones than Bernie Sanders.
Those policies are thoughtful, smart alternatives to liberal moonshot goals. Buttigieg advocates for Medicare for All through a public option, so those who need Medicare can use the government program. He backs policies in the Green New Deal, including government subsidies for solar panels. After the Sandy Hook massacre, Buttigieg joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which supports universal background checks and opposes guns in schools and permitless carrying. According to PBS Newshour, “Buttigieg favors passing the Federal Equality Act, an amendment to existing civil rights legislation that would give federal non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people… He also supports gender reassignment surgery for transgender people in prison.”
In addition to being in favor of abolishing the electoral college, Buttigieg has proposed a dynamic version of the controversial issue, court packing. According to CNN, it changes the Supreme Court’s structure so that 10 of 15 Justices would be appointed by presidents. “The other five can only be seated by unanimous consent of the remaining 10… and can be counted on to think for themselves,” Buttigieg stated. Perhaps, this strategy would avert the apocalyptic partisan fights around the confirmations of Merrick Garland and Brett Kavanaugh. Buttigieg is full of ideas on how to improve the function of democracy in what has proved to be a broken system for countless Americans.
More than anything, hearing Buttigieg talk is what has drawn voters into his camp. Every public appearance, from a “CNN Town Hall” to “The Breakfast Club,” has netted him new supporters. The Buttigieg campaign just announced they raised $7 million in the first fundraising quarter and recent Iowa polls have put him as high as third in the Democratic field. And while Instagram likes don’t translate into votes, Buttigieg is having a moment on social media, generating buzz across platforms and age groups. This may allow greater reach to young voters, and the charming presence of Chasten Buttigieg, his husband, on Twitter is only helping. A widely circulated social media post recounts a story from his mayorship in South Bend. The local hospital needed an Arabic translator for a mother to talk to doctors about her gravely ill son. Buttigieg rushed there, staying on the phone for an hour in fluent Arabic, then departed without fanfare. Many stories likes these on Buttigieg’s side make for a compelling contrast to the often dehumanizing presidential horse race.
It is important to acknowledge some of the shortcomings of Buttigieg as a potential nominee for president. Primarily, in a crowded Democratic field, there is an argument to be made against choosing a white man. Four of the front runners, Sanders, O’Rourke, Biden and Buttigieg, are all charismatic white guys. In foreign policy, with his service in the Middle East, some college students may view him as not far enough left. In his CNN Town Hall, Buttigieg says he favors the use of sanctions to displace the Maduro regime and create free and fair elections. He believes in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine but has not supported Rep. Ilhan Omar in the condemnation of Israel. Furthermore, his age and youthful appearance could be a liability in the eyes of older voters.
Ultimately, Mayor Pete’s policy proposals do not present a radical leftward shift, but rather more contemporary political thought for young Democrats that have grown up in the era of the War on Terror, mass shootings and social media. These are young adults that are profoundly different from preceding generations. Millennials and Gen Z’s will soon make up the largest voting block, Buttigieg being the most well equipped to connect with them. Voters around the country are taking notice, and Macalester students should investigate whether this bandwagon is worth jumping on.