Former President Barack Obama recently re-entered the political sphere to lambast progressives for their “circular firing squad” of candidates, another voice crying for unity above all else. All apologies, Mr. President, but it’s open season.

There’s just something about a media-driven frenzy that makes me love a candidate even without exploring their history in detail. Enter Pete Buttigieg. It seems every news outlet in the country is hailing him as the new “rising star” of the Democratic Party.

Illustration by Lee O’Dowd

He’s known for his college resume of amazing traits — he’s multilingual, a Rhodes scholar, and more. Then, of course, he’s gay, which don’t get me wrong, is an amazingly big deal, but judging by the media hype, it would appear that being gay was a policy position. Perhaps all the ogling at Buttigieg’s personality isn’t as hysterical as it seems, but rather a tried and true way to boost the quaint to superstardom. Let’s unravel the mythology around the brightest new face in the Democratic cosmos.

Buttigieg would be our first gay president, but the Left’s wholehearted embrace of his gay identity reveals how shallow its view of diversity can be. Surely, to be queer in today’s world is horrific (the highest rates of suicide attempts in youth are among queer youth), but the hallowed position of Buttigieg’s identity is being fetishized by a Democratic Party desperate to appear radical with little to no dramatic upheaval.

What would be dramatic would be a queer person of color — or as Zoe Leonard writes, “I want a dyke for president, I want a person with AIDS for President, and I want a fag for Vice President.” Her point, of course, is that people have had enough of clean candidates, which Buttigieg certainly is. Said another way, Buttigieg is the son of two professors with access to all the fixings of rich life and therefore went to Harvard, gained great accolades, and ascended to political prominence — hardly different from the story of every other presidential candidate in history.

Diversity isn’t just checking a box, but seeing the world differently, and there’s a convincing case to be made that this isn’t it. Buttigieg’s story is inextricably intertwined with his privilege and that’s why the mythology around his personality is so whitewashed and misleading, and his policies prove that.

Buttigieg signs onto many big-ticket Democratic Party items like opposition to regime change wars, an openness to repealing the Electoral College, support for the Green New Deal, and an affinity for taxing the wealthy and fighting income inequality. Indeed, as a young child he wrote an essay about a phenomenally progressive candidate he looked up to, named Bernie Sanders — but the two are not synonymous. His healthcare for all plan includes the intermediary step of expanding Medicare to everyone who needs it (delaying a single-payer system) and would not eliminate private insurance. His campaign finance stance is progressive, but he still takes big donations.

All this aside, the real problem isn’t what is known about his policy, but rather what isn’t known. He loves to talk about his American values, husband, and Mid-Westernness, but he rarely provides concrete policy positions, which to his own admission is because he thinks the Left spends too much time worrying about policy. “Right now, I think we need to articulate the values, lay out our philosophical commitments and then develop policies off of that,” he said. “And I’m working very hard not to put the cart before the horse.” This sounds refreshing until we realize progressives are once again being sold nice talk attached to a nothing-burger.

Nothing aforementioned makes Buttigieg a bad candidate, just not as great as he seems. But when one looks at his record as mayor of South Bend, Ind., some real questions arise. It’s true that in his seven-year term Buttigieg revived a dying Rust Belt city, bringing in jobs and pushing massive rebuilding projects, but at a heavy cost. He may have reinvigorated housing, but he gentrified the city in the process. Minorities in South Bend were hit hard by city code inspectors levying heavy fines for disrepair and demolishing one house after another in the name of code violations. He brought in the tech industry to create jobs, but working class folks without the education largely can’t access them.

His bout with the working class and minorities goes further, including a 2015 “all lives matter” gaffe, which he has since apologized for, and a lesser known incident with South Bend’s first Black police chief, Daryl Boykins.

Boykins was asked to resign by Buttigieg after an FBI investigation alleged Boykins was members of his police department. Boykins asserted that he was doing so to dig out racists in the department after he was notified of officers exchanging racial remarks about him. Inevitably, Boykins’ push against racism in the department was quelled by his forced resignation and, despite public outcry, Buttigieg would not release tapes of the officers’ allegedly racist recorded conversations. The FBI later found that Boykins did not violate the law, and South Bend paid around $2 million to resolve the dispute. This isn’t to say that Buttigieg is racist, but that he, like many leaders, has a habit of not listening to his Black and Brown constituents.

To end on a positive note, it would appear as if Buttigieg is, in fact, a force to be reckoned with. Despite his inexperience, he has shown a knack for grabbing the national spotlight, which could come in handy against the news machine of President Donald Trump. He also has the Heartland appeal that democrats are looking for to take back the Rust Belt, and most refreshingly of all, he’s not allowing Christianity to be dominated by the Evangelical Right. It may be wishful thinking, but a Christian Left as organized as the Right could catalyze electoral and political change in truly unexpected ways.

The mayor from South Bend, Ind. has proven himself surprising, and is worthy of serious political consideration, but let it be serious. Let his record, his lack of experience, his privilege and his gaffes, and sure, his gay husband and his prowess at foreign languages, all be taken into consideration by voters. The warning should be clear — don’t let the media sell another rising star without asking what this star is really made of, and where it comes from.

1 Comment

  1. Great article. Thank you. Before I send it to my mom, is there a missing word in the first sentence of the Boykins paragraph?

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