Was it a coincidence that South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a campaign meet and greet at Madhouse Coffee near Summerlin, or was it serendipity? From the moment I stepped out of the car, I could feel the energy and excitement for this Democratic presidential candidate who seemingly came out of nowhere to ascend all the way to the top tier, alongside candidates who’ve spent a decade or more building their national profiles.
And yet, as Buttigieg sees it, the serendipity surrounding his sudden rise to national stardom is really no accident. “The very reasons people cited to write me off have been the things that have worked to my benefit,” he told his excited coffeehouse crowd. “Admittedly, it’s not the traditional way to get into presidential politics. But really, that’s kind of the point!”
“There is no such thing as an honest future that starts with the word again. […] Let’s do something different.”
– Pete Buttigieg
Not that long ago, people were asking, “Who the hell is Pete Buttigieg?” Well, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 2004, became a Rhodes Scholar in 2007, became an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve in 2009, was elected Mayor of South Bend in 2011, temporarily took leave as South Bend Mayor in 2014 to serve for seven months as a reservist in Afghanistan, came out as gay in the local paper in 2015, earned praise for his shepherding of public-private partnerships for urban redevelopment in South Bend, and married his husband Chasten last year.
For those who’ve been wondering who might become America’s first Millennial President, Buttigieg defies expectations, even as he fits into other stereotypes of our generation, such as our bluntness and snarkiness: “There is no such thing as an honest future that starts with the word again. […] Let’s do something different.”
Not only did Buttigieg throw shade at President Donald Trump, but he also had this to say about his fellow Democratic contenders who are currently serving in Congress: “I’ve got some high regard for the folks on our side for what they’re trying to do in our Capitol. However, we need the Capitol to start looking like our best run cities and towns instead of the other way around.”
“We’ve got to talk about our values [… and] we’ve got to talk about our lives.”
– Pete Buttigieg
So how exactly will Buttigieg reshape Washington? Here in Las Vegas yesterday, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) essentially served a pre-buttal to Buttigieg by pointing to her record as she proclaimed, “I get things done.” Last month, fellow Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) cited her advocacy on everything from the #MeToo movement to immigrant and transgender civil rights as she proclaimed, “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the easy thing to do.” So why should Democratic caucus-goers forego Gillibrand, Klobuchar, and the many other seasoned elected leaders for the Indiana mayor who only became well-known when his CNN town hall went viral last month?
(Warning: The video below contains moments of flash photography.)
According to Buttigieg, his record may not be as long as most other Democratic contenders’, but it’s taught him a key valuable lesson: “As Democrats, we talk about our policies, maybe a little too much.” While he felt comfortable talking about his policies today, he nonetheless stressed, “We’ve got to talk about our values [… and] we’ve got to talk about our lives.”
“I am done with the idea that freedom belongs to one political party,” Buttigieg exclaimed. He then illustrated a story that turned standard right-wing tropes about “freedom” on their heads: “Your neighbor can make you unfree. Your county clerk can make you unfree if they think they can tell you who you can marry. Your cable company can make you unfree. You’re not free if you’re able to start a small business because you’re moving from a job that’s given you health insurance. You’re not free if your reproductive health care is determined by male politicians and bosses. You’re not free if you can’t organize for better pay and better working conditions.”
“This is why we have to talk about fundamental democratic reform. We have to deliver fundamental reform, or we can’t do anything.”
– Pete Buttigieg
So Buttigieg’s statement of values may sound nice. So might Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Massachusetts) call to “make America work, not just for the rich and powerful, but for everyone,” and she detailed how she intends to make that happen while campaigning in Las Vegas in February. Like Warren’s call for “structural changes”, Buttigieg explained, “This is why we have to talk about fundamental democratic reform. We have to deliver fundamental reform, or we can’t do anything.”
For instance, Buttigieg supports expanding the U.S. Supreme Court to provide faster relief to Trump’s rush to pack the federal bench with judges to his own liking. Moving onto health care, Buttigieg seemed to endorse the Medicare for America Act that he considers a starting point that will soon move the nation into a “Medicare for All” single-payer system. And on immigration, Buttigieg explained during the program and while speaking with media afterwards that Kirstjen Nielsen’s imminent departure from the Department of Homeland Security isn’t enough to fix all that’s wrong with Trump’s anti-immigrant regime.
As Buttigieg described it, “There’s a lot more about security than building a wall from sea to shining sea. The rising tide of white nationalism is a security issue. Climate is a security issue.” Or in other words, for all Trump’s claims that “The Wall” is needed for “security”, he’s ignoring the very clear and present dangers that no wall can actually hold back.
After describing Trump’s penchant of “taking consensus issues and dividing people”, he proclaimed, “We have to fight back with people power” to undo the damage he sees Trump doing to our democracy. Judging by today’s turnout at Madhouse Coffee, Buttigieg is starting to amass some people power for his campaign. He’s already enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence in the past month, but now we’ll begin to see whether he can muster the staying power to win the chance to take on Trump directly next year and prove that America is not just ready for change, but a generational power shift.