The Mayor Pete moment
BridgeND | Wednesday, March 20, 2019
You’d be forgiven if your mind was elsewhere over spring break, but in the last week, the national media seems to have remembered the mayor of South Bend, Indiana is running for president. After a CNN town hall where he stunned viewers with direct, substantive answers to policy questions (as well as throwing some shade at Mike Pence’s biblical scholarship), Mayor Pete Buttigieg attracted glowing attention in major media outlets such as the Washington Post and Slate Magazine and landed a full-length profile in the New Yorker. He also reported his largest fundraising day so far in the campaign, raising over $600,000 in the 24 hours following the town hall. Even The Onion got in on the action, poking fun at his current mayoral office by reporting on his “bold plan for a 2,500-mile intercontinental riverwalk.”
But mayor or not, Pete Buttigieg deserves to be taken seriously. And no, not just because he has more executive experience than the current occupant of the Oval Office and more military experience than any president since George H.W. Bush. Mayor Pete’s biography speaks for itself — Harvard graduate, Rhodes scholar, Navy veteran with seven months in Afghanistan. However, what stands out in his public appearances, speeches and policy positions as well is his assured sense of intelligence. Mayor Pete’s measured, direct answers to policy questions, featuring bold ideas about “intergenerational justice” and the “Ignatian process of discernment” with quips about the current “porn star presidency,” indicate a mind suited to meet the challenges of the presidency head-on with reasoned solutions, rather than one inclined to slink back into the residence for television and “executive time.”
That makes Mayor Pete a candidate perfectly suited for this political moment. After all, no one can plausibly make the case that he lacks the experience to get elected — not with a reality star in office. And when in office, it’s very possible that successful executive experience, even at the municipal level, will be the best asset a president can boast. After all, one of the president’s primary roles is leadership of the executive; even the best-laid plans will go awry when an administration is plagued by internal dysfunction. In that vein, Mayor Pete’s experience corralling a city council divided on issues much more complex than, but just as tribal as, the partisan divide in Congress will prove much more valuable than Bernie’s or Beto’s or Warren’s or even Biden’s experience being part of that divide. The other skill critical to an effective presidency is good judgment — especially in high-pressure situations. In this regard, Mayor Pete’s military service, as well as his experience handling scandals like the racist police recordings in his first year as mayor, indicate a readiness and capability for this role. Other candidates might have boldly impractical ideas for domestic policy, but when unexpected crisis erupts in the Middle East, I’d prefer to have a president handling it who has experience serving over there.
America, too, is aching for the sort of governmental stability and practicality on a national scale that municipal governments routinely provide. Cities don’t shut down services over policy disputes; if they did, their citizens wouldn’t just be without TSA and national parks, but without sanitation or trash pickup. Instead, they work it out. Infrastructure is routinely a popular national bipartisan proposal because we can all appreciate that infrastructure is motivated by questions of practicality, not ideology — it’s not as if one party is vehemently anti-highway. Those are the sorts of pragmatic issues that mayors confront and solve on a regular basis. Some people seem to think that sort of deal-making, practical mindset is outdated or ill-suited for national office. On the contrary, the president is the thought leader and agenda setter for his party, and so electing a man like Mayor Pete to the presidency would change the tone and subject of our national discourse for the better.
The idea of a President Buttigieg (President Pete? President Mayor Pete?) may have seemed far-fetched when he launched his campaign, but since then his star has been rising within the Democratic primary. David Axelrod’s adage that voters seek the remedy for, not the replica of, the current president has been stated often enough, but it might be time to accept that the greatest contrast Democrats can draw with the current president in 2020 is not one of identity or ideology, but of intelligence, plain and simple. It’s Mayor Pete’s moment — let’s make it last.
Patrick Aimone is a first-year political science student in Sorin College, originally from Southern California, whose sunny days he misses dearly. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.