Pete Buttigieg: The Democrat’s Future? Don’t Bet On It – Will President Joe Biden run for reelection in 2024? Many Democrats are beginning to suspect – and wish – that no, their 79-year-old incumbent will not run. With Biden’s approval ratings stuck below 40 percent, and with his cognitive capacity obviously diminishing, prominent DNC figures are likely licking their lips at the prospect of a DNC primary for the 2024 presidential ticket. Perhaps none are more eager than the cravenly pliable Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg’s viability as a successor to Biden concerns me. Buttigieg (formerly Mayor Pete) personifies what, for me, is wrong with the Democratic Party. He’s a mainstream Clintonite marketing himself as a progressive; he’s a Harvard-Oxford educated elite marketing himself as an everyday sort of guy; he is able to sidestep shortcomings with his “identity”; he is a man of burning ambition and nebulous principle. Buttigieg is a perfect representative of the managerial class that has come to dominate DNC politics.
He is deeply inauthentic.
Why I am no Maybe Pete Fan
At the heart of my resentment for Buttigieg is his glimmering inauthenticity. He has spent years meticulously finessing the optics of his persona into this perfectly electable modern progressive. In crafting optics, Buttigieg is a world-class talent. He has succeeded brilliantly in relaying a narrative that has gained mainstream acceptance.
The mainstream narrative holds that: Buttigieg is the son of an immigrant; Buttigieg raised himself up through his own unique intelligence before dedicating his life to public service, first as a valiant military officer, and then as a small-town mayor with down-home values. And the little bow on top, tying it all together for an identity and oppression-obsessed DNC: Buttigieg is gay.
A Narrative That Seems Too Perfect
How is that not the perfect Democratic Party narrative? Sorry, I am not sold.
Buttigieg’s father immigrated from Malta, a predominantly Christian member of the European Union. As most Americans don’t know where Malta is, and because Buttigieg’s name defies American-speaking pronouncement norms, Buttigieg is able to operate with a touch of racial ambiguity – giving him some of the “diversity” credentials so deeply coveted in today’s DNC. He’s European, guys. Not that it matters. What matters are not Buttigieg’s identity but his beliefs and intentions.
Further, Buttigieg’s tag as a “son of an immigrant” is technically true, but misleading. Buttigieg’s father wasn’t some Italian dockworker, Jewish tailor, or Cambodian dishwasher. Buttigieg’s father was the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame – he had tenure at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Actually, Buttigieg’s mother was a professor at Notre Dame, too. So, Buttigieg would more aptly be described, not as a “son of an immigrant” but as a “son of two academic elites.”
A Deeper Look at Buttigieg’s Military Record
Buttigieg’s military service has also been distorted – through Buttigieg’s own efforts. Buttigieg, who knows that the American public – of whom only about seven percent have served in the military – generally don’t know the difference between a Sergeant and an Ensign, an F-15 and an F-16, Afghanistan and Iraq. Buttigieg has leaned on the public’s ignorance to craft an image of himself as some immaculate warfighter, foregoing the comforts of his Harvard education to serve his country on the battlefield.
In reality, Buttigieg joined the U.S. Navy Reserves through a direct commission officer program. He didn’t even go through bootcamp. He served one weekend a month.
And while Buttigieg did deploy to Afghanistan in 2014, it was – I suspect – really just an elaborate “photo op.” He spent most of his time investigating terrorist finance networks. And boy is he proud of it. He can’t stop talking about it.
Actually, during the 2020 DNC primaries, some Navy service members began playing a drinking game: one shot every time Buttigieg mentions his military service. The game proved an efficient way to become inebriated.
Somehow, Reservist Buttigieg manages to speak about his military service more than Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan, or Sen. Tammy Ducksworth, who lost both legs in Iraq. My main point here is that while all military service is commendable and worthwhile, Buttigieg didn’t serve to serve. He served to harvest political capital with as little friction or inconvenience to himself as possible.
That Narrative Will Be a Problem
The reason Buttigieg’s inauthenticity is so important is because it belies his opportunistic tendencies – and obscures his true principles. Beto O’Rourke described Buttigieg succinctly and perfectly as a “human weathervane.” Indeed, Buttigieg will go wherever the wind blows. But what does he really stand for? He’s marketed as a progressive, which I have a hard time accepting.
Consider this: Buttigieg was the valedictorian of his high school class. He attended Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude and was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He accepted a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University and graduated with first-class honors. At this moment, poised to enter the workforce with a Harvard degree and Rhodes scholarship in hand, Buttigieg could have done absolutely whatever he wanted; he was a bonafide elite. He went to work for McKinsey. Not a presidential campaign, a think tank, or a nonprofit. He didn’t pursue his Ph.D. or join the Air Force. He went to work for McKinsey. How many progressives do you know that go work for McKinsey – the company that “destroyed the middle class,” “guided companies at the center of the opioid crisis,” and helped Saudi Arabia quash dissidents. Nice.
The DNC leadership loves Buttigieg – that’s why he was elevated to a national figure while serving as the mayor of a mid-sized town; that’s why he was made Secretary of Transportation without anything resembling requisite experience. Actually, Obama-advisor David Axelrod plucked Buttigieg from obscurity, lining Buttigieg up with a Rolling Stone interview, which billed the still-unknown mayor as the guy to topple Trumpism.
Buttigieg reminded Axelrod of his old boss, Obama – another technocratic neoliberal who successfully marketed himself as a progressive before accomplishing roughly nothing progressive during eight years in office. It makes sense. From the DNC’s perspective, Buttigieg is perfect. Like Obama, Buttigieg markets himself as a progressive – but ultimately, he’s a status quo Harvard bro with identity credentials that Dems can count on for more of the same.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.