On March 21, 2019, former governor of Pennsylvania and a past Democratic National Committee chairman Ed Rendell stated: “I think all of a sudden, the 2020 election went from a slam dunk for Democrats to something where we’re going to have trouble beating this guy [Trump] because he’s going to make Democratic socialism swing to the left, which I don’t think is real, but he’s going to make it into the issue.”
Rendell was referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with her Green New Deal, which won over the progressive branch of the Democratic Party, and made her a well-known figure in the party although she had never run for a political position before being elected to Congress this past November and is too young to run for president. The Green New Deal proposes to make the U.S. carbon free in ten years by relying on solar and wind power (nuclear energy and hydroelectric dams being taboo). Ocasio-Cortez contends that the failure to achieve this goal would lead to a climate Armageddon. And linked to the climate effort is a litany of other social measures: free health care for all, universal basic income, a federal jobs guarantee, free college, reparations to black Americans for slavery, and more.
Rendell realized that the 2020 election, instead of revolving around Trump with his low approval ratings, would turn on the questionable nostrums of the progressive Democrats, which critics could easily describe as destroying the economy and establishing socialism.
Adding more election trouble for the Democrats, many of these same progressive Democrats are critical of Israel, which has been a death knell for American politicians. Congressional Democrat Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American Muslim, criticized Israel as well as the Israel Lobby using taboo language that is considered anti-Semitic. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she tweeted before the 2019 AIPAC conference, referring to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobbyists as being involved in the funding of pro-Israel lawmakers (Benjamin Franklin’s image appears on US $100 bills. AIPAC does not actually fund American lawmakers directly, but rather tells its many members whom to aid.)
Although an effort was made in Congress to condemn Omar as anti-Semitic, which is usually career-ending, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi dared not to do this because of the progressive Democrats and their base and instead presented a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and bigotry against minorities with no specific mention of Omar.
And a significant number of the progressive Democrat presidential candidates did not attend the AIPAC Policy Conference held in Washington, DC from March 24 to 26. Those not attending included Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, former House of Representatives member Beto O’Rourke. The candidates’ decisions to skip the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group’s conference came shortly after the liberal group MoveOn.org called upon all 2020 presidential candidates to avoid the event.
Now American Jews only make up a small percentage of the electorate, and it is doubtful that significant numbers would shift to voting for Trump despite his staunch support for Israel. However, about fifty percent of Democratic Party’s funding comes from Jewish donors which is apt to be significantly reduced if the Democrat’s presidential candidate is not staunchly pro-Israel, a factor that could militate against a Democratic victory.
Establishment Democrats fear that these extreme progressive positions could lead to a Trump victory, though they also likely fear a victory by a hardline progressive that would collapse the already bloated stock market and harm their interests. Currently there is an effort among them to stop Bernie Sanders, who is the leading progressive candidate by a wide margin in most polls.
Former Vice President Joe Biden who is first in most polls for the Democrats’ presidential nominee is more moderate but has problems. If the general election were held today, Biden would very likely beat Trump, but by next year it might be difficult for him to win the Democratic nomination since he is out of step with much of the Democratic base. As an article in the progressive magazine Mother Jones observes, Biden’s “decades-long record of public service has been punctuated by his ties to the banking industry, his treatment of Anita Hill, his civil rights–era opposition to busing, and other actions out of sync with today’s Democratic Party.”
Biden’s inappropriate touching and kissing women in professional settings has been brought up recently by several women. His past campaigns for president, in 1988 and in 2008, were failures, and it is likely that his flaws as a candidate would come forth again, especially his tendency to make gaffes.
Given Biden’s problems, Democratic leaders and the pro-Democratic media are looking for a new candidate who would be electable. One candidate who has made a meteoric rise from obscurity is 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, now ranked third behind Biden and Sanders in several polls. According to much of the mainstream press, Buttigieg’s achievement as mayor is that he brought back to life a dying de-industrialized city. During his time in office, the city has experienced a revitalized downtown and a population that is growing after 50 years of decline. South Bend is considered one of the few Rust Belt success stories. According to Buttigieg, “We transformed the trajectory of our city . . . This is a community that was written off as dying at the beginning of this decade. Now it’s growing again.”
There are critics in South Bend who take issue with this roseate picture. They have alleged that Buttigieg’s initiative to address 1,000 vacant and abandoned homes in 1,000 days with aggressive code enforcement disproportionately displaced poor black people. The Buttigieg administration denied the allegation, saying the demolished houses had been vacant at least 90 days, and most were owned by real estate investors.
In order to counteract any criticism from blacks and their supporters, Buttigieg has put forth an “agenda for black America” which focuses on five things “that all of us care about: homeownership, entrepreneurship, education, health and justice.” And Buttigieg has also said he would sign a bill that would start a study of reparations for black Americans.
Buttigieg met with the Reverend Al Sharpton in New York City twice in April to gain the support of the influential African American leader and it seems to have worked. “We have got to deal with homophobia in all communities, including the black community, including the faith community,” Sharpton said. “We are saying that people ought to be judged on their merits.”
Despite his limited political background, the mainstream media has in the past months gone gaga over “Mayor Pete.” The media have embraced Buttigieg like no Democratic candidate since Barack Obama. A Los Angeles Times article of April 12 wrote: “the breakout star of the 2020 presidential campaign and, for the moment, the hottest thing in American politics.” And a piece in the Atlantic opined: “Getting nonstop press is different from getting actual votes, but for now, Pete Buttigieg is everywhere.”
After Buttigieg appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on March 20, co-host Joe Scarborough tweeted: “Mika [Brzezinski] and I have been overwhelmed by the reaction Pete Buttigieg got after being on the show . . .. The only other time in twelve years that we heard from as many people about a guest was after Barack Obama appeared on Morning Joe.” And the “Morning Joe” show has been touting Buttigieg ever since.
An April 17 article in Politico stated that “burning with the velocity of a prairie fire on a gusty Indiana day, Pete Buttigieg scorched the airwaves, seared the podcasts, and charred the press this week as he ignited his presidential campaign, temporarily torching his Democratic competition in the process.” Buttigieg has capped off his meteoric rise by being placed on the front page of the May 2 edition of Time Magazine.
Buttigieg is the son of two Notre Dame University professors. His father (now deceased) was an expert on Antonio Gramsci who applied Marxist theory to culture and cultural institutions in contrast to Marx’s economic determinism. Pete Buttigieg doesn’t talk much about his father’s scholarship or politics in his book Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future. He does describe his father as “a man of the left.” But since his father eschewed the totalitarian type of Communism and Pete Buttigieg does not lean in that direction and praises capitalism to a greater extent than most of his Democratic rivals, his father’s views do not seem to cause any problems.
Buttigieg is extremely erudite for a politician. He attended Harvard and went on to become a Rhodes Scholar. He then worked at the consulting firm of McKinsey and Company before being elected as the mayor of South Bend at the age of 29. Buttigieg was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve in 2009, and in 2014 Buttigieg was deployed to Afghanistan for a seven-month stint being assigned to a counterterrorism unit. Buttigieg was in “an imminent danger pay area” as official Navy records show, though he was not involved in direct combat.
During Buttigieg’s time in Afghanistan, President Obama announced a drawdown of troops there. In Shortest Way Home, Buttigieg wrote about the soldiers who were killed after the announced troop reduction. “I did not believe the Afghanistan War was a mistake,” Buttigieg opined. “But as I weighed my place in a war most people at home seemed to think was already ending, I couldn’t stop wondering, how do you ask a person to be the last to die for anything?” Those words are similar to what John Kerry said regarding Vietnam, and Buttigieg worked on Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004. But there is a significant difference. Kerry’s notable quote was: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” .
Buttigieg especially has a great facility with languages. He is proficient, or has been proficient, in seven languages other than English: Norwegian, French, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, and Dari (spoken in Afghanistan). Buttigieg learned Norwegian after reading a translated book by a Norwegian author and desired to read other books by that author which were not translated into English.
Buttigieg is presented as something of a pragmatist who analyzes situations before making a final decision. As an article in RealClearPolitics contends: “the Democrat [Buttigieg] gaining momentum is not a rabid, anti-Trump fanatic, nor a radical, collectivist zealot. Pete Buttigieg is the calm to Trump’s storm, the still waters to this president’s tempest.” Buttigieg’s “joyful maturity . . . stands in staggering contrast to the cheerless and substanceless knife fights that pass for Republican and Democrat debate these days, ravenously merchandized by our sensationalist news media. When Bernie Sanders flies into space, for example, endorsing the right of convicted terrorists, rapists, and pedophiles to vote while in prison, it is the young mayor who plays grown-up, elegantly distancing himself from Sanders’s enflamed radicalism by saying, simply, ‘No, I don’t think so.’”
Buttigieg “roots his campaign to reframe progressive ideas in conservative language. ‘If the substance of your ideas is progressive but there’s mistrust about them among conservatives, you have three choices,’ Buttigieg tells Time [Magazine] . . .. One is to just change your ideas and make them more conservative. The second is to sort of be sneaky and try to make it seem like your ideas are more conservative than they are. And the third, the approach that I favor, is to stick to your ideas, but explain why conservatives shouldn’t be afraid of them.”
In essence, Buttigieg appeals to Democratic moderates because of his mild demeanor but advocates much of the progressive agenda. He supports Medicare for All and eventually phasing out private health insurance, backs the Green New Deal, and favors increased gun control and expanding student-loan forgiveness.
However, it is true that some of what he calls for is less extreme than that proposed by many of the progressive candidates. For example, he has endorsed debt-free college as opposed to tuition-free college. He wants to lessen the cost of college by doing such things as increased Pell Grants to low-income students, loan forgiveness programs and lower interest rates to refinance loans. And he couches this position as egalitarian, stating “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea of a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidizing a minority who earn more because they did.”
In a Kennedyesque gesture, Buttigieg has advocated a year of national service for young adults to counter the lack of “social cohesion” in the U.S. which he holds is harming the country. Like many of his proposals, Buttigieg has not provided specifics but has stated that it would not be mandatory but “did suggest colleges and employers ask applicants about participation in it.”
What gives Buttigieg the necessary intersectionality points to be a viable presidential contender for the Democrats is his homosexuality, which he now makes much of on the campaign trail. The liberal media and Democrats in general can demonstrate their own innate goodness by supporting a gay man. It is analogous to supporting Barak Obama’s campaign to become the first black president in 2008.
Buttigieg discussed his personal struggles in coming out as a gay man with lesbian MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. The conversation between the two elicited rave reviews on social media. NBC host Willie Geist called the conversation “extraordinary and moving.” Brian Fallon, the press secretary for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, considered it “profound.”
To start his presidential quest, Buttigieg relied on a broad network of wealthy LGBT donors that has for years staunchly supported Democratic presidential candidates but has never had a gay presidential candidate to back. By relying on this approach, Buttigieg was able to rake in more than $7 million in just over two months. Without this initial funding, he would not have been able to gain the mainstream media’s attention.
Christianity looms large in Buttigieg’s political campaign—he is an Episcopalian after having been a Catholic. Buttigieg stated that, “The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state … but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.” In short, progressive programs that purport to share the wealth are the essence of Christianity rather than personal charity.
Buttigieg jettisons traditional Christian opposition to homosexuality and abortion—even supporting late term abortions. And this is largely in line with contemporary mainstream Protestantism. Buttigieg attacked Vice President Mike Pence and Evangelical Christians in general for adhering to the Christian Bible’s view of homosexuality as sinful. “If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade,” he stated. “That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” As the very perceptive Paul Gottfried points out: “Pence, who supposedly wishes to ‘convert’ gays into becoming straight, is seen as violating the divine will. Not he but Buttigieg, we are made to believe, is the true Christian.”
One religious problem Buttigieg faced was his use of the term “pharisee” to criticize Pence and other traditional Bible believing Christians. His constant use of this term actually tended to make him appear pharisaical but much more than that it irritated Jews since the actual Pharisees laid the foundation of post-Temple Rabbinic Judaism. Somehow the scholarly Buttigieg did not know this connection but when it was called to his attention by Jews, he quickly dropped this term.
The president and the executive branch have the most significant role in making foreign policy. However, foreign policy seems to have been given short shrift so far by most of the Democratic presidential contenders in favor of domestic policy except in regard to supporting the international effort to combat climate change, which Trump has rejected.
Buttigieg is a little different. He says his experience serving as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan helped shaped his views on American policy in the Middle East. Buttigieg supports pulling troops out of Afghanistan but has criticized Trump’s plans to withdraw from Syria.
More than most progressive candidates, Buttigieg has expressed strong support for Israel’s actions. He recently stated, however, that “Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu ‘s politics. I don’t. This calls for a president willing to counsel our ally against abandoning a two-state solution.”
In May 2018, Buttigieg went to Israel with the American Jewish Committee. At that time, Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence got the attention of the world, yet Buttigieg repeatedly praised Israel’s security arrangements as “moving” and “clear-eyed” and that the U.S. could learn from them. He contended that Hamas was largely responsible for the “misery” in Gaza.
Buttigieg criticized Ilhan Omar for her Israel-Iran comparison. “People like me get strung up in Iran,” he said, “so the idea that what’s going on is equivalent is just wrong.” Buttigieg’s pro-Israel views put him at odds with the increasingly pro-Palestinian progressives in the Democratic Party. This should enable him to receive heavy pro-Israel funding in the primary and general election. And this would also be a factor in getting him favorable media support.
It is highly unlikely that Buttigieg would win enough votes in the state primaries and caucuses to be elected president outright. However, he could do quite well as a compromise candidate if there is a brokered convention. Although a brokered election has become a rarity, the last one taking place in 1952 when Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson on the third ballot, there are a number of factors that make this a significant possibility in 2020. There is a crowded field of candidates; the Democrats’ award delegates in the state primaries and caucuses on a proportional basis instead of having a winner-tale-all allocation; and there is a new rule prohibiting superdelegates—party members who are not elected in the state primaries and caucuses—from voting in the first round. As noted statistician Nate Silver tweeted: “There would have been a lot of deadlocked conventions if they were contested under the rules and calendar that Democrats have implemented now. The 2016 Republican convention would almost certainly have been contested under those rules.”
Since the superdelegates would be allowed to vote in all rounds after the first, they could determine the winner, which would probably mean the selection of a candidate who would be seen to have the greatest chance of winning and not split the party. Buttigieg would fit the description of this ideal candidate being a progressive but of a milder variety, certainly not seeming threatening like Bernie Sanders; hailing from the Midwest, which is regarded as a key for winning the 2020 election ; having a military background which illustrates his manliness and patriotism (which should appeal to centrist voters); and his high intelligence puts him far above Trump and his questionable political explanations.
Andrew Sullivan of New York Magazine, who happens to be a homosexual but does not appear partisan in this analysis, said that Buttigieg “might be the best possible Democratic matchup against Donald Trump.” Sullivan states: “In style, generation, demeanor, and background, Buttigieg is a near-perfect way to put a drop shadow behind all of Trump’s grandiosity, age, temperament, and privilege.” If he were not nominated as the Democrats presidential candidate, it would be advantageous to select him as vice-president.
Should Buttigieg run for president, the mainstream media would likely expand its worship of him and double down on the faults, real or imagined, of Trump. It would seem that Buttigieg is the ideal Democratic candidate, lacking the baggage afflicting Sanders and Biden. This, of course, does not guarantee that Buttigieg will be the Democrats nominee for president or vice-president but about the only thing that could derail Buttigieg’s campaign would be the discovery that he is really a straight man.