Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Democratic primary is the sudden success of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He came out of nowhere (sorry Indiana) to become a formidable fundraiser and top-tier candidate. However, the obsession with Mayor Pete demonstrates that liberals have learned nothing from the endless missteps of the Democratic Party in the 2016 cycle.
The biggest proponents of Mayor Pete like to remind everyone, all of the time, that Pete is really smart. This is especially important to the educated elite who balk at the anti-intellectualism espoused by the current White House. While Pete’s mastery of eight languages is undoubtedly impressive, Ivy League accolades will certainly not transform the political climate of this nation. In fact, the fetishization of Pete’s intelligence combined with his limited policy platform reveal the damaging way in which liberals value “smartness” over precise policy, historical effectiveness and shared values.
Frankly, it is hard to not see the obsession with Pete Buttigieg’s intelligence as both racist and sexist. This pool of candidates is full of people who meet all the traditional benchmarks for intelligence, but maybe do not look like what we deem as intelligent. In other words, a white man—Cory Booker attended Stanford, is a Rhodes Scholar and has a law degree from Yale University. Julian Castro attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School. And, of course, Elizabeth Warren was a Harvard Law School professor and somehow has a plan for just about everything.
Pete Buttigieg’s pedigree does not distinguish him from a crowded pool of Ivy educated, award winning Americans. What does distinguish him, however, is a notable lack of experience among a group of people who have driven the American political conversation in recent years as senators, cabinet members and congressional representatives. Liberals lament President Trump’s lack of experience, yet seem to ignore Pete’s glaring unpreparedness. He is the mayor of a town of around 100,000 people—the size of a large state school. The national budget is one million times the size of the meager budget that Pete manages in South Bend.
Pete may seem like the radical change that we need in the Democratic Party. He is a Christian, gay, millennial, veteran—doesn’t that just seem like one giant middle finger to Donald Trump? Yet, in reality, Pete is simply an updated millennial version of that old type of corporate democrat—the kind that lost touch with America’s working class and lost the election with it. It happened somewhere between when the Democrats stopped talking to unions and starting hosting endless fundraisers in the Hamptons (Buttigieg has made more money from big money fundraisers in the Hamptons than any other candidate).
For those who have done their research on Pete, it should come as no surprise that he is hanging in the Hamptons.
After graduating from Oxford, he worked at McKinsey—a consulting firm with dubious ties to authoritarian governments like those of China and Saudi Arabia and is rumored to have counseled Purdue Pharma on how to better market opioids. McKinsey also boasts a long list of famous former employees including many notable Republican politicians. This is a stark contrast to Bernie’s first jobs out of college as a carpenter, Head Start teacher and psychiatric aide and Warren’s as a teacher to children with disabilities. While Bernie and Elizabeth were working in their communities, Pete was consorting with America’s elite at a cult-like consulting firm that has been plagued by countless scandals.
There isn’t a lot to go off of when trying to speculate how Pete will govern. After all, he is a 37 year old mayor of a tiny city. But what we do know isn’t comforting. Pete has a notably fraught relationship with African-American residents of South Bend due to his poor leadership after a white officer shot a black man. Furthermore, Pete touts the economic revitalization of South Bend as one of his major accomplishments as mayor, yet black residents insist that the development has been profoundly unequal. In fact, poverty is rising in several predominantly black neighborhoods of South Bend, right next to the recently gentrified downtown. South Bend pastor Reverend Sylvester Williams Jr, a prominent voice in the black community, noted “he’s like an absentee landlord, in a city that’s failing.” This is clearly a moral failure and furthermore, in an election that will be, partly, contingent on urban African-American voters in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, I doubt that this record will galvanize black voters.
The reality is Pete is all persona. While candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are electrifying crowds with their bold policy proposals, Pete is known for his unique life story—quirky and refreshing in a time when politics are pretty depressing. He has won the hearts and pocketbooks of wealthy Americans who see him simultaneously as a step forward to a new generation and a return to the status quo. Pete will likely be in the race until the very end. Through his many fundraisers in Cape Cod, the Hamptons, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard—where tickets cost $2,800—he is squarely in the upper tier of candidate’s fundraising success. Pete, however, will not re-capture the imagination of those that the Democratic Party has left behind. Beneath his progressive platitudes, voters will see a candidate who is unwilling to challenge the economic elite—those who govern the United States from both parties. We can all enjoy the unlikely story of a small-town mayor turned major presidential candidate, but we should not vote for Mayor Pete.
Livia Kunins-Berkowitz is a member of the Class of 2022.