Pete Buttigieg and the Problem With Being Practically Perfect In Every Way
“When you look at your story, it genuinely seems like you were created in a lab to run,” Daily Show talk host Trevor Noah told Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
He’s right. Pretend, for a moment, you haven’t heard the hype surrounding the impossibly charming 37 year old Mayor Pete, as he has been affectionately dubbed by his constituents and fans. It’s going to be a blind date and you’re apprehensive, justifiably, given how many disappointments you’ve encountered and naturally, you’re deeply hesitant to enthusiastically bestow your trust again.
And then I tell you this:
He’s a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar. He’s a war veteran. He’s the mayor of his own industrial midwestern hometown. He’ a man of faith. He’s family oriented. He’s young enough to have a relationship with the desire for social progress expressed from younger generations while, simultaneously, old enough to respect the conservatism of those with more reserved economical stances or traditionalist values. As a Democrat, he was elected twice and successfully navigated the divisive arena of partisan politics in the predominantly heavily Republican state of Indiana. He’s exceeding polite, highly intelligent, naturally disarming…
…And he speaks 627 languages.
It feels like there’s an origin story here somewhere, one that could have been dreamed up by the brilliant Stan Lee himself. “37 years ago, a strange meteor crashed into the field of a remote, South Bend, Indiana farmhouse. Within lay a child that would save the world from its evils!”
There simply couldn’t be a more dramatic contrast to the current president. A clinical narcissist, according to Psychology Today, who calls his critics childish names, pays hush money to women he engages in adulterous affairs with, campaigned for a pedophile, mocks women and the disabled from his podium, aligns himself with hostile foreign dictators, undermines our judicial system and due process while using the highest office in the United States to render himself immune from accountability to any other branch of government or legal consequence.
Perhaps, prophetically, DC Comics imagined Donald Trump, too. Except his name was Lex Luthor.
One would expect that a candidate with a resume as glimmering as Buttigieg’s would have a clear path to the White House- and that should be the case in a perfect world. Alas, beyond the flaws that have become more glaring in our democracy over the past three years, at the very surface we are an imperfect people.
Therein lies the problem.
The problem with Pete Buttigieg is nothing other than the fact that he is remarkably intimidating. As where unwavering Trump supporters revel in his savagery and rejoice every time he thumps on his chest in baboon-like fashion as he discredits federal agencies, the media and hides behind his complicit senators in congress while he thumbs his nose at the law, Pete presents himself as a man who would enforce that law rather than wall himself behind a league of party allies who fear him.
Pete Buttigieg scares the hell out of the establishment. He has those like Mitch McConnell, who has served for over 30 years in his capacity, trembling at the notion he may suddenly find himself beholden to the constitution rather than bank on favor earned from blind allegiance. Buttigieg is a threat to career politicians, tribal politics and corrupt lobbyists. No one would be auditioning for a place in his cabinet, but rather expected to do their job on behalf of the American people- the ones they were elected to represent.
But, what about Buttigieg scares the American voters? According to early Quinnipiac polls, he’s trailing in fourth place behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Is it the fact that the openly gay Buttigieg has inadvertently pulled back the curtain on the rampant homophobia that persists in the United States? Or is there more?
Buttigieg speaks with a refined nuance that we haven’t heard in years. Although his qualifications remain indisputable, Buttigieg’s uncanny ability to always say the right thing can come across as obnoxious. Like the kid in sixth grade who knew the answer to every question and was always the first to raise his hand, everyone sighs, including the teacher who eventually asks “Does anyone BUT Pete know the answer?”
Trump supporters, the few that haven’t discounted him on the basis of his sexual orientation, have referred to him using typical Trumpist vernacular; Wimp. Loser. Boring. They’ve done everything from discredit his service in the military to parroting Trump’s effort at a take-down of the kindly Mayor “Mayor Pete, I don’t see at all. I think that’s a joke.” or likening him to MAD Magazine mascot Alfred E. Newman
But even Democrats have been a little concerned about the ever-pleasant Buttigieg.
The reality is that almost everyone- at least those without a predisposed bias- either like Mayor Pete, in much the same way you fawn over a puppy in a local pet shop window or they absolutely love him. He has a growing fan base that has started to rival that of Bernie Sanders, some of whom were so incensed over his 2016 loss to Hillary Clinton they voted for Donald Trump in protest.
Buttigieg is more like Obama than Sanders, however. He hasn’t experienced tremendous over-exposure post election season. Prior to his announcement, few had ever heard of him; A curse many politicians with long careers in senate or other bodies of federal government face is that of their own history. Obama was also an unlikely candidate and to most of the country he was a another perfect stranger. The benefit of that? There are no skeletons in the closet or questionable voting records that conflict with current statements to summon up at a debate. There’s no damning political statements or questionable alliances that can be resurrected to haunt you as Clinton experienced, not once, but twice- first against Obama in 2008 and then in 2016 against Trump. One can argue that it was Hillary’s history in politics that Russian assets used against her in favor of Trump that cost her the election. A candidate like Buttigieg has no high profile past to levy against him.
Buttigeig’s exhaustive kindness can become harder and harder to swallow. His gentility may start to sour on the palates of some American voters who might start to receive it either disingenuous or, at worst, sanctimonious. Having watched over 30 hours of Buttigeig interviews, town hall events and speeches, I am overwhelmed at how warmly he is received by his developing base. Just 8 years ago, an openly gay man would never have had such a reception. If I have to scrounge through the last three years of hatred, bigotry, hostility toward LGBT and the desecration of our democracy, seeing Buttigeig get a standing ovation after a discussion on Fox News of all places is a glimmer of hope that some semblance of normalcy might be salvageable in post-trump years. But, can a man who seems perfectly perfect in every way win?
He should, certainly. However, we’ve become cynical in the post Obama era. We experienced a leadership that infused us with hope and optimistic change. We glimpsed a promised future that tomorrow’s children would thrive in peacefully and responsibly… and were then hurled down a rabbit hole of deceit and polarizing, often manufactured situations that created a chasm resulting in two very different Americas.
Buttigieg proposes to be the salve that can heal those wounds, but there are those wondering if Buttigieg is suffering from “Hall Monitor” syndrome. Which, in truth, is what we need- someone to restore order- but if Trump represents the kind of Man that middle American, middle aged men wish they could be and get away with behaving the way the President of the United states does, Pete Buttigeig is the kind of man their Mothers are disappointed they didn’t turn out to be.
Voters who support Trump out of sheer envy that he is who they wish they were, are the same who would dismiss Buttigieg out of resentment… that his example is the bar being set, and they’re nervous the rest of society would expect they should be more like and thus a bar they could never meet.