||DEM POTUS Candidate Life Experience Profile #9: Pete Buttigieg
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Sunday January 27, 2019 · 5:00 PM EST
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On Wednesday, the mayor of South Bend, IN, Pete Buttigieg (Boot-edge-edge), announced the formation of an exploratory committee to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Along with most Americans, I had never heard of him. I have now seen him interviewed several times and am fairly impressed. Never in U.S. history has someone gone straight from mayor of a medium sized city to the White House, but, as Mayor Buttigieg replied when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes pointed this out, this is an unprecedented time in American politics.
If you are new to this series on the life experiences of 2020 Democratic POTUS candidates, I introduced it here. The plan has been to do one per week on Fridays as candidates announce, but the announcements came quicker than planned. Previous diaries in the series profiled Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, John K. Delaney, and Andrew Yang. With this diary on Buttigieg, we should be caught up until another announcement.
Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg (b. 19 January 1982) was born in South Bend, IN to Joseph A. Buttigieg, Professor Emeritus in the English Dept. of the University of Notre Dame du Lac and Jennifer Ann Montgomery (called Ann), who taught in the Fine Arts Dept. of Notre Dame for 29 years. His father immigrated to the United States from Malta in the 1970s (and went on to become a citizen), while his mother’s family have been Hoosiers (people in Indiana) for generations. He seems to be their only child.
He grew up in a Catholic family whose mother was an Army brat. I have not found anything else about his family life, but he was described in an interview with Rolling Stone as having been a nerdy child who liked Star Trek (who doesn’t?) and who plays piano and guitar, listens to Radiohead, and has a self-aware, ironic, sense of humor. He is left handed.
Buttigieg attended St. Joseph High School, a co-ed Catholic High School once adjacent to the campuses of Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College in South Bend, but now located about a mile south of the city. It is related to the Diocese of Ft. Waye-South Bend. He was one of two Indiana students at the U. S. Senate Youth Program. In his senior year, he wrote an essay on then-Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that won the JFK Profiles in Courage Essay Contest. The prize was $3,000 and was awarded by members of the Kennedy family at the John F. Kennedy Library. Buttigieg was also elected president of his senior class and became class valedictorian. He graduated in 2000.
Buttigieg then went to Harvard University where he lived at Leverett House, the largest of the residential Houses of Harvard College. Buttigieg majored in History and Literature and was president of the Student Advisory Committee of the Harvard Institute of Politics where he worked on the IOP’s annual study of youth attitudes on politics. He was a member of the elite honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. Buttigieg received his A.B. from Harvard magna cum laude in 2004, writing his thesis on the influence of Puritanism on U. S. foreign policy as reflected in the novel, The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Harvard University has educated eight (8) U. S. Presidents, more than any other educational institution (Yale is 2nd with 5 presidents). Should he win the White House, Buttigieg would join five (5) previous presidents who went to Harvard College (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. In addition, George W. Bush earned his MBA at Harvard Business School and both Rutherford B. Hayes and Barack Obama earned law degrees at Harvard Law School. Positively, this means that Buttigieg had a world class education at an institution with a proven track record in preparing the nation’s leaders, including its presidents. However, as readers of this entire series know, I worry about “group think” in our leadership and value educational experiences outside the typical mold that Harvard represents.
Buttigieg won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University (Pembroke College) where he read for a 1st class honors degree (B.A.) in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), awarded in 2007. Replacing the old “Greats” degree, PPE is an interdisciplinary degree begun at Oxford and adopted in a few other colleges and universities (mostly in the English speaking world) designed to prepare future leaders in politics, economics, international relations, and law.
As many know, Oxford students have no “textbooks” and the educational method is very different from most American colleges and universities. Over a course of 2-3 years, students attend a certain amount of lectures, but the focus is on tutorials: A tutor assigns a series of books or readings and students must read & analyze them with a weekly paper, which is dissected by the tutor and fellow students in a weekly tutorial—and often the paper has to be re-written. There are no tests or semester grades as in most American institutions. At the end of the course of study, students sit a series of exams (usually also involving essays) based on the lecture courses and the books covered in the tutorials. These exams are graded by examiners who do not know the students nor whose exams they are grading. Students either fail, pass, or pass with 1st or 2nd class honors. To be successful, students have to be far more independent and self-motivated than is often the case with American university students.
If Harvard represented a well trodden path for a White House hopeful, Buttigieg’s experience as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford does not. Only Bill Clinton among American presidents was a Rhodes Scholar (University College) and he did not finish his Oxford degree. The location, method of study/teaching, and subject matter would all be very helpful in preparing someone to be a successful world leader.
During his time at Harvard, Buttigieg worked as an investigative intern at the NBC news affiliate in Chicago, WMAQ-TV. He also worked as an intern for the 2002 congressional campaign of former U.S. Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D-IN-04). Later, he worked as an adviser on her unsuccessful 2008 campaign for Governor of Indiana.
From 2004-2005, Buttigieg worked as conference director for The Cohen Group, the international consulting group founded by former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (R). Also in 2004, Buttigieg spent several months as a policy and research specialist with then-Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA)’s unsuccessful campaign for U. S. president.
Returning to the United States after his graduation from Oxford, Buttigieg worked as a consultant at McKinsey and Company, a management strategy consulting firm, from 2007 to 2010. At this point, Buttigieg decided the time had come to throw his own hat into the political ring.
In 2008, Barack Obama had won Buttigieg’s home state of Indiana on his way to winning the U. S. presidency. In addition, although Indiana was a traditionally “red” or Republican state, one of its U. S. Senators at the time, Evan Bayh, was a Democrat. Many thought that IN might be “trending blue” and Buttigieg wanted to provide a new generation of progressive leadership. In 2010, he won the Democratic Party nomination to become State Treasurer of Indiana. Unfortunately, 2010 proved to be a huge year for Republicans across the nation and Buttigieg not only lost to incumbent Richard Mourdock, but lost in a crushing landslide, winning only 37.5% of the vote!
As mentioned above, Pete Buttigieg’s mother grew up an Army brat. So, there was a tradition of military service on his mother’s side of the family. Though opposed to George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” Buttigieg was not and is not a pacifist, and felt that too much of his generation’s military burden was being borne by the poor. He decided to join up.
In 2009, Buttigieg was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Serving as a Naval Intelligence Officer, Buttigieg was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. After a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan, Buttigieg returned home to Indiana. Having risen to the rank of Lieutenant, Buttigieg continues to serve in the Naval Reserve.
I find it telling that the youngest two of the announced Democratic candidates for POTUS, Buttigieg and Gabbard, the two millennial candidates, are, so far, the only candidates with military service. (If, against the conventional wisdom, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) enters the race, she would add to that list, bearing the wounds by which she earned her purple heart visibly upon her differently abled body.) Whatever else one says about either of them, it does seem that this generation of leaders will avoid the "chickenhawk” model of W and Drumpf of sending others to fight and die where they are unwilling to go themselves. It is something to consider.
Mayor of South Bend, Indiana:
Buttigieg was elected mayor of his home town of South Bend, IN in 2011, winning 74% of the vote. At 29, he was the youngest mayor of any U. S. city with at least 100,000 residents. At the time he was elected, the nation was still in recovery from the Great Recession and South Bend was on a list of “ten dying midwestern cities.” Buttigieg worked to turn that around.
During his first term, a signature program was the “1,000 Properties in 1,000 Days” project which took vacant and abandoned properties and repaired or demolished them. Redevelopment and rejuvenation was Buttigieg’s focus.
There were 2 controversies during this term: One was his deployment to Afghanistan, leaving the Deputy Mayor in charge and leading his opponents to refer to him as “the part-time mayor.”
The 2nd controversy involved taped conversations between 4 police officers and the spouse of one officer, tapes revealing racist conversations. Because of the inept handling by the South Bend Police Dept., Buttigieg demoted Police Chief Darryl Boykins (the first African-American police chief in the city’s history) and fired Police Communications Director Karen Depaepe. Boykins, DePaepe and the 4 officers sued the city and Buttigieg settled out of court. Does this show wise executive experience handling inevitable problems and scandals? Or is this a red flag? Readers must decide—but it should and will come up on the campaign trail should Buttigieg’s campaign flourish.
Buttigieg’s 2nd term as mayor included modernizing the city’s sewer system and a “Smart Streets Iniative” which converted many one-way streets in downtown South Bend to two-way use and added pedestrian and bike-friendly amenities.
Although eligible for a 3rd term, Buttigieg announced in December of 2018 that he would not seek a 3rd term and earlier this month announced his campaign for president of the United States.
2017 DNC Chair Campaign:
Following the devastating blow to the Democratic Party (and the nation) caused by Drumpf’s 2016 victory. Buttigieg campaigned for Chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). He campaigned on the idea that the aging leadership of the Democratic Party needed new energy and new ideas from millennial members—his generation. He received the endorsement of former DNC Chair Howard Dean.
Buttigieg argued that the debate at the time (partly still ongoing) between whether Democrats needed to pursue a social justice rainbow coalition or eschew “identity politics” and try to reclaim white working class voters from the Rust Belt was misguided. Both were needed, no one had simply one identity or one set of issues. He wanted Democrats to get better at arguing for their principles and values and not just list policy proposals. A century ago, the Progressive Movement was led from the Midwest and Buttigieg thought this could be the case again. He withdrew from consideration on the day of the election in his nomination speech, but those ideas (partly adopted by Tom Perez, who went on to win the DNC Chair) caught the attention and approval of people like Barack Obama, who said that Buttigieg might just be the person who could lead the Democratic Party into the future.
In 2015, Mike Pence was governor of Indiana and working hard to make life even harder for LGBTQ people. So, after telling his (unsurprised) parents, Buttigieg announced in an essay that he is gay. He instantly became the first openly gay municipal executive in Indiana and, as of his announcement for POTUS, he is the first openly gay man to run for President of the United States in one of the two major political parties.
In December of 2017, Buttigieg announced his engagement to Chasten Glezman, a middle school drama teacher originally from Chicago. Like Buttigieg, Glezman was raised Roman Catholic, but, but unlike Buttigieg, Chezman’s family ceased to accept him after he came out. The two were married on 16 June 2018 in a private ceremony at the Cathedral of St. James Episcopal Church in downtown South Bend. The newly married couple stopped by South Bend’s annual Pride Parade before going to their reception and honeymoon! The couple have two rescue dogs.
Although he has left the Catholicism of his upbringing, Buttigieg remains a deeply spiritual Christian. He is an Episcopalian. He and his husband, Chasten Glezman, are active members of the Cathedral of St. James. Buttigieg told an interviewer that he especially found the worldwide Anglican tradition’s Book of Common Prayer deeply moving. I have said before that the U.S. Constitution forbids any religious tests for public office—but nothing prevents voters from their own private tests. At one point, The Episcopal Church was far more influential in U. S. political life than its numbers would have suggested. 11 U. S. Presidents have been Episcopalian, more than any other denomination (Washington, Madison, Monroe, W. H. Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Pierce, Arthur, FDR, Ford, and GHW Bush).
Buttigieg is the author of The Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and the Model for America’s Future. (Norton, 2018).
Given the number of candidates with superstar power in the 2020 race, Buttigieg has to be considered very much a long shot. But I do find his life experience fascinating and while I don’t QUITE feel the magic that I did in 2008 with Obama or in 2012 when Julian Castro gave the keynote at the DNC, or I do now when I hear the passion (in different ways) of Warren, Harris, and even Beto O’Rourke, there IS a quieter charisma and magnetism about Buttigieg. He rightly says that his is the generation that, after 9/11, served in our seemingly endless wars, the generation that grew up with mass school shootings, and the generation that will most have to deal with climate change—and who could be the last generation if they don’t succeed in fighting it. He is right to say that in the real world there is no “again,” --nostalgia is not a viable political strategy. As of yet, his campaign website has no policy statements (though he has pushed for higher minimum wages, Medicare for All, and debt free college) and that has to change soon if he is to have a real chance.
I doubt that 2020 is his year, but I think his year could be coming and that whomever is our nominee in 2020, Buttigieg will be one of our parties leaders of the future—and not a distant one. My two cents worth.