On a snowy night in Sioux City, 172 people stamped into West Middle School to hear South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg make the case for President Pete Buttigieg.
It was the day after Michael Harriot, a senior writer for The Root, had called the mayor a “lying MF.” There are a lot of reasons you can call any politician a lying MFer but, in this instance, Harriot was calling out Buttigieg’s belief that black kids in poor neighborhoods and schools haven’t seen the value of hard work and education. Buttigieg had made that comment during a mayoral event in 2011. Harriot’s evisceration of the mayor was thorough and complete, disputing his observations by pointing out the vast systemic inequality that leads to the compounding of the educational gap.
Buttigieg called Harriot, and Harriot wrote another column saying that the mayor listened to him. The mayor listened. Which Harriot noted is all you can ask a white man to do unless he wants to fight. The reference was to Buttigieg ad, where he criticized candidates who only focus on fighting. Harriot’s analysis was colder than the Sioux City snow.
A few days after the town hall, Buttigieg would again show his gaps in perception by admitting at a campaign stop in North Carolina that he didn’t realize the schools in the town in which he is the actual mayor, were still segregated by the actual political, social, and economic forces Harriot had pointed out only days before. He would also release an ad criticizing plans by Warren and Sanders for free college because it might benefit rich people too. Which appealed to only to people who don’t want college to be affordable and accessible (in America we call them Republicans) and all those people who are mad that rich kids get to go to libraries.
Despite all of this, Buttigieg continues to rise in the Iowa polls. Which begs the question who is Mayor Pete campaigning for? Which is exactly what I went to Sioux City to find out.
Buttigieg is currently mayor of a town not much larger than Sioux City, Iowa. The last census data for South Bend was 102,245, and Sioux City is 82,514. He won that election with 8,515 votes. The argument for his experience is one of hope over proven track record.
I was one of the 172 people at the rally and the count felt a little inflated. Almost everyone I spoke to was media or a volunteer. Florence and the Machine and Creedence Clearwater Revival were the rally music. Which works as peppy if you suffer from sinus bradycardia.
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Buttigieg wants Medicare, but only if you want it. He’ll think about the Affordable Care Act. And parental leave? Well, maybe extend the family and medical care act? Beyond that, his policies aren’t much different from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s. If he seems progressive it’s because he’s young.
The main difference is, Buttigieg, with his lack of awareness of structural inequality, positions himself as the best Republican a Democrat could vote for. Which partially explains his appeal in a purple state still reeling from the 2016 election. Pandering to a crowd that loves to talk progressive but, you know, let’s not get crazy about it. But that crowd is actually, not as substantial and pundits suggest.
The appeal of the mayor is that he’s safe and “electable.” But what does that mean for a man who won fewer votes than the mayor of Cedar Rapids (who isn’t someone I’d want running a music festival, much less a country).
And in an America where the actual risky candidate is currently facing impeachment hearings, safe feels good. But the logic of safety, also presumes the danger is an “unelectable candidate” like a Sen. Bernie Sanders or a Warren, but this logic isn’t born out by data. A project called Nationscape looked at 6,000 voters and found that the Democratic Party is truly not divided ideologically. Most people want a wealth tax. Most people want Medicare for All. The logic of the “electable” candidate is language that hides our sexism and our fears, behind a tie.
For Democratic voters this winter, traveling the long road to the February caucus, the only thing that belongs in the middle are yellow lines and piles of cold, white snow.
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