The Amazing Peter Buttigieg Gerry O'Shea
A few months ago very few people outside of Indiana had heard of Peter Buttigieg and fewer still could pronounce his surname. That has changed because now he is recognized as a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination to contest the presidential election next year.
He describes himself wryly as "definitely the only left-handed Maltese-American, Episcopalian, gay, millennial, war veteran in the race." He could have added that at a mere 37 years he registers as the youngest candidate in the large Democratic field, just two years past the minimum legal requirement for serving in the White House.
Elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in 2012, he sees himself as a new kind of politician, inviting comparison with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, senior statesmen ahead in all the early polls for the Democratic nomination, but both in their late seventies, forty years older than the mayor.
Buttigieg graduated from Harvard and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar which led to two years in Oxford. He speaks seven languages, including Norwegian and Maltese. No mention of Gaelic - I can recommend a man from Ballyferriter who could tutor him!
He deployed as a naval officer to Afghanistan in 2016 while serving as mayor. He values his status as a veteran and presents his time abroad as an important learning experience about the consequences of foreign policy decisions made in Washington.
With a population of around 100,000, South Bend would be classified as a medium-sized American town, still Buttigieg boasts of important achievements, especially in improving parks and promoting local cultural events, since he was elected mayor in 2012. Significantly, more than 70% voted for his re-election in 2016.
The positions he has articulated so far on the big issues are in line with most of the other candidates for the Democratic nomination. However, his stress on the urgent need for structural change from the present Electoral College system and from the current method of packing the Supreme Court does set him apart at this point from other possible nominees, with the notable exceptions of Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. They also think that it points to a strange and unfortunate democratic anomaly when, thanks to the Electoral College, the man currently in the White House got around three million fewer votes than his opponent.
The mid-term election results suggest that a big chunk of the electorate, especially young people, are unhappy and disgruntled with some important facets of the political status quo. For instance, an overwhelming majority of voters want sensible gun control laws, but there is little prospect of action in this area because the National Rifle Association continues to oppose any progressive change. What does that say about how our democracy functions?
Similarly, a clear majority of voters want a healthcare system that covers all citizens. Instead of progress in this area, the present government is preparing to argue in a federal court that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. If they are successful, then the twenty million citizens who gained a healthcare policy because of the ACA will again find themselves without insurance. Coverage for pre-existing conditions will also end.
Availability of universal medical care remains a core and vital demand by many voters.
The drive for new approaches in these and other important issues is coursing through the American political system, and Peter Buttigieg is viewed by increasing numbers of voters as the clean candidate who is not tainted by years in Washington, not associated with leaders who are unable or unwilling to respond effectively to the popular demand for change.
The mayor is also a devout Christian who attended a Catholic high school but while in Oxford joined the college Anglican community where social justice was seen as a priority of the gospel story. He was married last year to Chasten Glezman, a local teacher, in a private service in the Episcopalian church of St. James in South Bend. He stresses that the teachings of Christ in the New Testament greatly influence his liberal political stances especially in dealing with poverty and immigration.
Mr. Glezman has taken a career break from his teaching assignments and is playing a major part in his husband's campaign.
Vice-president Pence who, also hails from Indiana, grew up in a Catholic family too, but he was attracted by evangelicalism while in college and remains a committed follower of the strict biblical edicts propounded by that Christian group. For instance, they consider sexual intimacy sinful outside of a male-female marriage relationship. Buttigeig argues that Pence's sexual beliefs don't deal with the fact that he was created homosexual by God and his marriage to Chasten has improved his character as a human being.
These are genuinely-held convictions by two prominent political leaders, each highlighting his Christian beliefs as an important source for his political stances. The surge of history may well favor the younger man, especially when he challenges the vice-president to explain how he can morally justify his support for a thrice-married philanderer.
Some experts believe that America is not ready to elect a young gay man with little government experience, but they said the same for a first-time black senator from Illinois named Obama in 2004, and they were equally sure that a brash real estate tycoon from New York with no government experience would never make it to the White House. Who would have thought that a gay Irish prime minister would be introducing his husband to world leaders in Washington and Brussels?
Peter Buttigieg is unlikely to win the Democratic nomination in 2020. However, he is a talented, serious and determined politician who will feature prominently in all the upcoming intraparty debates. Any bets on the mayor as Democratic nominee for vice-president?
Gerry O'Shea blogs at wemustbetalking.com