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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Blown away by an unfiltered Mayor Pete

Mayor Pete this week.

Six months ago, I would never have imagined that on a July Tuesday night I would feel compelled to write what was for me a sizeable check to snag hor d’oeuvres skewers from a passing tray and join a couple of hundred people on a lake front lawn in Seattle to listen to the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.  What would be my reaction to Pete Buttigieg unfiltered? 

Simple outcome.  I was blown away.  Twenty minutes of house party stump speech was even better than I had any reason to guess I would come away with.  Answers to questions were even better. I should have taken notes to annotate my reaction with the way he builds a policy point on topic after topic like a good musician.  He chooses words like notes that shape a phrase, that then form a melody and suddenly you realize the melodic line is accompanied with harmony.

This is a person who joins impressive intellect with wonderful use of language.  But the music never carelessly meanders, because he makes clear as soon as he sits down (or, in this case, steps forward) to play, that this entire piece is tied together in a single structure of reference to values. He never fails to bring a theme back to its grounding in values that matter, and he frames them with great cogency that I admire because he states them as I would wish to speak my own values.  I found myself saying every thirty seconds to myself, “Yes.”   

In the after-questions chit-chat, a local elected official friend of mine offered what I thought was a telling observation: “He’s just as smart as Obama, but doesn’t seem to be so lofty.”  For me, that hit another wholly visceral litmus as I survey the Democratic field. From politicians, I am weary of didactic instruction. I am tired of shrill exhortation.  I am done with loud conviction. For me, a huge part of Buttigieg’s appeal is that I think I hear him talking as if with a crowd rather than at a crowd. 

I think it is a mistake at this point in this Democratic run-up to focus on the overarching need to elect a different President, to over-handicap the field, and to prematurely put matters solely as if a lens now could somehow be ground finely enough to divine who best can take on Trump.  As favorably impressed as I now am with Mayor Pete, I don’t know that he can assemble delegates in so splintered and anxiety-gripped a political party. Anyway, right now I’d rather continue in my delusional wishful world that sense will somehow finally and firmly descend on our American selves and any of the Democrats will beat Trump. 

In any event, make no mistake: Pete is now sufficiently on the radar of the Republican National Committee that Seattle news outlets on Monday all received from the RNC this statement to dropkick his Seattle fundraisers: 
 
“With a questionable record as mayor of South Bend along with his support of sanctuary cities and free healthcare for illegal immigrants, Pete Buttigieg would be disastrous for Washington State and the rest of America. Meanwhile, President Trump has delivered for the Evergreen State with job creation, higher wages, and record low unemployment.”

A friend of mine retorted thus: “What President Trump has delivered for the state of Washington is a lot of fear, anxiety, anger, and depression.”

There you have the sum of it.  We desperately must find a way out of our national quagmire.  The highest urgency to my mind is that the Democratic Party shape itself above and around its eventual candidate so that the Party can beat Trump with a message that lifts our voters above my friend’s characterization of where Trump has thrown us.  The essential role Buttigieg can play as long as he can press his campaign forward is to help shape and elevate a voice of the Party as a whole. It’s not about a platform. It’s about the positive tone and the frame the Party offers as the backdrop to its ticket.  

His voice, and the manner of his voice, is very important.  More of his kind of voice, in my view, needs to be woven in as a part of every Democratic candidate’s Party persona.  His voice enriches the discussion.  It is the natural tonic to help unify Democrats.  It is the organic antidote to the Trump venom.  Those attributes are even bigger than his own aspiration for the brass ring.  That larger play is why, for me, Monday night brought me away redoubled for “Go, Pete.”

And yes, I did shake his hand.  He was just standing near the edge patio before his talk, chatting pleasantly with a circle of people like just another of the guests; no one seemed to feel the need for selfies, and it was the most natural thing in the world to shake hands, comment on his vision of the invitation’s instruction to guests for “business casual” (for him, same white shirt and geeky narrow black tie) and wish him well.  An Important One was nowhere to be observed. I liked that.  

Doug MacDonald
Doug MacDonald
Doug MacDonald has served as chief executive in infrastructure agencies in Massachusetts (Greater Boston drinking water/wastewater) and Washington State (Secretary of Transportation, 2001-2007). His best job was fifty years ago as a rural extension agent in the Peace Corps in Malawi in southern Africa. He has written on the environment, transportation and politics for professional and general publications for many years.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful take on Mayor Pete. I like your musical metaphor, particularly in contrast to Trump’s dissonant, purposely offensive rhetoric and language.

  2. Is there hope for a symphony led by Mayor Pete that, whether or not he gets the nomination, helps elevate this election.?

  3. Many thanks for these thoughts, Doug, which boost my morale and help clarify my own thinking. Your own language models the kind of public discourse you advocate. Yes, let’s get from the Dems a positive tone and framing of what the party offers. I want it to offer a positive, inclusive vision for the future, the future of our country and local communities. From my perspective, good examples were articulated in their 2018 campaigns by Stacey Abrams and Gillum. Strong social justice agenda, coupled with positive energy, commitment to working together respectfully to get there.

  4. Doug: This is an elegantly framed and gracefully provocative piece. Really nicely done.

    Whether this style of campaigning can succeed in the noisy machinery of modern campaigning and the relentless competition for dollars and coverage will be interesting to track. And even more so, given the talent of the current WH occupant for saturating the daily news cycles and dominating the terms of reference in political discourse. We shall see.

    WS

  5. Doug:

    Thank you for sending me a link to your piece. Your observations are consistent with what I have read and heard elsewhere about Buttigieg: “a person who joins an impressive intellect with a wonderful use of language,” as you say.

    From my perspective, there are several Democrats seeking the nomination who fit that description, some more, some less. That is good. But, to me, that’s not nearly enough.

    If you believe, as I do, that wealth and income inequality (and with money now equated with speech) poses the greatest threat to our democracy, then you would test potential presidents on their commitment, knowledge and skill to begin to change that. You would be looking for someone who has studied the problem, offered ways to begin to change it and who has done so repeatedly and publicly for a long time.

    For all his intelligence and communication skills, Buttigieg isn’t that person. He is, as you point out, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Defeating Donald Trump is important, and whichever Democrat beats him will be a great improvement, but simply replacing him (and the Senate Republicans) without an absolute commitment to address inequality in all its forms would be yet another wasted opportunity. As a country, we are running out of time to begin to fix ourselves.

    (

    • Sorry but Pete is leading this conversation and all the other candidates are following! Everyone is remembering what Pete is saying – do you honestly remember what any of the others are saying or did say?? I don’t – only Pete’s!

  6. I’ll tip my hat to Mayor Pete for holding an open forum in town, affordable for many, and open to the media. His fellow candidates just go to closed, expensive, mansion fundraisers. But Buttegieg still needs to get specific about his programs.

    • If you hang in there, we have 11 months to absorb details as he rolls them out. It’s not possible to do that in one campaign stop. Or 10. And he’s not making promises. He’s presenting his approach to problem solving. By extrapolating, should give you some confidence in *how* he will choose solutions. Meanwhile, stay tuned.

  7. My biggest hope for this moment when there are a fair number of capable Dems who each have hold of one or another part of the elephant (pardon my appropriating the old fable) is that their competition, together (I hope) with a shared belief that tipping the national balance against Trump and toward a better future is more important than any of their individual ambitions, will see them learning from each other, absorbing from each other to find a truly broad and rich understanding of what this country needs. As Doug says, it’s not yet time to narrow the field. Now is a time for learning and growing, and as Frank Bruni said recently, giving shape and substance to the America we want to build over the next 8, 10, 12, 16 years.

  8. Pete is generally always amazing! He inspires us to be our best. Frankly, he reminds me of JFK. He soothes the soul in times like these.

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