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Monday, November 18, 2019

Dem Debates: Mayor Pete Frames the Post-Trump World

Meg Greenfield, the late and witty editor of the editorial page of The Washington Post, used to say that her test for a good politician was simple and demanding: do they have a good sense of humor? By that test, there’s a new contender among the Democrats, Amy Klobuchar.

My test, former literature teacher that I was, is eloquence, with an emphasis on the ability to frame questions succinctly and profoundly. By this test, the winner is Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I liked the way he framed two aspects of the Democratic race.

First, “Let’s Not Wait.” This has the advantage of making his case against Warren-and-Bernie-style purism, and his additional case for generation-skipping to a young and conceptually liberated politics. That usually works for electing Democrats, he notes, citing JFK, Clinton, and Obama. And there’s a sub-text: millennials — at home in a tech-rich, globally connected, pluralist world — pushing aside too-timid Gen-Xers.

Secondly, Buttigieg frames another aspect very well: how are we going to deal with the nation left in psychological tatters after Trump? His answer, Obama-style, is an appeal to unity, reaching out on the issues (particulalry in the Midwest) that drove voters into a high-risk choice for Trump. (There’s even an echo of Lincoln in this, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”) This framing is compelling and forward-looking and non-punitive and patriotic and optimistic. It also has the smart sub-text of undermining Joe Biden’s appeal for a restoration of the old pre-Trump order. “That didn’t work,” said Mayor Pete, calling for conceptual boldness and page-turning of a pragmatic sort.

Of course, timing is everything in politics. Now that Mayor Pete has found a way of framing the race, is he too late in this wisdom? It does look as if the top three (Biden, Warren, Bernie) have pretty much consolidated the lead pack in this bicycle race and thereby sealed off the sub-contenders, though Buttigieg is hanging in there as far as fundraising goes. I still think Biden won’t make it to the homestretch, which would leave Warren clearly in front (once she reaches a deal with Bernie for his affectionate bow-out).

Here’s Ross Douthat making this point: “So a big question in this debate and in the ones before Iowa arrives and the also-rans begin to be formally run out is whether Democratic voters can be persuaded to reconsider this consolidation. And last night there were only really two candidates who presented themselves as plausible vehicles for that reconsideration: Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.”

This leaves me thinking the Democratic ticket ought to be Buttigieg/Harris, but is more likely to be Warren/Booker. As usual, I found the candidate I prefer just slightly too late to matter.

David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I so agree with you, it makes me sad that we may be losing this bright defining moment. Mayor Pete is a breath of fresh air and full of sound ideas. I wish his time were now but I believe it will come.

  2. I am not understanding why you think Buttigieg and Klobuchar have been sealed off by Biden, Sanders, and Warren. Isn’t it way too early for it to be too late?

  3. Responding to David: It is a truism of politics (therefor dubious) that the American public can only deal with two or three candidates in “the decisional focus.” But you may be right that things are still fluid and not locked into that situation. A lot depends on when and if Biden withdraws, at which somebody could jump into the moderate lane. Keep an eye on Bloomberg.

  4. The 2020 race desperately calls for a moderately liberal voice. We have a great chance to capture not only the presidency, but both houses of Congress. But if we run a candidate too far left for swing voters we might still win the White House but without the coattails needed to flip the Senate blue. If that happens we’ll just see more gridlock. Mayor Pete is my candidate, but I could also get behind Klobuchar. I like everything about Buttigieg. I think the world would respond well to him, too. It doesn’t hurt that he speaks 7 languages, including Arabic and Dari Persian. The guy is smart as a whip.

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