Much was made of the decision to only offer a 60-second speaking slot to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at this year’s Democratic National Convention.
For some—myself included—what was especially galling was that Ocasio-Cortez got less face time than someone like John Kasich, who isn’t even a Democrat. Even among Democrats, her relative sparsity was confounding. Chris Coons? Catherine Cortez Masto? You chose these less-than-household names over someone like AOC, possibly the most exciting politician under the Democratic banner in decades? Really?
The inclusion which really rustles my jimmies, however, is the elevation of someone like Pete Buttigieg over AOC, precisely because he, like, Ocasio-Cortez, is young. On the whole, the Convention, a slow, solemn affair, was populated by politicians upwards of 50, capped off by an acceptance speech by the septuagenarian nominee Joe Biden. By this token, Buttigieg (38) and Ocasio-Cortez (30) were standouts.
That the Dems see someone like Buttigieg as more indicative of their future than AOC, a Spanish-speaking woman of color with a sizable following, is deeply concerning. Especially since “Mayo Pete,” as he’s derisively known in some circles, well, sucks.
Though the piece is almost a year old now, Ryan Cooper, national correspondent at The Week, has some valid insights about his fellow millennial as well as Joe Kennedy III, who he views in a similar light: that of the “entitled millennial” politician. As he makes explicit, Cooper does not have a problem with younger people running for public office—in fact, he thinks more of us should be doing it.
It’s Buttigieg’s choices, rather, that are damning in the author’s eyes. For one, there’s the matter of his employ at McKinsey, a consulting firm with a checkered track record, to say the least. As mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the relationship between his administration, the city’s police force, and the black community drew deserved criticism, a relationship that was further scrutinized after a fatal shooting by South Bend police last year.
In addition, his stint in Afghanistan, a conflict long since exposed as a quagmire of an occupation, seems designed more than anything to bolster his resume. All this on top of running for president of these United States despite a few years of mayoral experience in a small-ish city. As Cooper characterizes this last bit:
Being president of the United States is one of the most difficult, demanding positions in the world. It takes stupendous arrogance to think one can just pick it up on the job after running a city less than half the size of Spokane, Washington for a few years.
As for why Cooper takes issue with Kennedy, it’s not necessarily his politics or his vaulting ambition, but that he tried to take out a progressive in Ed Markey en route to a Senate seat and for no other apparent reason than his last name is Kennedy. Of course, Cooper wrote this well in advance of Markey’s sizable victory, but Massachusetts voters ultimately gave Kennedy their own rebuke that better decision-making on his part could’ve avoided.
In this regard, the author sees a stark contrast between the likes of Buttigieg and Kennedy (“men who think it all should just be handed to them”) and AOC (someone “attempting to actually stand up for her generation”). That contrast unfortunately also extends to how she is treated by some members of the media and members of her own party.
Ocasio-Cortez, for all her popularity, receives more than her share of abuse from establishment Democrats and right-wing provocateurs alike, the latter in particular alternating between jabs at her past work as a bartender (which isn’t anything of which to be ashamed, mind you) and her supposed elitist tendencies (and I guarantee you they wouldn’t be going after her like this if she were a man).
That Democrats see more in Barack Obama knock-off Pete Buttigieg than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or Julian Castro or Stacey Abrams) when younger voters and/or voters of color have told you pretty much all you need to know about him is therefore striking. For a party that at least pretends to give a damn about progressive politics, on the national stage, the Dems really seem like they’re taking a step backwards.
Pete Buttigieg is clearly an intelligent guy. That he achieved even a scintilla of success as an openly gay man campaigning for president is certainly laudable. For the record, too, I don’t wish ill upon him. He’s free to chat with Preet Bharara or anyone else he wants to chew the fat with on his new podcast. I won’t be listening, but you do you, Pete. If you can get people turned on to politics, more power to you.
That said, Mr. Buttigieg, I don’t want you anywhere near a position of influence within the Democratic Party. For all Former Mayor Pete’s trailblazing as a member of the LGTBQ+ community and his intellect, his pitch to voters was nothing but word salad and platitudes.
And the Obama allusions. On the campaign trail, Buttigieg didn’t just seek to emulate Barack Obama, with whom he has drawn comparisons for being similarly young and articulate at the point of his rise to national consciousness—he copied his manner of speaking right down to Obama’s cadence.
Pete the presidential candidate was an, ahem, pale imitation at a time when millennials, renowned for being better bullshit detectors than their progenitors, had already soured on the unfulfilled promises of Obama’s tenure and zoomers, just coming of political age, were less likely to have the same reverence for 44 as older party loyalists. Young people see right through Buttigieg. In case you were wondering why his cohorts would flock to Bernie Sanders instead of him despite his being some four decades Bernie’s junior, there’s a hint.
And yet, the Democrats look at Buttigieg like he has a real future in the party. He’s part of Joe Biden’s White House transition team and is among those being considered for a place in Biden’s Cabinet should he seal the deal in November. At a campaign event in April, Biden said he is a “transition candidate” whose job is “to bring the Mayor Petes of the world into this administration.” It’s clear that Biden views himself as a bridge to more candidates like himself who talk a better game than their record dictates rather than as the kind of leader who will usher in a new progressive direction for the Democratic Party.
I don’t doubt the Democrats want to win in November and would relish the chance to expand their base at a time when the Republican Party, despite its utter defiance of demographic realities, is registering more voters and generating more enthusiasm for its objectively worse candidates. That said, they can do better than President Joe Biden and Secretary or Ambassador Pete Buttigieg and they have to know that much.
Instead, they’re force-feeding us these men as the genuine article and expecting us not to be able to tell the difference or not to care. In the dumpster-fire year that is 2020, that’s an awfully cynical path forward when Americans need all the optimism they can get.