Pete Buttigieg has incurred the wrath of the wokescenti (and I may be risking the same). The knives are out. Mayor Pete's offenses, it seems, are legion. He is a lying MF (Michael Harriott) and an exploitative twerp who keeps a token black woman by his side in photo ops. He harbors "high hopes of reinforcing systemic racism." It almost goes without saying he is not gay enough, as was demonstrated two years ago when he joined other South Bend officials who stood out in the cold asking people to donate money to "the homophobic Salvation Army" to help people in need.
I don't know how seriously this stuff should be taken. Much of it is flying around the twitosphere where it is not always readily apparent what comes from the neo-Bolshevik faction of the progressive left, right-wing disinformation campaigns, puritans of the woke persuasion, and other dubious sources. Articles and columns in The New Republic, The Root, and Vice have taken aim at Buttigieg (the piece in The New Republic was subsequently retracted and deleted from the magazine's website). His rise in the polls was accompanied by a spate of articles examining his difficulties connecting with black voters and criticism by LGBTQ advocates. Some of it is honest reporting conducted in good faith by serious journalists, some of it I suspect to be bandwagon jumping. Some is sketchy or just thoughtless. And some comes from comrades on the left duty bound to take out any candidate deemed insufficiently progressive and they do not much care how low they have to stoop to do it.
Tim Miller provides a good summary and analysis of what is being thrown at the mayor. Among other things Miller points out that the token black woman happens to be Nina Smith, Buttigieg's traveling press secretary, a veteran of multiple Democratic campaigns. Miller's take on Michael Harriot's "lying MF" column is spot on:
"The Root published an article that was widely praised on the left titled 'Pete Buttigieg is a Lying MF' which was premised on an 8-year-old 'surfaced' clip in which Pete makes a common argument about how sometimes people in lower income, minority neighborhoods don’t have role models they know personally who testify to the value of education. Offering a different perspective as someone who grew up in one of those communities to shed some light on blind spots that Mayor Pete had would be one thing and something Pete clearly welcomes as evidenced by his return call to the author. Using it as the launching point for calling him a 'lying motherfucker' in a disdain-soaked essay is just a wee bit out there."
"Just a wee bit out there" is just a wee bit of understatement.
John McWhorter devotes a column in The Atlantic to a refutation of Harriott. Allow me to cherry-pick salient points:
"The nut of the issue is that there are other reasons inner-city kids fail to graduate or go to college, such as funding disparities, unequal curriculum resources, and violence.
"All of those things are real. Unreal, however, is Harriot’s leap of logic: that in not mentioning those things, Buttigieg was inherently denying their existence, and that in noting the lack of role models, he was blaming black people for their own problems…
"Harriot is assuming that Buttigieg must have meant that the lack of role models is due simply to some pathology among black people, when actually, almost anyone who publicly talks of role models in this way intends, via implication, that the lack of role models is due to larger societal factors…
"Yesterday, Buttigieg was large enough to actually telephone Harriot, upon which they had what The Root billed as a 'productive' conversation. However, this verdict is based on the assumption that Buttigieg had something to apologize for and needed to be 'schooled' on how structural racism works. That is based on a kabuki version of race relations, all about striking poses. Buttigieg has made it glaringly obvious in countless ways that he understands structural racism. He also understands the rituals of our current race debate, amid which, as a candidate for president, it will serve him well to seek out Harriot to 'listen' and 'acknowledge.'"
The Miller and McWhorter pieces are both worth reading in their entirety.
There are legitimate issues and questions about Buttigieg's experience, background, and policies arising from his tenure as mayor of Indiana's seventh-largest city, his work for McKinsey and Company, a firm with a "notorious reputation" and "elastic ethics" (Caroline Fraser), and his enthusiasm for charter schools and the extent of his support for public schools (Diane Ravitch), for starters. Well, you might say, and I would agree, all the candidates have issues and questions for which they should be held to account. Fair enough.
As distasteful as the misrepresentations, mudslinging, and malicious insinuations are, they are part of the process, what candidates sign up for when they throw their hats into the ring. We will observe closely how Mayor Pete comports himself as he responds to legitimate, hard questions posed in good faith and to unsavory and unscrupulous attacks alike because we know the attacks are only a foretaste of the garbage Trump and his henchmen will throw at the Democratic nominee.
Pete Buttigieg is not my first choice, nor my second, among the Democratic presidential candidates. Amy Klobuchar just does not seem to be gaining any traction. Elizabeth Warren is stumbling under the weight of that Medicare for All anchor she strapped around her own neck and is unable to dislodge. That and her readiness to promise just about everything to just about everybody who is not a billionaire.
In these circumstances I find myself drawn more and more to the improbable duo Red Bernie and Mayor Pete. Buttigieg is intelligent, thoughtful, well-spoken, if I am permitted to use that term. He strikes me as someone capable of reflection and growth, a decent person who tries to learn from missteps instead of doubling down on them. He is also likable, no small thing, and I believe capable of connecting with voters we need if we are to defeat Trump next year.
As for Bernie Sanders, can he overcome the smears and fearmongering about socialism and communism sure to come his way if he is the candidate? I do not have a good answer for this one. My hope lies in his authenticity. He is straightforward about who he is, what he stands for, and what he will fight for. There is nothing disingenuous about him. I agree with him on much in principle while unable to see any way he can get his agenda passed in Congress. I take hope from his record, which shows that he is more willing than his rhetoric might suggest to accept less than he wants, I believe the technical term for that is compromise, instead of taking his ball and going home when he cannot get it all.
I close with the mantra many of us share. I will support the Democratic candidate whoever that may be. I will even support Michael Bloomberg if he manages to buy the nomination, and I will urge others to support him, because of the alternative and despite the vile taste that will go with that support.
Joe Biden is a decent and honorable man with a distinguished record whose campaign thus far has showcased more stumbles than highlights, with little prospect for anything better in the weeks and months ahead. I will back him and hope for the best if he is the nominee. Maybe he will surprise me.
I will be delighted if Amy Klobuchar breaks through and if Elizabeth Warren regains her footing. I will have no reservation about getting behind Sanders or Buttigieg if they don't.
Keep the faith.
References and Related Reading
Caroline Fraser, The Road Taken, The New York Review of Books, July 18, 2019 (full article available online to subscribers only)
Michael Harriott, Pete Buttigieg Is a Lying MF, The Root, November 25, 2019
Rebecca Klar, LGBTQ advocates slam Buttigieg for past history with Salvation Army, December 4, 2019
John McWhorter, The Woke Attack on Pete Buttigieg, The Atlantic, November 27, 2019
Tim Miller, The Problematic Pete Wars: The very online left is very annoyed with Mayor Pete, The Bulwark, December 6, 2019
Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch on Pete Buttigieg’s Troubled Education Record, Jacobin, November 18, 2019
Lionel Shriver, Lefty Lingo, Harper's Magazine, December 6, 2019