I probably should not write this entry, but I realized that (a) repressing it is not working, and (b) if I am going to alienate my entire readership* then I might as well do it in one blow. So here goes.
In this corner of the blogosphere, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, otherwise known as “Mayor Pete”. Many people have been posting inspirational video interviews and praising him as a hopeful candidate. People went nuts when he formally announced his presidency.
But along with the Mayor Pete wave comes the Mayor Pete backlash, and not every corner of the Internet is as enthusiastic about Buttigieg as this corner is. Another place I lurk heavily supports Elizabeth Warren, and somewhere in there I ran across a critique of Mayor Pete — in particular a critique of his character and his campaign, based upon the pre-presidential-run book he wrote. (Apparently one of the qualifications for running for President in the United States of America is authoring (or “authoring”) an inspirational autobiography.) In order to protect your innocent enthusiasm I won’t link the piece here. Instead I’ll put a link at the end of this screed, long after you have stopped reading.
I wish I could say that I stayed strong after reading this attack piece, but you know me better than that. I was swayed. The piece throws a lot of criticisms at the wall — many from a far left perspective — but some of them stick, and I have been swayed. I have suspicions now. In particular, I am wary that once again we are being manipulated, and that once again we are going to be disappointed.
I want to believe, y’know? I am tired of being cynical and hopeless about politics. I admire the faith that the system isn’t rigged, that we can somehow elect leaders who will govern with wisdom and won’t be in the pockets of our lobbyists. I read all of you celebrating and wish I could join the party. But I wish I could be Christian, too, and that isn’t happening either.
I am also upset that any time I see something hopeful, along comes a wave of criticism to sow the seeds of doubt. This is a deliberate strategy used by political opponents to foster indecision and inaction — and it totally works on me. But once you see the patterns they cannot be unseen. So here are a few words of caution about Mayor Pete. Some of these ideas are taken from the attack piece, and some of them have come to mind since.
As most of you know, I have exactly no business writing about any of this. I don’t get to choose the Democratic nominee for president any more than you do — less, even, given that I am Lurkistani, not American. However, we do not have a president in Lurkistan, so we adopt yours, and follow American politics closely. Also many of the blogs I read come from the Greatest Country on Earth ™, so I get a big dose of American politics there too. I may not have qualifications, but I have opinions.
Blowing the Filter Bubble
Why am I seeing so much about Mayor Pete? Should I believe that this is a grassroots movement that sprung up from nowhere? I am getting my Mayor Pete fix from your blogs. What are your sources? Are you searching them out yourself? Or are they being curated for you?
In this world of “personalized recommendations” I do not trust that there really is a grassroots. Somebody seeds these videos that go viral. It is in somebody’s interest to get these videos to our eyeballs. Who is engineering this? What do they have to gain from it? Are their interests in alignment with our own?
Although it does not pertain to this situation directly, there is a good (if slimy) book that illustrates how easily we are manipulated, called Trust Me I’m Lying, by Ryan Holiday. (And how did I come across this book, hrm?) The premise of the book is that news organizations are desperate for stories, so big media companies republish stories from smaller ones. But the smaller ones are also hungry, so the farther down you go the easier it is to feed the story you want to a small news source. If the story is juicy enough, it gets fed up the media chain until your friends of friends see it, who post it on their blog or Twitstream or wall, and then it hits our eyeballs.
Nobody tries to get to our eyeballs more than political campaigns. Mayor Pete seemed to come out of nowhere. According to his mythology, one day he was minding his business as the mayor of South Bend and the next he was getting booked on late night talk shows. I don’t think that is an accident. Given that he has both run for DNC chair and written the mandatory presidential autobiography, I also am disinclined to believe the mythology.
So why are we hearing about Mayor Pete? Why are we talking about him and not, say, Wayne Messam, who is also a mayor, also young, also inspirational? Why are we not talking about Julián Castro, who was also a mayor, is also young, and served with Barack Obama? Is this a meritocracy — the superiority of Mayor Pete bubbling to the top of our consciousnesses? Or is something else going on here?
As a somewhat-relevant sidenote, why do we feel that Kamala Harris is scary and shrill? Why do we feel that Bernie Sanders is too old now? He certainly is not cool the way he was in 2016. Why did we feel as if we needed to hold our noses and vote for Hillary instead of supporting her enthusiastically? There are a lot of narratives floating around, and it is surprising how quickly they come to mind. Where do these impressions come from? Are we doing the research ourselves and drawing our own conclusions? Or are they being fed to us?
I have read some people supporting Mayor Pete with statements like “all the other candidates made me feel uneasy, but Mayor Pete really speaks to me.” I am glad the rest of you have been getting comprehensive information about the Democratic nominees. I haven’t. In fact, I did not know who most of the other nominees were before researching this blog post, and I probably can’t name half of them now.
This is a real problem. In fact, it is multiple real problems. Let’s for the moment assume that there are not frontrunner candidates and also-rans, and let’s also assume it was somehow our job to identify the best candidate to support in a nomination. You don’t go about that by being fed a steady stream of media about one candidate in particular. You do that by comparing candidates, which pretty much no politician wants you to do.
How does one actually compare candidates? Debates can work, although debates are highly orchestrated. In municipal politics questionnaires can sometimes be useful. I spent a little bit of time looking for some presidential candidate comparisons, and ran into a New York Times questionnaire about climate change. If you have any articles left (or know how to get around the NYT article limits) then it might be worth a look. The last question of the questionnaire is about nuclear power — a contentious issue on the left. The responses to that question are especially telling, but overall one gets a clearer sense of which candidates have insights into these topics, which are willing to say whatever they think we want to hear, and which are not willing to address certain questions at all. I feel Mayor Pete’s responses to many of these questions are illuminating.
How many side-by-side comparisons of these candidates have you done? If you have not done many, are you still willing to declare fealty to a particular candidate?
Now let’s talk about frontrunners, because here in the real world there really is no point in comparing all of the 17 (or 18? or more? Wikipedia says over 200?) candidates as if they all have an equal chance of the nomination. Some of the candidates are well-entrenched and some are upstarts like Mayor Pete. For a while those candidates will be in the running and we will all support our favorites and we will fight among each other, because there is nothing more a Democrat likes more than infighting. And then somebody (hint: probably somebody with money, and with entrenched support within the Democratic Party) will win. Then what? Are you prepared to hold your nose and vote for that candidate?
Do we think that Mayor Pete could surge in popularity the way Bernie did in 2016? If so, do you think he would be the establishment-supported candidate? It looks as if superdelegates are less of a thing but I am sure that the powers that be in the Democratic Party will find other ways to ensure the party doesn’t get too democratic. I do not have an answer as to whether Mayor Pete could be the establishment candidate, and that in itself is disconcerting.
The Gay Thing
This is a blog about sexual perversion, so let’s talk about the gay thing. In particular, let’s talk about the familiar refrain, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!”
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Mayor Pete is allowed to live his life however he sees fit. He is not obligated to be a sex radical. If he chose to wait until age 33 to come out as gay then who am I to criticize him? Maybe these tearjerking stories about how he was in denial about himself for so many years are actually true. I am not one of those who demands that Mayor Pete be more of a sex radical.
However, that does not let him off the hook and it does not let us off the hook.
When you think to yourself, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!” do you actually mean it? Pretend that Pete Buttigieg was a nice, white, cisgendered man who went to a good university, served in the military and was married to a nice woman named Chastity who had a kickass Twitter account. Look deep in your heart. Would you be as enthusiastic about Mayor Pete if he was another straight white charismatic politician like Tim Ryan? Really? Okay then.
Even though Mayor Pete’s sexuality is not biasing your perception of him in any way, consider how much he is playing it up during this campaign. Watch that video where he declares his nomination again. He gushes about his husband and about marriage equality a lot. Do you think that is an accident? Do you think his heartfelt story about coming out during a mayoral campaign because he didn’t want to be single anymore was an accident? Hint: he is cultivating an image, and he is doing so deliberately. Do you ever notice how he relates his brave story about coming out during a mayoral campaign and receiving a majority of the vote, but does not acknowledge South Bend as a university town? Sure, that university is a Catholic institution, but even Catholic university towns skew liberal — especially in 2011. Instead his narrative is being a poor gay mayor in an Indiana city that was once built on heavy industries that left town, as if he was in the Trumpiest of Trump Country. None of this is an accident.
How is a white, male, cisgendered, highly-educated, relatively wealthy politician supposed to stand out in a world where black people and even women are allowed to run for President? Would it not be convenient for the aforementioned white male to have some other characteristic that would allow him to stand out?
And isn’t it fortunate that Mayor Pete is just gay enough to make liberals feel good about themselves while being so inoffensive that he doesn’t scare away those who are more socially conservative? Again, I am not criticizing Mayor Pete’s sexual choices, but aren’t they convenient? Presumably he was completely celibate before deciding to come out as gay and look for a husband. Mayor Pete never gets edgier about his sexuality than joking about the app he used to find said husband. And is it not darling (and suspiciously heteronormative) that Chasten adopted Buttigieg’s last name? Mayor Pete really is the living embodiment of the notion that gay people are exactly like straight people except for the people they choose to love.
I do not know the extent to which Mayor Pete organized his life such that his gayness would be so picture-perfect. But I highly suspect that he has cultivated this image of being gay and inoffensive very, very carefully. And honestly, I am tired of gayness being used as political leverage.
Look. I am glad that gays are cool now. It is much better for politicians to be using their gayness as an asset, as opposed to the bad old days when Anita Bryant said we should not be allowed to teach in schools, or Mike Huckabee wondered why we were not quarantined to prevent spreading AIDS to straight people, or the Mormon and Catholic churches insisted that we were intent on destroying the institution of marriage**. It is nice that gay people are the heroes and not the villains now, but homosexuality is still being used for political ends.
Claiming that Mayor Pete is leveraging his sexual identity for political gain is not the same as claiming he should remain in the closet, or that he should never mention his sexuality, or whatever. It is possible to simultaneously be a gay politician and not make it a central part of your narrative, if you so choose.
I have one more thing to say about homosexuality and politics: it is our responsibility as gay people to avoid giving politicians a free pass because they are gay. Just because a politician is gay does not mean that said politician will be effective. Debra recently elected a leader who is rumoured to be gay, but that does not imply that I agree with anything that leader stands for or does. Although not a politician directly, lawyer Roy Cohn was a gay political figure who was heavily involved in the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts. Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was openly gay and openly anti-Muslim. All too often those of us (gay and straight) who think of ourselves as enlightened are willing to give politicians a pass based on their homosexuality, and I do not feel this is justified.
What is up with our fixation on electing people who have special stories? Why are we so opposed to nominees for President of the United States having relevant qualifications for the job?
I am not diminishing the importance of city mayors. For the most part, I feel that running a city (even a relatively small city like South Bend) is a complicated matter, and I think many mayors do an admirable job. However, municipal politics is different than state or federal politics, and for some reason we think it is okay that Mayor Pete has no legislative experience at the federal level.
I mean, President of the United States seems like a pretty difficult job too, but I think it is difficult in different ways than being mayor of a small city. Should we not have some expectations that the presidential nominees have some knowledge of how federal (or at least state) politics work?
Buttigieg is not, of course, alone in this. We all know what happened in 2016, and the qualifications for office that presidential nominee possessed. But (and here’s where I lose the rest of my readership, if I have any left) it is not as if Barack Obama was well-qualified to be president either. His legislative experience consisted of half a term as a Senator, which is something but not a lot. Frankly, I feel that Obama’s lack of experience as a federal politician showed, and that it hurt him.
I am not claiming that one needs to be Vice-President of the United States in order to be qualified for President (sorry, Joe Biden). I am not claiming you need to be in your 60s or 70s. But is it so unreasonable to expect a term or two in the Senate or House of Representatives? Being a state governor also seems like a good qualification. Is serving in Afghanistan and then becoming mayor of a small city for eight years enough? Even if you want to smash/reform the system, surely you should understand how the system works?
Speaking of Trump, why are we all so certain he is going to lose in 2020? Most of you are too young to remember this, but way back in 2004 we had an unpopular president named George W. Bush, and a decently qualified candidate in John Kerry. There was no way that Kerry could have lost the election against such an unpopular incumbent, right?.
There is no chance you read this far. I didn’t read this far. I furiously unsubscribed from this blog several sections ago.
Look. I hope you’re right. It would be fantastic if Mayor Pete was the real deal, and won the nomination, and somehow beat Trump in 2020, and was the smart, well-spoken president who is going to solve all our problems. Oh wait. Where have we heard that before? One of the reasons we all fell in love with Obama was because he was a blank slate. We all projected our hopes and wishes for the presidency onto him, and — surprise! — he turned out not to meet those expectations. In a similar way, I feel we are projecting our hopes onto Mayor Pete. I worry we are being fooled again. So hate me if you want (yes, I know you already do), and hold on to your enthusiasm and hope, but also do your homework. Please don’t be fooled again?
If after reading these 3000 words you want to read thousands more, here is a link to that attack piece that I mentioned at the top: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/03/all-about-pete.
- I guess JP is British, so would not be as repulsed by this entry as the rest of you. But if I throw in some grudging respect for the Extinction Rebellion movement then he should be covered too. I’ll alienate Kato by forgetting that Australia exists.
** I’m still working on that last one.