Pete Buttigieg: It’s Pronounced “Boot-edge-edge”

Photo Credit: Pete Buttigieg

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This Spring, the Berkeley Public Policy Journal will profile the (many) candidates vying to become the next President of the United States. Starting Tuesday, March 5 – a calendar year before Super Tuesday – BPPJ will feature weekly posts written by Goldman students who are taking a look at who’s running and why. We note that these posts feature author opinions that do not represent BPPJ, the Goldman School of Public Policy, or UC Berkeley.

By Mai Sistla

Pete Buttigieg (boot-edge-edge) is not quite yet a household name in the current slate of 2020 Democratic candidates, but his anonymity is unlikely to last. Since launching an exploratory committee in January 2019, he has generated quite a bit of buzz from Midwest enthusiasts, millennial policy wonks, and CNN town hall-watchers alike. His candidacy also marks several “historic firsts”: he is the first openly gay Democratic candidate, and if elected, would be the youngest-ever President at the not-very-ripe age of 39.

Buttigieg hails from the bustling metropolis of South Bend, Indiana, a city of just over 100,000  sitting next to the University of Notre Dame. After completing his undergraduate degree at the Berkeley of the East Coast — Harvard University — he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. Post-graduation, he worked at McKinsey & Company, joined the U.S. Navy, and eventually decided to return to his hometown to run for Mayor. He came out as gay during a re-election campaign in the heavily-Catholic town and served a seven-month stint in Afghanistan in the middle of his mayorship (he took a leave of absence until he returned). He has received critical acclaim for his work in South Bend and has been called “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.”

Three facts about Pete:

  • Buttigieg originally earned fame through his work as South Bend’s mayor. For decades, South Bend struggled with the closure of Studebaker automobile facilities that left the city with sky-high unemployment rates and levels of out-migration. He used a data-centric and innovation-based approach to revitalize the city, turning an old Studebaker factory into a new data center, launching a 3-1-1 initiative, and directing considerable business investment (including high-tech manufacturing) back into the city. His efforts seem to have paid off, as South Bend has experienced an economic resurgence that few could have predicted and giving hope to many industrial Midwest cities that have suffered from manufacturing declines over the past few decades.
  • Though some progressives may be suspicious of his calm and disciplined rhetoric, Buttigieg is still largely in-line with the policies of his more overtly-left primary competitors. He supports single-payer healthcare in the long-run, but believes in pushing forward a public option to Obamacare first. Like many Democratic primary candidates, he no longer accepts campaign funds from corporate PACs (though has in the past). He backs the Green New Deal and advocates for eliminating the electoral college. And, like a true Midwest Democrat, he is strongly supportive of labor unions, critical of trade deals like NAFTA, and campaigns on issues related to “the future of work”.
  • Buttigieg cites his time in Afghanistan as crucial for shaping his foreign policy views. He was an early critic of the Iraq invasion, and actually supports President’s Trump’s stance on getting the United States out of “forever wars”. In his own words, he states:

There’s this romantic idea that’s built up around war. But the pragmatic view is there are tons of people of my generation who have lost their lives, lost their marriages, or lost their health as a consequence of being sent to wars which could have been avoided.”

Buttigieg is a particularly exciting candidate because many believe he is one of few who can bridge the divide between a Democratic party interested in recapturing the Midwest’s “blue wall” while also appeasing its more progressive wing. As such, his candidacy cannot be easily defined: though he is the first gay Presidential candidate, he identifies as a devout Christian and speaks regularly of his desire to see a rise of the “religious left; though he is a Washington outsider, he has thus far refrained from utilizing the populist rhetoric of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; though he is a product of the Rust Belt, he spent formative years at Harvard, befriending students like Mark Zuckerberg and speaking the language of corporate consulting. Only time will tell whether his “middle-of-the-road”, anti-identity-politics approach can appeal to both sides of the Democratic party.

Mai Sistla is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy and an Editor in Chief of the Berkeley Public Policy Journal.

This article is an opinion piece, and the opinions expressed represent the author alone. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Berkeley Public Policy Journal, the Goldman School of Public Policy, or UC Berkeley.