In a Democratic presidential nomination field crowded with questionable candidates, Pete Buttigieg stands out as uniquely compromised.
The only millennial on Earth to sincerely describe themselves as a “laid-back intellectual,” Buttigieg has made it impressively far on identity alone. His website has a meme generator, for example, but no actual platform, leaving journalists to cobble one up out of tweets and interviews.
What’s emerged in the past six months is a brazenly conservative agenda.
To start, he doesn’t want single-payer health care because he can’t imagine a world without private insurance — one of the highest-profile symbols of the inhumanity of privatization. Instead, he wants “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it” to compete in the marketplace. “I don’t think we have to make it that complicated,” he says, sounding unnervingly like our current president.
The rest of his policies are likely informed by his personal life (same-sex marriage) or his military career, the latter of which dominates his worldview. If he’s for gun control, it’s only because he “didn’t carry an assault rifle around a foreign country just to come home and see them used to massacre my countrymen.” Indeed, Buttigieg carried an assault rifle as a lieutenant in a war that was murdering Brown people far away — not his own electorate.
Buttigieg’s decorated service transforms him from a bootlicker into an actual boot-on-the-ground. He abandoned his elected duties to go to Afghanistan years after it had become clear it was a phony war. Few “laid-back intellectuals” volunteer for war; fewer still come back believing in it. But Buttigieg can’t get enough: He’s afraid of Iran, blames Hamas for the devastating conditions in Gaza and thinks the U.S. has a lot to learn from how Israel “handles threats.”
In April, he took it upon himself to suggest a “national service” program for every U.S. teenager. Maybe he means clean-up-your-rivers and volunteer-to-read service work, but it’s the military that swallows up his praise, and previous presidents’ time in the war machine that he idolizes. I can already see the Republicans back home in Mississippi nodding along.
It’s clear that Buttigieg is hashing some of these ideas out in real-time, and he’s quick to reassure us that international policy can come later — what matters is his work in South Bend, Indiana, where, according to his website, he “reimagined its role in the global economy” while at the same time “emphasized building a South Bend community where every resident — regardless of race, religion, gender, or orientation — could feel safe and included.”
It’s a cheap gesture for a mayor who, immediately upon taking office, fired the city’s first and only Black police chief and brought in a sales rep for a Silicon Valley surveillance firm called ShotSpotter; a mayor who gave a State of the City address with the LimeBike logo shining behind his head, boasting about the innovation he’s brought to the city, only for LimeBike to pull out its bike service within a year; a mayor who refused to publicly support an abortion clinic; a mayor who left his job once to blow up Brown people and a second time to go glad-handing with white Iowans and Bill Maher; a mayor who forcefully gentrified half of South Bend with his “1,000 Houses in 1,000 Days” initiative, fining residents who couldn’t afford to renovate their properties until the city could legally seize and demolish it.
To be fair, few candidates have any credibility when it comes to income inequality, and virtually none of them have proven true allies to people of color. But Bernie Sanders, criticized for so constantly reminding us about his march with Martin Luther King, Jr. over 50 years ago, at least has something to point to; the best that Buttigieg can do is show off an essay he wrote in high school that dared to call Bernie Sanders “brave.”
That essay, simply titled “Bernie Sanders,” begins with a sweeping condemnation of centrism. “A new attitude has swept American politics,” wrote Buttigieg. “Candidates have discovered that it is easier to be elected by not offending anyone rather than by impressing the voters. Politicians are rushing for the center, careful not to stick their necks out on issues.”
What happened? In the Anthropocene, when political will is so valuable and there are so many all-or-nothing problems to face — capitalism, climate change, the police state — do we really have time for nationalist wet dreams like mandatory military service, or corporatist bet-hedging like “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it?”
Buttigieg’s work, personal and political, has consistently served the interests of Silicon Valley, the police and the military-industrial complex. If the only way to oust Donald Trump is with someone like Buttigieg, then the far right really has flipped the board, and the regulatory capture of any so-called opposition is already complete.
Correction: This article has been edited to clarify Buttigieg’s position in the war in Afghanistan and the time period when he deployed.