Why the Mayor of South Bend, Ind. Would Make a Great President of the United States

The Democratic Party’s presidential hopefuls now number nearly 20 candidates. Some are predictable, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Some are more of the wild card variety, like Marianne Williamson (a guru friend of Oprah). We also have Beto O’Rourke, the Instagram darling, and Jay Inslee, governor. of Washington, who’s running an ambitious climate-focused campaign. Our very own former governor, John Hickenlooper, has tossed his hat into the ring as well. But there is one voice who is cutting through much of the noise and making a name for himself: Pete Buttigieg. The last name There is hard to pronounce, but Mayor Buttigieg ought to be taken seriously — he is worth your time and money. 

Illustration by Lee O’Dowd

South Bend, Indiana is home to University of Notre Dame and a community that, until recently, was pretty run-down. Buttigieg, first elected mayor in 2012, set out to stimulate development and change in the city from day one of his term. He outlined clear objectives, how they would be achieved, and then he met those goals. A rare story in American politics: to hear that a politician made something work. Not to say that his career has been spotless — who’s ever is? — but the mistakes he’s made haven’t necessarily been shameful, like the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Buttigieg has taken a methodical, meticulous approach to governing. That is something our country sorely needs, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. 

Buttigieg is young and his only government experience is two terms as the mayor of a mid-sized Midwestern city. He is no heavyweight like some senate veterans in the race. His background is a dream for any candidate — Harvard for his bachelor’s, Oxford for his master’s, a Rhodes Scholar, and Navy veteran. He’s got a handsome educational pedigree and clearly a strong sense of service to his country and community. In his public appearances, he is earnest and hopeful, promoting more unity than vitriol and more progressive policies than centrist policies. His platform is similar to that of Elizabeth Warren and other progressives, but that’s not much of a complaint. Progressive politics are what the country needs more than anything else. 

In a recent appearance in South Carolina, Buttigieg opined about the grasp that conservatism seems to have on the concept of “freedom.” Republicans, he said, have a monopoly on the idea of freedom, decrying the Democrats as taking away individual liberties one at a time, starting with burdensome big government policies. Buttigieg described this as their case for “freedom from.” 

But what about “freedom to?” Buttigieg asked. Freedom to marry who you love, freedom to live in a world not threatened by climate change, freedom to go to a movie theater or school or a house of worship without worrying about being shot? “Freedom from” seems to imply that federal power restricts the lives of Americans. “Freedom to” allows those lives to continue as individuals see fit. Freedom is Democratic, and the party has to embrace that message, he says. And he can speak to the absurdity of not being free to marry who you love. Buttigieg married his longtime partner last year, and is the first openly gay Democrat to run for president. 

Buttigeig is not necessarily my pick for our next president. It’ll be some time before anyone’s mind should be completely made up, but he stands out in a crowded field of forgettable faces — John Delaney, are you out there? He is principled, dedicated, and honest. He may not have the most experience at a high level of government or the most trailblazing platform, but he represents an important voice. To have a candidate among the Democrats who comes from a region often overlooked by “coastal elites” is essential in a race to win back the spirit of the country. 

Former president Barack Obama has described the course of history as constantly improving. There are points where we’re broken down, but we always get back up. Better is achievable, it is incremental, it is where we have to start to fix the problems facing our generation. Buttigieg wants to help make things better. Obama also once called Buttigieg the future of the Democratic Party. The future has arrived, and you’ll want to pronounce the last name right. It’s boot-edge-edge: Pete Buttigieg.  

John Feigelson

John Feigelson

John Feigelson is an avid writer, reader, climber, skier, Swedish fish eater, comic book aficionado and New York Yankees fan. He is an organismal biology and ecology major from New York City, and loves the thrill of journalism.

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