Pete Buttigieg is an Identity Politics Dream—But Why Should He Be President?

Pete Buttigieg - Mayor of South Bend, IN/Democratic 2020 Presidential Candidate. Image source located at bottom of article.

Pete Buttigieg is an Identity Politics Dream—But Why Should He Be President?

Twitter: @mark_lykkos

The United States is in an extremely weird era right now. It seems like there is more division than ever in our nation in so many different ways. Extreme right has gone even farther right, and extreme left is going even farther left on the other end of the political binary. But, if you try to exist in the realm of the moderate, you potentially take heavy fire from both sides when people refuse to listen to each other—or actually read articles beyond headlines.

One of the hugest longtime struggles has been securing balanced diversity in our society—true equality for people of all ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders—American citizens of every background. When we celebrate diversity in a way that elevates all of us, we all win, and the nation is more united. It’s a long road, but change is happening.

America is ready for a female president, a gay president, a Latino president, etc. But we still need to ask ourselves if we believe specific individuals are ready for America.

We need greater diversity in the political sphere, but we need diverse candidates who are also strong candidates—ones who are not just likeable, but who also have detailed and realistic plans for moving the country in a better direction that benefits all. We need people who can walk their talk, and who will not leave other people in the dust.

Let’s use Mayor Pete Buttigieg as an example. As a gay man, I enjoy that we are at the point where there is an openly gay presidential candidate. It’s a great thing to feel represented by someone who lives and understands identity-related experiences. In the media Mayor Pete appears to have a great personality, a plethora of interesting skills, and is a great storyteller. He’s a Millennial who seems to “get it;” he’s a Harvard-educated military veteran with roots in America’s Rust Belt who wants to run a values-driven campaign and represent a new generation of American leadership. And everyone loves an underdog. I like him, and a large number of the LGBTQ+ community likes him, too.

That’s the thing, though. He’s a great personality, but when you begin to seek more that’s all we are to find at the moment. Where does he sit on the policies that will most likely define the 2020 presidential election? At the time of this article’s publication you will not find his stance on issues anywhere on his website (one has to search a bit more in order to find his policy views).

One thing I think is a saving grace for Pete overall is that he has been showing he is listening to public opinion and learning. Recently he came under fire for an original stance on vaccination where he said that he supports medical exemption for vaccinations but also "personal/religious exemptions if states can maintain local herd immunity and there is no public health crisis." Many took to Twitter, as is common practice now, to express disapproval of this view. Since then he has changed his stance to supporting only medical exemptions for vaccines.

I like a candidate who shows he is listening and willing to grow and change. As the campaign continues we will be able to see if Mayor Pete changes truly for the purpose of growth or if he is taking careful action for a calculated likability game. In the public sphere where perception is reality, both to the benefit and detriment to a person, to take action in this manner is to walk a tightrope.

For other hot issues such as climate change and women’s reproductive rights, Buttigieg currently has only given a broad view on them, a view that comes with a subtext of “We’ll talk later about that.” Even in his Meet Pete section of his website, his big picture vision sounds great, but it leaves you wanting more.

Returning to the larger issue, those of us in the gay community who have displayed a knee-jerk support of Mayor Buttigieg need to take a minute and ask ourselves if this is the kind of candidate we really support in anyone, not just the LGBT candidates. In comparison to a few of his Democratic competitors, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been clear for a long time where they stand on many pressing issues of the nation, and they have secured voters through those solid stances. For the most part we at least know what we’re potentially getting should we put a vote in and they win. Or at the very least we know what change we want to see, as it is reflected in where we place our vote.

It is not enough to blindly throw our support behind a candidate simply for their identity. We can and must celebrate the burgeoning diversity in our modern American political environment, but we also need to do our homework: look at the experience, the values, and see if this person is someone we truly want to get behind. We all need to take the responsibility to make sure we are giving a vote to the person who is the most qualified, regardless of identity.

Personality, background, even values can get one only so far. There is still a job that needs to be done, and before I decide I want to cast a vote for Mayor Buttigieg I want to be sure that he reflects not only personal values but also endorses the same policy change and development I want to see as an American citizen. I know he reflects many of my personal values. Many of us in the LGBTQ+ community can say the same. His presence in the political sphere right now is incredibly important, and it will be seen years from now as a highlight of American history. As an American citizen whose identity reflects multiple realms of diversity, I want our minority candidates to be strong enough to where their own diverse backgrounds are icing on the cake. If I want Mayor Buttigieg to win, I want it to be for his ideas, not for potentially being the first openly gay President.

Time will tell how he develops, and maybe it’s just early in the process. I’d like to see more from him, and if he continues to listen to the American people in the way he’s shown previously, perhaps he will blossom into a fine candidate for the progressive moderate.



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