South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has caught the short attention span of national media, in large part because he is the candidate who checks “intersectional” boxes. I’m a lifetime resident of South Bend, so have been observing Buttigieg’s activities more closely and for a longer time than most. He is young, gay, a critic of President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, an Ivy League academic, and hails from an area of the country Democrats desperately need to win to regain control of the White House.
Of course, MSNBC has fallen to the charms of Buttigieg. He has earned the praise of even some personalities at Fox News, as he labels himself a blue-collar Democrat from the Rust Belt. To prove just how blue-collar the polylinguist is, he rolls up his sleeves to answer softball questions from Washington Post and New York Times reporters.
Buttigieg’s schtick has been to maximize the media’s collective adoration of him, playing into those statuses that automatically earn one points along the intersectional chart. He frequently notes his dissimilarity with President Trump, although his entire career has been characterized by notching credentials within the identity politics hierarchy his party’s egalitarian sensibilities supposedly promote.
Part of his well-worn sales pitch is to bill himself a mayor in the heart of Trump Country, although anyone with access to the Internet can quickly see South Bend lies in the heart of St. Joseph County, one of the four counties in the state Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
It is true Buttigieg carried more than 80 percent of the popular vote in his 2015 re-election, but did so with about 8,000 votes total. Keep in mind this is a city with more than 100,000 residents. For a candidate who has campaigned on expanding the influence of the popular vote, he was unable to mobilize anywhere near 50 percent voter participation in his own city.
Also part of this schtick is to label himself a foil to Pence, a supposed bogeyman of LGBT people. Buttigieg announced his sexual orientation a few months before his re-election bid, just after huge public backlash to then-governor Pence’s signing of a statewide religious liberty law (that Pence quickly reversed). It was also right before the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states.
Buttigieg speaks of the public announcement of his sexual orientation as if it were politically risky. One has to be naïve or ignorant of American politics to believe there was anything but upside to be gained by this timely announcement.
The timing of his announcement allowed for a prepackaged media narrative: gay mayor wins landslide reelection in Pence’s deep-red Indiana. Predictably, the media has run with this narrative, with nary a mention that a Republican hasn’t won a mayor’s race in this city since Richard Nixon was elected president.
Buttigieg has also touted a so-called recovery for South Bend since his election to the mayor’s office. Some positive things have happened while he has been in office, but this phantom boom has largely come as the result of a few wealthy developers, plus visible Band-Aids over the city designed to boost his credentials for a national election.
For example, the city’s per-capita gross domestic product has failed to change in the past six years, according to a recent study conducted by a Ball State University economics professor. Downtown remains lined with impoverished folks (many of whom are African American) and abandoned buildings where businesses used to thrive.
That study also ironically notes that the city’s growth has come due to investments made during Pence’s Regional Cities Initiative as Indiana governor. In return, Buttigieg has attacked Pence to score political points despite once maintaining an amicable working relationship with him.
Luxury apartments are being constructed in downtown South Bend, ranging from a whopping $1,200 to nearly $2,200 monthly. Recent plans for a grocery store in the downtown have stalled despite significant city involvement.
The mayor is certainly limited in his power to curb certain statistical trends, but since he has so proudly taken credit for the positives that have happened on his watch, the warts that remain on the community should also be given attention during his run.
People are three times more likely to be a victim of violent crime in South Bend, more than two times more likely to be victim of rape, well more than three times more likely to be robbed, and well more than two times more likely to be assaulted, when compared to the national average. All of these statistics more than double the statewide rate in Indiana.
Buttigieg has largely been propped up by the national media because he checks certain boxes that make him an exciting candidate to those who care more about identity politics than political achievement. There is no indication this will translate into sound public policy as president, and thankfully we won’t have to find out.
Although he plays the role of blue-collar moderate, Buttigieg is squarely within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He recently advocated for abortion as a fundamental right at any stage of a pregnancy. He has advocated for abolishing the Electoral College. And, in the vein of old-school progressivism, he has proposed depoliticizing the Supreme Court nomination process by expanding its number of justices.
Buttigieg’s candidacy is largely a product of the American left’s continued obsession with identity politics. Substantively, the mayor has put forward a blasé policy platform (radical, which is to say in line with today’s Democrat Party). His early success satisfies a certain itch for the national media, while he runs an otherwise unimpressive campaign based on an increasingly hackneyed, misleading sales pitch.