It is the year of our Lord 2023, and I’ve finally read the most obsequious feature story that has ever been written about a politician in a major publication.
Wired magazine was once home to thought-provoking writing on technology and entrepreneurship. Today, it pumps out slabs of conventional left-of-center technocratic wisdom. But Virginia Heffernan’s depiction of Pete Buttigieg’s glorious mind is so much more. It is a masterpiece.
The magic begins with the headline and subheadline, and then refuses to let up:
Pete Buttigieg Loves God, Beer, and His Electric Mustang
Sure, the US secretary of transportation has thoughts on building bridges. But infrastructure occupies just a sliver of his voluminous mind.
Indeed, Heffernan informs us, Buttigieg is compelled to hold much of his intellectual powers “in reserve” because a “cabinet job requires only a modest portion of his cognitive powers.”
Even as he discusses railroads and airlines, down to the pointillist data that is his current stock-in-trade, the US secretary of transportation comes off like a Mensa black card holder who might have a secret Go habit or a three-second Rubik’s Cube solution or a knack for supplying, off the top of his head, the day of the week for a random date in 1404, along with a non-condescending history of the Julian and Gregorian calendars.
But it’s when this hypersycophantic prose collides with Mayor Pete’s real-world, tedious, cliché-ridden tautologies that the piece really springs to life.
“Fortunately,” writes Heffernan, Harvard, PhD. “he was willing to devote yet another apse in his cathedral mind to making his ideas about three mighty themes—neoliberalism, masculinity, and Christianity—intelligible to me.”
And, in fairness, Heferman does throw around lots of -isms in an effort to sound smart—“neoliberalism,” “paleoliberalism,” “Episcopalianism,” oh my. But it’s worth the wait as Buttigieg finally unsheathes his preternatural cerebral powers to explain the failures of neoliberalism:
“We have experienced the end of the end of history. We have certainly experienced the limitations of the consensus.”
To mere mortals, that probably sounds like a bunch of inane D.C. poli-speak gibberish. And, yes, the rest of the answer is verbatim to what any Ivy-league sophomore interning at the Brookings Institution would say. But is your mind a Cathedral? That’s what I thought.
When Heffernan asks our hero whether “Republicans really want to be dragged into a bigger far-right project, including the renunciation of democracy, modernity, civil rights, human rights,” the greatest mind of our generation — perhaps any — treats readers to his fresh, incisive perspective. The “two greatest pillars of the mainstream right” destroying “democracy, modernity, civil rights, human rights,” says Mayor Pete, are GOP’s efforts to limit abortion and “lower taxes for the wealthy.”
I bet you dummies are pretty mad you never thought of that, right? But, to top it off, Mayor Pete drops these words on us:
“They’re now the dog that caught the car. And, to switch metaphors, they rode a tiger to get there. They made a lot of distasteful bargains in order to get there.”
Who can argue? The man who once told us that the “shape of our democracy is the issue that affects every other issue,” also illuminates our understanding Christianity. “When you’re making public policy,” the political left’s go-to man on faith notes, “you’re often asking yourself, ‘How does this choice help people who would have the least going for them?’” Help the poor? Finally, a new concept for Christians to ponder!
Naturally, Buttigieg and Heffernan also take on the “masculinist and antidemocratic preoccupations” of the right. “The politicization of masculinity is code for Nothing in your life has to change. The problem is, of course, lots of things have to change,” Buttigieg explains. “Either because there was something wrong with the old way—or because, even as the old way seemed perfectly fine, it’s not an option.”
Now, perhaps some of you are thinking that Buttigieg might have kept slightly too much of that intellectual capacity “in reserve.” I say it’s all perfect.