Coming out and saying something unpopular cannot be nearly as hard as coming out of the closet as homosexual- but they both have their risks and rewards. In both cases, the “coming out” provides a relief of not having to pretend anymore- of just living as your authentic self and letting the chips fall where they may. That sense of relief brings tremendous empowerment. Like Tyrion “the Dwarf” Lanister advised Jon Snow “the Bastard,” in Episode 1 of Game of Thrones, if you embrace what you are then nobody can use it against you.
So here is my great moment of coming out of the progressive closet: The idea of Pete Buttigieg as President of the United States borders on ridiculous. The fact that we already have an utterly ridiculous man in the White House right now is entirely beside the point. This man, impressive intellect and kick ass fund-raiser that he is, is in no way prepared to lead the Executive Branch of our government and to be our primary representative on the world stage. Just because the Republican Party shamed itself and compromised our nation with Donald Trump does not mean that all bets are off on putting forward thoroughly credible and undeniably prepared public servants for our highest office.
In a field that started out with veteran Senators like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and former Vice-President Joe Biden, this 37 year old mayor’s profile simply doesn’t cut it no matter how sharp the knife is. Pretending that it does is a losing proposition in an election we absolutely cannot afford to lose.
First and foremost, it is time to dispense with the suggestion that the mayor of a small town is as qualified to be president as a senator because it is “executive experience.” That is like believing that a high school quarterback can function as an NFL quarterback because he has quarterbacking experience. It isn’t even close to being the same. The scale and scope differential is so great that the argument is ludicrous on its face. For that matter, I am not convinced that the mayor of a major metropolis is up for the job either. There is a lot to be said about a candidate having the experience of running for a statewide office or for having to work directly with the Executive Branch on matters of national governance. That knocks a lot of pretenders out of this Democratic field and for my money Buttigieg is one of them. Only Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame made a better prima facie case in the early going for being unprepared for the position.
So why are we all pretending that “Mayor Pete” is a credible Trump-slayer? If you have caught the nauseating coverage of him on Morning Joe you’d swear he was the second coming of JFK. And it is simply because he is gay. So I guess he’s “Gay-FK.” No doubt it is a great story for the news media. But without his homosexuality there is no way in hell this man would be inspiring all of this effusive adulation. Just four years ago, at the age of 33, he came out of the closet as a gay man in an essay posted in the South Bend Tribute- the town where he had already been elected mayor. That’s a pretty neat trick: Stay closeted all through college, all through a prestigious Rhode’s Scholar program, all through a career as a Naval Intelligence Officer and all through a successful mayoral campaign- and THEN come-out as homosexual. It is not Pete’s fault that America has been a homophobic country and that his path to success would likely have been much more difficult were he not so skilled at hiding his true identity from the world. However, it is still fair for Democratic voters to wonder how that skill at concealing important matters could impact both campaigning and governing at the highest level of the game.
It is not for any straight person to judge the journey that a gay person travels in coming out, but it IS for any voter to judge the character of a candidate putting themselves forward for leadership. And from where I sit, it looks like Mayor Pete decided to “come out” when it was extremely safe to do so- where there was as little risk of loss as possible. Imagine how bad the city of South Bend, Indiana would look if it suddenly turned on the boy-wonder once he admitted he was homosexual. Imagine how sour the local-boy-done-good stories would have turned if he were suddenly shunned for no reason other than his sexual preferences. It is very fair to say that Buttigieg took the safest and easiest possible route to come into the light.
This occurred to me while watching Mayor Pete being interviewed by the great Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. Maddow happens to be the very first openly gay person to ever have their own news program on a major cable news outlet. Maddow also happens to have been the very first openly gay person to ever be admitted as a Rhode’s Scholar. Maddow came out when she was just 18 years old- when it was hard; when it was scary; when she wasn’t holding any cards to play nor had any leverage to shield her from the loss or the cost of being gay. But she did it anyway and earned her way to where she wanted to be because she is both brave and brilliant.
That is a decidedly different path than Buttigieg took but I recognize that every person’s road is distinct. Maddow hails from California and “Mayor Pete” comes from Indiana. I can dig that the environment is different. But at the same time, Maddow and her peers cleared a path in the early 90’s so that guys like Buttigieg could walk a less perilous path in the 2000’s. Even still, he did not decide to live in truth until 2015 when he was armed with the sword of a shifting national tide and the shield of elected office. That has to be accounted for along with every other consideration.
So while I understand the progressive reflex to hail Pete Buttigieg as some kind of a political wunderkind, I advise that we slow our roll. Big time. We should note that Trump has taken very few shots in Mayor Pete’s direction despite the glowing press coverage of late. And we know that when Trump is afraid of somebody he can’t resist taking unprompted shots. Ask Vice-President Biden and Senator Warren’s campaign about that one if you doubt the record as presented.
Why is Pete being spared? Because Trump and the GOP would LOVE to run against him. Fair or unfair, wise or unwise, they see Buttigieg as a gift opponent because they are confident that they will lose ZERO 2016 votes and may even peel off a few more votes from the Democrats this time. It would be our HRC nightmare all over again because voters will never admit their “isms” and confess their phobias to pollsters or reporters. As a black man I hate to air the dirty laundry in public but if 14% of black men voted for Trump against Hillary Clinton because she is a woman, you can probably double that number if he were running against a homosexual. Don’t shoot the messenger. Black men are still homophobic as hell and if they screw up in ’20 like they did in ’16 the Democrats do not have a prayer of winning.
I confess that it is probably unwise to select our nominee based upon what our opponent would say about them. So denying Mayor Pete the nomination during this election cycle is about what he has shown he actually is and not about the distracting ugliness certain to spew out during a general election match-up. And at bottom, Pete Buttigieg has proven himself to be a man who is expertly cautious and calculating with a talent for deception. He is as optimistic as he is opportunistic. None of that makes him unfit to serve or makes him a bad candidate. But we don’t need a man like that in the upper ranks of Democratic leadership regardless of who he sleeps with. The Republicans have one of those already and every sane American reviles him. His name is Lindsey Graham.