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Pete Buttigieg, Candidate for the (White) People

By Riya Sood, Contributing Opinion Writer
Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

There is a man running for president who speaks seven languages, including Norwegian, Italian, and French. He was the valedictorian of his high school class before graduating from Harvard College magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in History and Literature. He then won a Rhodes Scholarship and received first class honors in philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford University. He was a McKinsey consultant for three years before transitioning to public service and politics.

Pete P.M. Buttigieg ’04 might be the most relatable candidate for president!

Obviously, none of these accomplishments are a bad thing. However, considering 75 percent of Americans only know one language and the average American is expected to have only 13 years of schooling, he is not exactly relatable. There is a reason he chooses to go by “Mayor Pete” and emphasize his Midwestern background as opposed to his elite education.

Buttigieg, though, is dangerously effective at making the American public fall in love with him. We hear him speak Norwegian and we swoon a little. He makes a joke about how tasty Chick-fil-A is and we want to be the ones laughing with him. He responds to a question with a perfectly crafted yet improvised comment and our eyes become hearts.

We seem to have forgotten that he is only 37 years old. That he is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city with a population of 100,000 — making it smaller than the extremely famous city of Evansville, Indiana and only a few thousand people larger than Carmel, Indiana. This is obviously the experience we should seek in our presidential candidate!

Let’s just take a look at all of the people of color and women who have similar levels of experience and serious presidential runs! There seems to be more than a grain of truth to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s claims that if there were other small-town mayoral candidates of different demographic backgrounds, they would not necessarily attain the same level of praise.

Because we Americans are afraid in some ways. We followed up President Barack Obama with President Donald Trump, who beat out Hillary Clinton. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people responded by saying that it had been too soon for a black president and that the country was not ready for a female president either.

Regardless of the truth of either statement, can we at least acknowledge that this does not mean that Democrats should run into the arms of our white male candidates, such as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, so that the party can seem palatable and accessible to average Americans? We are a majority female country and are projected to become a majority-minority country in the next 20 to 30 years. Do these two facts alone not imply that we should run away from the past instead of towards it?

And it is clear that Pete Buttigieg is not the candidate for people of color. He has basically nonexistent support from black voters. And it is extremely unlikely that this is due to homophobia on the part of black voters, as some articles have recently suggested.

Of course it seems pretty shocking that a white, male, Midwestern candidate might struggle with issues relating to people of color! It’s not as though people of color could dislike Buttigieg because his track record on civil rights is poor and because he doesn’t have strong stances and clear plans related to the issues that affect them most.

Yet somehow, we have to acknowledge that maybe Buttigieg is not the best candidate for everyone?! He is the mayor of a city that is 40 percent Black and Latinx, yet his police force is 90 percent white. One of the first things he did while in office was to fire South Bend’s first black police chief. His own constituents have been unsatisfied with his responses to issues of police misconduct in South Bend. The leadership for his presidential campaign team is known for being undiverse. And the wonderful list of reasons why people of color are falling over themselves to support Mayor Pete go on and on.

He says he supports ideas raised by people of color. His new Douglass Plan, which calls for increased funding for historically black universities (something Kamala Harris, the only candidate who graduated from an HBCU, has already supported), and reducing mass incarceration (something Cory Booker has been championing for years), is clearly drawing on original thoughts and personal experience rather than echoing the ideas of the other candidates who actually know these struggles. Why would one want to vote for an actual person of color when instead one can vote for an eloquent white man who repackages their ideas?

With his charisma, it’s clear that he would be the president who will end the black school-to-prison pipeline. The one who will help stop gun violence. The one who will end police brutality. Does it really matter who came up with the ideas as long as he’s the one who says them eloquently?

Well, even if Mayor Pete won’t be able to effectively convince voters of color that he will improve their lives, at least he will be able to explain in Norwegian.

Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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