Khan: An Empty Suit

Take a closer look at Pete Buttigieg.

by Osman Khan | 1/7/20 2:00am

What is it about Pete Buttigieg that makes him so attractive to Dartmouth students? To the untrained eye, there’s something for almost every kind of voter to hate; he’s polling at 7.7 percent nationally for a reason. Yet, 17 percent of Dartmouth students prefer him for the presidency, according to a poll published by The Dartmouth last fall.

Why is that? After all, he has neither Bernie Sanders’ nor Elizabeth Warren’s leftist policy credentials. Buttigieg fails to electrify younger voters like Sanders, progressives like Warren or moderates like Joe Biden. He performs abysmally with black voters, without whom no Democrat in recent memory has won the nomination. For the moderate voter who lionizes veteran politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Biden, and derides novices like President Donald Trump and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Buttigieg brings to bear two terms of small-town mayorship. In all of these cases, Buttigieg’s lack of a record stand out. He doesn’t have a “Medicare For All” or or a history of bipartisanship. How electable can you be when there’s nothing there to elect?

Yet, in an era defined by backlash and anti-establishment victories from Trump to AOC to Obama to the Tea Party, 17 percent of Dartmouth students are backing Pete Buttigieg, this human equivalent of a hollow briefcase, for 2020.

What is it about this highly educated, McKinsey/Ivy League alumnus just-diverse-enough politician with a glaring lack of a track record that gets the Big Green piping hot? Maybe it’s just that: the fact of Pete’s existence, the rundown of his resumé is what we like, rather than anything he’s accomplished. Our school contains a great deal of very smart, very ambitious young people. It also contains people who are, like Mayor Pete, incredibly good at checking boxes and filling out resumés.

It’s hard to break out of that mindset, and it’s one I understand well. We’re trained to value high grades, fancy jobs and gold stars. And that’s all fine, but it’s not substantial in the real world. It’s certainly not what makes a great president.

Lyndon Johnson didn’t pass the Civil Rights Act because he checked the box of growing up poor in the South; he passed it because he mastered the legislative process after 24 years in Congress. George H. W. Bush initiated and ended the invasion of Kuwait (regardless of your opinion on that escapade) during his presidency, dodging an endless war the way many others failed to—not because he was a Yale alumnus, but because he had experience with foreign policy as vice president and CIA director. Mayor Pete’s experience prepares him for exactly zero of the executive branch’s powers.

If you care about “electability,” this is not your candidate. If you care about experience, this is not your candidate. If you care about electing someone who will be radical or deliver on Obama and Trump’s broken reformist promises, there’s no reason to believe this is your candidate, because he hasn’t done anything radical in his entire political or professional life. There is a reason the media outlets and a donor class stuffed with people from schools like Dartmouth love Mayor Pete. He’s an empty suit. Don’t elect him.