It’s only May 2019 and the Democratic Party invisible primaries for the 2020 United States presidential election are well under way. Despite the fact that the official primaries — where Americans in each state vote to select their preferred presidential candidate — are not due to start until February next year, over a dozen Democrats have already thrown their hats into the ring. This makes for a crowded race, with presidential hopefuls jostling for funding, popularity and endorsements, as much as the ensuing publicity. One such presidential candidate is Pete Buttigieg.
Pete Buttigieg is a 37-year-old openly gay veteran of the Afghanistan war and Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana since 2012. As mayor of a relatively small Midwestern city, Buttigieg may appear to be an unlikely contender. He lacks political experience compared to many of his rivals, most of whom are either US representatives, state governors or senators. However, despite his relative outsider status, Pete Buttigieg has recently managed to capture the national media limelight, due to a surge in popularity. This comes as public support and media coverage for New Democrat and militant neoliberal Beto O’Rourke — a representative for Texas who literally broke party lines to vote for Republican bills aimed at weakening Wall Street regulations, undermining Obamacare provisions and promoting the fossil fuel industry — is waning.
Many opinion polls now mark Pete Buttigieg at third place, behind only former Vice President Joe Biden and seasoned ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders. Moreover, perhaps even more importantly given the overriding importance of money in American politics, it is promising for Buttigieg that he managed to secure $7million of funding in the first quarter (January 1st – March 31st), putting him fourth place in this regard. It may be too early for official endorsements, but billionaire and top Democratic Party donor Tom Steyer has already come out in support for Buttigieg, calling him the ‘real deal’.
So far so good, right? Wrong. Because Pete Buttigieg lacks one essential component to his campaign; policies. Up to now, Buttigieg has conversed mainly in the language of lofty ideals, asserting support for freedom, security and democracy, whilst ignoring the practicalities of policy formulation. All his talk of ‘American values’ is simply PR hot air, masking the fact that he holds few established political positions. Unlike most other candidates, he has no section for ‘Issues’ on his campaign website, instead all attention is focused on ‘Meet Pete’. Support for Buttigieg arises not from voters sharing his ideology but from his oration skills, charisma — and let’s not lie here, being a #woke, white male millennial. But being an eloquent speaker doesn’t necessarily make you a good president. American elections feel more like a personality contest than politics, but it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be this way. You only need to look as far as other Democratic candidates to see that. For instance, progressive Elizabeth Warren has come up with a myriad of policy proposals which are publicly displayed on her website, including but by no means limited to ‘Cancellation of Student Loan Debt and Universal Free Public College’, a ‘Real Corporate Profits Tax’ and ‘The Ultra-Millionaire Tax’ — all of which are detailed and costed.
Moreover, despite self-labelling as a ‘progressive’, Pete Buttigieg holds few progressive credentials. He has failed to unequivocally support Medicare for All (proposals for single-payer government-funded healthcare in the US, like our own NHS). As an alternative, Buttigieg has declared support for ‘Medicare for all who want it’, some kind of ‘public option to buy in’, as a first step towards eventually achieving Medicare for All. Admittedly, this is a better stance than that of fellow party establishment darling Beto O’Rourke, who supports a proposal called ‘Medicare for America’ which is quite frankly not Medicare, as it would not be free at point of use. Yet there are plenty of Democratic candidates who do support Medicare for All outright — Bernie Sanders, yes, but also others such as Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. A clear majority of Democratic voters are also in favour, but even more tellingly a Kaiser Family Foundation poll this year concluded that 56 per cent of Americans support Medicare for All.
Pete Buttigieg has also roundly rejected free college tuition, again putting him at odds with actual progressives in the Democratic Party primaries like Bernie and Elizabeth, as well as the vast majority (79 per cent) of registered Democrats. This refusal to accept education as a fundamental human right chimes with Buttigieg’s belief in ‘democratic capitalism’ which seems to basically just be a new euphemism for neoliberalism. Unsurprisingly, Buttigieg is hailed for this tepid centrism by liberal media as a moderate saviour come down from South Bend, Indiana to save the soul of the Democratic Party from the scary ‘socialist’ bogeymen.
Indeed, the Democratic Party establishment has been all too keen to employ Buttigieg’s services against their number one enemy — not Donald Trump, but Bernie Sanders. Buttigieg was invited to a series of formal dinners in New York and Washington DC, hosted by billionaire party donor Bernard Schwartz in which party establishment figures such as speaker Nancy Pelosi plotted how to stop Bernie from winning the Democratic nomination. Many argue that this is simply a matter of pragmatism: surely a staunchly left-wing candidate like Bernie Sanders wouldn’t be able to win the United States presidential election? This thinking is misguided. The election cannot logistically be won just by appealing to the middle ground and appeasing centrist Republican voters simply because 89 per cent of registered Republicans approve of Donald Trump. A key reason why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 race was that Trump flipped four previously Democrat rust belt states: Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. An anti-establishment, somewhat protectionist and pro-workers’ rights candidate like Bernie would surely have fared better in these industrial heartlands than a neoliberal establishment figure like Hillary, who represented the very status quo which voters were lashing out against; and this won’t be any different in 2020. Unfortunately — just like Beto before him — Pete Buttigieg is nothing but a neoliberal charlatan.