Thursday, January 30, 2020

Pete Buttigieg for the 2020 Democratic nomination

I've watched every 2020 debate and have done at least 859 Facebook posts about the 2020 election. I won't be voting until New York's relatively late primary in April, and most of the current candidates will have dropped out by then. But I've been thinking about how I would choose among the candidates who are running now, if I could vote/caucus in one of the early states.

I recently posted about how I was having trouble deciding between two candidates.

For anyone who wants Trump to lose his reelection bid, as I do, I think a reasonable choice would be either former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, or Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

(For purposes of this post, I'll assume the problems with Trump are well-known and don't need to be repeated here. I can go into detail on that in a future post about who I'm going to vote for in the general election.)

I haven't found any major policy or ideological differences between Klobuchar and Buttigieg. For instance, they both want to reform health care with a public option. They've each proposed an array of criminal justice reforms.

You could try to find some distinctions among the policies they've posted on their websites — but those promises are, at best, only rough guides to what their presidencies would be like. So there's a limit to how useful it is to go through such a wonky exercise.

If not policy, what other basis is there to pick one of the two candidates? Experience. Temperament. Tone. Character.

Klobuchar's case is a pragmatic one based on experience. Her basic pitch is: she's a Senator who knows how to work together with both parties to get things done, and that's more important than being the candidate with the most attention-getting presentation on the surface.

Buttigieg's case is based on more intangible qualities. He aims to be uplifting and Obama-like in his rhetoric. He presents himself as unflappable and level-headed. He emphasizes moral virtues like courage, which, as he never fails to remind us, he's shown in his military service and in coming out as gay when he was up for reelection in the red state of Indiana.

Common criticisms of Buttigieg are that he's young and inexperienced. President Buttigieg would be inaugurated the day after his 39th birthday, making him the youngest president ever. You could fairly worry about that. You could also argue he'd be in good company: Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest president ever, and is widely considered one of the best.

And how inexperienced is Buttigieg really? In addition to his Navy service in Afghanistan, he was a mayor of a Midwestern city with a population of about 100,000 people.

We've never had someone who went directly from mayor to president, with nothing in between at a higher level than mayor. So his experience might not be ideal. Yet he has been the chief executive of a city government for 8 years, and there's some parallel between that and being president.

Buttigieg's experiences don't come close to being president — but then, no job is true preparation for being president. Every president goes into the job with limited experience. Governors and mayors are limited in that they have to be focused on their own geographic areas — a small percentage of the country.

So, are members of Congress better because they work on national issues? Ah, but the process of a Senator's work is different from the presidential process. A Senator's world is legislation — writing it, arguing over it, voting on it. Of course, the president has to decide what legislation to sign and what to veto. But the president has to operate on so many other levels, interacting with so many different entities — Congress, government agencies that you and I haven't even heard of, foreign countries… It's almost dizzying to think about all that.

No candidate starts out fully ready. Any new president will need to learn the ropes on the job, and will make some mistakes along the way.

Klobuchar has headed one governmental organization (a prosecutor's office at the county level), but she hasn't been a chief executive — mayor, governor, head of a company, etc. Buttigieg knows what it's like to run a government, to set a whole administration's priorities.

Of course, Klobuchar has an edge in that there are many federal policy issues that would be more familiar to her. Buttigieg has gotten some education in federal issues just by being a candidate, and he seems intelligent enough to get up to speed quickly as president. Still, you could reasonably argue that even for the long term, President Klobuchar would be more effective at deal-making with Congress than President Buttigieg would be.

But speaking of working effectively with people, who would work best with their own staff? Klobuchar has reportedly mistreated some of her staffers, who've alleged that "in fits of anger, she threw things—including binders—in the direction of staff members, accidentally hitting an employee on at least one occasion." (That's a Facebook link to this Atlantic article, but going directly to the Atlantic link will count against your limited monthly articles unless you're a subscriber.)

As far as I know, Klobuchar hasn't strongly denied these reports. Her response is highly vague: “Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Do I ask too much of my staff sometimes? Yes.…”

The New York Times endorsement of Klobuchar argues that the focus on her behind-the-scenes behavior is sexist; Presidents Trump and Clinton have treated their staff harshly without catching as much flak. But if you have a strong desire to fire Trump and replace him with someone very different, then likening Klobuchar to Trump is not encouraging. Aside from that, the Times admits that she's had the #1 highest overall turnover of any Senator going back to the early 2000s, and it would be hard to blame that statistic on sexism when it's based on female and male employees working for many women and men.

The question isn't just whether President Klobuchar would be able to retain her staff, but also whether her advisors would refrain from telling her things she doesn't want to hear if they're afraid of her getting mad. Every president promises to choose advisors who will fearlessly, openly disagree with the president, but that's a hard promise to keep. A president surrounded by sycophants could be dangerously unchecked.

It's fine to put this in perspective by listing other politicians who've reportedly had issues with their behavior toward staff, but the fact is that Klobuchar is one of them. And I don't know of any reports of problems with Buttigieg's behavior or personality.

The first president in a same-sex marriage would not end homophobia any more than President Obama ended racism. But it would be a great, historic milestone for America to elect its first openly gay president, just 5 years after marriage equality was finally recognized nationwide.

It's understandable to care at least as much about other barriers that would be broken by other candidates, including Klobuchar as the first woman. Most of the presidential firsts that could happen in the future (as far as gender, race, religion, etc.) can't happen in this one election. But if the first openly gay president isn't Buttigieg, it might not be anyone else for a very long time. When I see him and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, I wonder how much longer we'd have to wait for another opportunity like this.

Buttigieg is a gifted communicator, and that's essential for the president, the country's #1 communicator. For instance, here's Buttigieg making the pitch for his "Medicare for All Who Want It" plan:

Buttigieg has also been doing better in the primary polls than Klobuchar, including in the first, second, third, and fourth states. The gap between them has recently been narrowing, but it's still significant. Given how similar their views seem to be, there's an argument that anyone like me who's trying to decide between these two candidates should strategically vote for Buttigieg, to avoid the collective-action problem of splitting the vote and inadvertently giving the nomination to a different kind of candidate.

I'm sure Buttigieg is to the left of me on some issues. But he also seems to be an agile thinker and has avoided the dogmatic tone of some of the other candidates. For example, he's made nuanced comments on what kind of capitalist he is and how he sees the current state of identity politics.

On the whole, Buttigieg has come across as an upstanding public servant who'd approach the presidency with an earnestness and humility that's been sorely lacking in recent years.

I support Pete Buttigieg as the Democratic presidential nominee of 2020.

Why not any of the other candidates?

Joe Biden is thought of as being in the same "lane" as Buttigieg and Klobuchar. They do have one important policy disagreement: Biden would merely "decriminalize" marijuana, while Buttigieg or Klobuchar go further and say we should legalize it. (Buttigieg would even decriminalize possessing cocaine!)

Beyond any specific issue, Biden has often seemed bumbling, uncertain, and out of his element in debates. And he seems unhinged when he lashes out at his constituents or tells them not to vote for him. When I see Biden struggle so much to make the case for himself in the relatively friendly environment of the Democratic primaries, I don't have confidence that he's up for the challenge of defeating the incumbent president in a good economy.

Even when you disagree with Buttigieg or Klobuchar, you'd at least admit they go into a debate knowing exactly what they want to say, and they say it well, fairly consistently. The same cannot be said of Biden. There's a lot more to be said about someone with as long and varied a record as Biden's, but I don't feel the need to give him much consideration when his basic political competence falls so short of what the nominee is going to need.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are so far left that they have little chance of beating Trump. I'm not persuaded by the Warren/Sanders view that big corporations trying to be profitable are the enemy of the people, any more than I'm convinced by Trump saying the press is the enemy of the people.

Sanders and Warren have proposed policies I find extreme and unfair, like canceling all student debt. I don't see why we should give that much money to people who are largely some of the more well-off Americans. It would be particularly unfair to give that money to them, rather than to those who made immense sacrifices day after day, year after year, because they assumed they couldn't borrow money they wouldn't be able to pay back. Something should be done about student debt, but forgiving all of it no matter what is too drastic.

Warren would defund charter schools, most of which are public schools (WSJ link), regardless of how well they've done at educating children. I don't see how that's reasonable or even progressive. The only explanation I can see is that she prioritizes unions over kids.

Warren and Sanders both want to force everyone to get their health insurance from the government. We need health-care reform because too many people are uninsured, but that doesn't make it a good idea to take most people's health insurance away from them. What they call "Medicare for All" is far more expansive than merely letting all citizens use Medicare, and would be more aptly called "Repeal and Replace Obamacare." If they actually pursued such a radical policy as president, they'd fail, and they'd squander the opportunity to reform the system in a more realistic way. (In fairness, here's a Wall Street Journal op-ed in favor of "Medicare for All.")

One of Warren's signature policies is a wealth tax. I agree with her basic goal of making the rich pay a fairer share of taxes; I'm open to various ways of making that happen, including increases to the highest federal income tax brackets. But other countries that have tried a wealth tax have abandoned it. You can see the problem with a wealth tax even if you have no sympathy for billionaires. It would be a logistical nightmare to try to make them assess and pay a tax on their wealth which is stored in so many different places — not just bank accounts but stocks, houses, cars, heirlooms, and on and on. Predictably, the government would end up taking in less revenue than promised, and that revenue shortfall would be made up for with more taxes down the road. (Counterargument: this Washington Post op-ed argues that a wealth tax has worked well in Switzerland.)

Warren promises she won't raise taxes on the middle class, yet will somehow fund all her expansive government largess, but that's implausible. That's not the way we've done it in the US; Social Security and Medicare are funded by broadly based taxes. That's also not how they do it in Europe — European welfare states work by broadly imposing high taxes on everyone, not by having steeply progressive taxes that target the super-rich. (NYT op-ed on that.) Anyway, Warren is misleading voters by claiming she won't raise taxes on the middle class while she proposes a tax on employers' health-insurance costs, which would be passed on to middle-class employees.

Perhaps the worst idea of any of the candidates is Sanders's plan to take the widely reviled local policy of rent regulation and impose it on the whole country from the top down.

I haven't seriously considered Mike Bloomberg or Deval Patrick, who entered the race so late that I don't feel like their heart is in it. I don't want to encourage last-minute campaigns. It's fair to complain that our presidential elections last too long — but given that they do, anyone who wants to win an election should go through the trouble of participating in the whole thing and at least trying to get into every debate.

Some of the others strike me as gimmicky or one-note candidates (Andrew Yang's main pitch is he'd dole out a monthly allowance to everyone; Tulsi Gabbard's favorite talking point is she's against "regime-change wars"), or have made so little impression on the public that I'd lack confidence in their ability to go up against a figure as dominant as President Donald Trump.

UPDATE: The San Diego Union-Tribune has endorsed Buttigieg for similar reasons, after narrowing down the choice to him or Klobuchar.

(Photo of Pete Buttigieg by Gary Riggs via Wikimedia Commons.)


Ken B said...

I agree he is better than Warren, Biden, or Sanders. I like him less the more I see of him. He is frankly a ridiculous choice for president. He should get elected governor, build a record,and come back in16 years.

He is also less experienced than you think. Investigate the details of his military record.

One job actually is preparation for being president: president.

Ken B said...

One point in particular sets off my bullshit alarm. You claim Buttigieg showed courage coming out in a Red state. But he actually came out in a Blue city. That takes no courage at all.
Did you commend Trump for courage in coming out as an adulterer? Surely that is more daring for a man seeking evangelical support than Buttigieg seeking SJW support.
No courage points for either I think.

jimbino said...

I like Mayor Pete. You don't need experience to do a great job. Mozart, Jesus, Zuckerberg, Gates and Wozniak, Allen, and especially Einstein and Feynman, didn't have it. They were all young and "inexperienced." Indeed, you won't get a job at Apple, Facebook or Google if you're over 26 and no longer covered under your parents' health insurance and living in their basement.

What we need is someone to wind down the welfare state, including SS, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare, FMLA and public schooling. A gummint Medicare option is a half-way measure for me and others who have always eschewed insurance of any kind, who prefer to "live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse." None of my historical heroes would ever have extolled insurance, from Socrates and Seneca to Milton Friedman. Was Tensing Norgay, or even Hillary, for that matter, fully insured?

rcocean said...

An interesting analysis. I was struck by three things:

1) You don't focus on the age issue. Bernie is 78 y/o and has a bad heart, BIden is 77. Neither of these guys will run for a 2nd term. Why would you want that in a President?

2) Buttigig wants legalized cocaine. Why would anyone want that? Its a dangerous drug, it kills people.

3) I'm not about to turn over US foreign policy (complete with nuclear weapons) to the 38 year old Mayor of South Bend Indiana. And there's no evidence that "Mayor Pete" could run the executive branch. The issues he's run into as a small city mayor are nowhere as complex as the ones he will see as President.

rcocean said...

If the mainstream media, including the WaPo/NYT applaud you for "Coming out of the closet" - I wouldn't push the "He was so brave" narrative. If he had been friendly to Pence, now that would take Bravery.

Ken B said...

Nice point about Pence and bravery.
When was the last time a major party nominee ran on “he's not Christian enough”? I think it’s never. Buttigieg broke new ground here. Not even William Jennings Bryant sunk to that. Did Strom Thurmond?

John Althouse Cohen said...

Buttigig wants legalized cocaine. Why would anyone want that? Its a dangerous drug, it kills people.

Cocaine does kill people. So do alcohol, cigarettes, and cars. But that doesn't mean any of those things should be illegal. Things get more dangerous when they're banned. The way to make something safer is to make it legal and well-regulated.

If cocaine were legal, the word "cocaine" would refer to something different than it does now.

hawkeyedjb said...

Klobuchar and Buttigeig, two lightweight mediocrities. One is a senator, whose job consists of avoiding ever taking responsibility for anything. The other is a small-town mayor, whose achievements in office are... what? It reminds me of a question once put to John Edwards, during his ill-fated campaign: What are your accomplishments in government?

Begonia said...

I like Buttigeig more than Klobuchar, but I am concerned about something that you don't touch on: Social capital.

Presidents need to have a good relationship with legislators to get stuff done. Klobuchar at least knows other people in the Senate (and presumably the House) and would therefore be able to rely on those relationships. I fear that a Buttigeig presidency would be hampered by a lack of effective relationships in the legislative branch. This is also why I think a Sanders presidency would be completely ineffective. On this point, I agree with Warren: no one likes Sanders! And therefore no one in the legislature want to work with him.

I actually agree with some of Warren's policy proposals (wealth tax), but on the whole I agree with our blogger host that eliminating student debt and charter schools are too radical. We need someone more moderate.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I agree with Warren: no one likes Sanders!

Hillary Clinton said that. She doesn't think he's "likable enough."

Anonymous said...

Holy crap was about to jump on the Pete bus, have been thinking about it because he doesn’t seem to stoke hate which has been a tactic for decades— but— he wants to legalize cocaine?

Your response doesn’t work. It’s bad logic, or argument.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Please explain the logical flaw or other flaw in my argument on drug legalization.

Anonymous said...

Cocaine=cars, sure that’s reductivism which is perhaps unfair but you opened your argument to that.

When people smoke, or drive cars is there cognitive impairment?

I wanted to vote for Pete because I am sick of hate from both sides since Vietnam or Watergate. I am also sick of the military getting disrespected by the left, to the point that the dangerous situation of a good proportion of the military feel that only the right gets their value system. It is a better situation when the military is apolitical but out of a sense of self respect this is —in many sectors hard to maintain.

I thought Pete “got” the military community, but legalizing cocaine is not worth it, also he wants to end the filibuster— how the Sam hell does the executive end the legislative branches filibuster?

Then come to find it he wants to end the electoral college. After much exposure to China— the electoral college is valuable. Why— because the United States is not the united city-states. Super cities concentrate more and more power and resources into those cities and you are asking states not cities to submit to the federal system. If the electoral college is abandoned it doesn’t reduce power to just a few states it reduces power to just a few super cities. Simple majority rule with power given to fewer and fewer locales is a recipe for leases checks and balances on corruption and abject stupidity. See the current situation the CCP now finds itself in.

The Hong Kong demonstrations illustrates quite clearly the fear of the founding fathers and the old Chinese proverb:

the emperor is far away and the mountains are high

John Althouse Cohen said...

After Buttigieg's position on hard drugs was brought up at tonight's debate, I edited my post to clarify that he'd decriminalize cocaine possession. He doesn't support fully legalizing it.