An honest, earnest man



This is the state of our politics: Last Tuesday as Pete Buttigieg was set to campaign in Storm Lake we spotted a headline from a national political blog calling the South Bend mayor a lying expletive — the worst sort of word you have heard. The writer was an African American who excoriated Buttigieg for trying to interpret as an even younger man why black students don’t succeed — always dangerous territory for a white college guy.

We have interviewed Mayor Pete three times, each at his invitation, twice in Storm Lake. Each time we come away singularly impressed with his candor, his honesty and a certain sense of humility. The headline was terribly unfair and obscured some good points, mainly that white people really can’t know what it is like to be black in America. As a gay man, Buttigieg said, he has felt like an outsider in his own country that he defended while serving in the Army. Yet, he told us, he cannot imagine the pain that people of color in our nation have endured.

Buttigieg told us that he spoke with the writer just before speaking with us.

“I believe in dialogue so I called the guy,” Buttigieg said. “We had a healthy conversation and agreed to stay in touch. I don’t know that he is a supporter. But we came to a better understanding. Twitter doesn’t do nuance well.”

The writer had largely the same account of the conversation.

The honesty claim is bogus. Buttigieg did not hide when a South Bend police officer shot a man. The mayor spoke with the victim’s mother, and accepted responsibility. Problems of race and police did not start in the poor Chicago exurbs under the Buttigieg administration, and he doesn’t deserve blame for deep institutional racism that he has been trying to address.

He has spoken of what a marvel Storm Lake and South Bend are for embracing immigrant populations. He understands the structural economic issues that hold back former Midwestern manufacturing centers that have been repurposed out to Mexico or Pakistan. South Bend is making a comeback after decades of depression. He says that immigrants are part of the answer, and that investing in communities of color can revive these places.

Reservations about Buttigieg’s experience or policies are natural. He is 37, and runs a relatively small city. He has not had nearly the same political experience of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren. But he is brilliant, considerate, open to criticism and a worthy progressive. You wouldn’t know it by the beating he was taking last week, after emerging as the front-runner. Warren suffered similar criticism for recommending free universal health care. Even though she is right, you would have thought she was a Bolshevik from the reaction.

The truth is that Pete Buttigieg is a tremendous candidate of integrity with tremendous empathy toward people of color. He did not get a fair shake last week.

We are more concerned that his prescriptions for health care reform are too timid against the challenge that sends so many to bankruptcy. He and other conservative Democrats are assailing Warren for being an unrealistic, big-spending left-winger. Warren is merely embracing the politics of FDR, Harry Truman and JFK. It illustrates how far right the party has drifted that its main candidates parrot the insurance industry’s talking points.

The reason Buttigieg is leading the hunt in Iowa is because of his earnest style and modest demeanor. He is a scholar and a patriot, and a public servant who deserves fair consideration. Too bad that these smears obscure the real issues of this debate, such as helping free people of color from generations of poverty. Pete Buttigieg would do as much as any president to help solve those problems. He reinforced it again on his visit to Storm Lake, where the crowd was enthralled with him. Why do they like him so? a New York Times reporter asked. “Because he is polite and people are really impressed with his brains,” we responded. Compare that to the Current Occupant. We know who we pick.

ALSO, CONSIDER HOW lucky we are to see all these candidates. Last week, Buena Vista University played host to Buttigieg and Biden appearances to large crowds. Earlier, Buena Vista hosted the Heartland Rural Forum with The Storm Lake Times in March for six presidential candidates. What fantastic, convenient and comfortable facilities staffed by friendly people we have. What a great way to show Storm Lake to the world.

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