The Contradictions of Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Moving from political obscurity as the gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to the media’s flavor-of-the-month Democratic presidential candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced last week that his campaign has raised over $7 million since launching his exploratory committee in January. “Mayor Pete,” as he has asked his constituents to call him, is the first of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to reveal his fundraising total since the first quarter ended on March 31.

From Frank Bruni’s New York Times op-ed, which pronounced Buttigieg “The First Gay President,” to Marie Claire magazine, which published six fawning articles in the past two weeks on the candidate, his “husband” Chasten, his recently deceased father, and even his dogs, the gay mayor from South Bend seems to have become a star. Pronounced by Marie Claire editor Katherine Igoe as the “cutest couple ever,” we are introduced to Mayor Pete and Chasten’s dog, Truman, who has his own Instagram, @firstdogtruman, where he posts regularly about peanut butter and cuddling. A real fan, Igoe has published all six of these breathless articles about Mayor Pete with titles such as “Pete Buttigieg Speaks Seven Languages”; “Chasten Glezman, Mayor Pete’s Husband, is Super Supportive”; and “Pete Buttigieg’s Husband Chasten Shares an Empowering Coming Out Message.”

Indeed, it seems that everyone loves Mayor Pete right now. The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, USA Today, New York Magazine, and the New Yorker have all published the puffiest puff pieces ever published. The only problem is that it is impossible to get beyond the puff to serious policy. Amid all the flattery and fawning, it seems that Mayor Pete doesn’t even have a policy page yet. When a VICE reporter pressed him regarding his policies, Buttigieg was evasive, claiming that

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Part of where the left and the center left have gone wrong is that we’ve been so policy-led that we haven’t been as philosophical. We like to think of ourselves as the intellectual ones. But the truth is that the right has done a better job in my lifetime of connecting up its philosophy and its values to its politics. Right now I think we need to articulate the values, lay out our philosophical commitment and then develop policies off of that. I’m working very hard not to put the cart before the horse… I think it can actually be a little bit dishonest to think you have it all figured out on day 1.

It is more likely that Mayor Pete doesn’t want us to know his policies because he wants us to love the persona he has created. Ironically, he once told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune: “I’m not skilled enough or energetic enough to craft a persona. I just have to be who I am and hope people like it.”

It seems to have worked—at least for the “conservative” New York Times columnist David Brooks. In a recent column, “Why You Love Pete Buttigieg,” Brooks suggests that Mayor Pete “deftly detaches progressive policy positions from the culture wars.” It is the same kind of fluffy flattery that Brooks used on then-candidate Barack Obama when he claimed to know that Obama would be a tremendous president because of the sharp crease in his pants.

For the pro-life community, there have been plenty of casualties of Mayor Pete’s culture wars —especially after his vindictive veto of a rezoning request by a pro-life crisis pregnancy counseling center that wanted to establish itself adjacent to an abortion clinic. When asked in an interview with CNN’s Fr. Edward Beck about his controversial vote against the pro-life crisis pregnancy center, Mayor Pete said that even though the district council members approved the rezoning, “I couldn’t sign it. I just didn’t think it was right … there was no compelling reason about why it absolutely had to be there.”

Indeed, there is a kind of mean streak in Mayor Pete’s persona. Referring often to what he derisively calls President Trump’s “porn star presidency,” Mayor Pete was especially cruel to Vice President Pence by questioning his Christian faith and Pence’s support for the President of the United States when he said:

How could somebody who—you know, his interpretation of Scripture is pretty different from mine, to begin with, but even if you buy into that, how could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency … is it that he stopped believing in Scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?

While Mayor Pete claims to be a “liturgically conservative” Christian—having left the Catholic Church for a “more welcoming” Anglican Church that accepts his marriage to a man—he has viciously attacked faithful Christians simply for being “Christian.” Fr. Beck also asked Buttigieg about late-term abortion. He said his stand on abortion is “about freedom from government. It is being aware that there are these incredibly painful, morally complex but often medically complex situations… I just don’t see how my intervention as a government official, making rules about what she can and can’t do is going to help.”

Yet Mayor Pete registered his approval of government interventions that violate the conscience protections of religious institutions and individuals when he strongly opposed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In an interview, Buttigieg claimed that the RFRA “appeared to me to be a license to harm others in the name of religion … it was to me a trashing not just of our sense of freedom and our sense of rights, but also, in some way, a trashing of religion. Like is this really the biggest thing we should be doing to accommodate religion right now—making it easier to harm people in its name?”

For faithful Catholic voters, South Bend’s young mayor is a bit like Kristofferson’s Pilgrim—a  “walking contradiction” who has created an approachable Christian persona by citing Scripture on “protecting the stranger, the prisoner and the poor.” But he refuses to protect the unborn or the conscience and free speech rights of Christian business owners. He gets his socialist leanings from his recently deceased father. Professor Joseph Buttigieg was a longtime Marxist professor at Notre Dame who served as the President of the International Gramsci Society, dedicated to politicizing every aspect of every institution of society to better facilitate a communist takeover. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mayor Pete recently claimed that “you can no longer simply kill off a line of discussion about a policy by saying that it’s socialist… I think our answer will be, is it a good idea or is it not?” But then again, in yet another contradiction, Mayor Pete spent a few years working for the business consulting firm McKinsey. Now he claims that he only worked there for its “educational value” in order to learn about “the nature of data.” He claims he left McKinsey because it “could not furnish that deep level of purpose that I craved.”

Mayor Pete describes himself as a Christian. He often tells interviewers that he wrote his Harvard thesis about a Puritan sermon by Samuel Danforth in which he excoriated the faithful for forgetting that they had come to America to make the land more like the image of heaven. Yet he favors the government telling religious people and institutions to violate their conscience in order to comply with its mandates.

It would be difficult to find a candidate with more contradictions than Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And this is only the beginning of what he hopes will be his long march to the White House.


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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