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How Buttigeg's strong results in Iowa revealed his biggest weakness How Buttigeg's strong results in Iowa revealed his biggest weakness
by George Cassidy Payne
2020-02-12 09:37:01
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“Iowa you shocked the nation!”

Due to massive incompetence and a catastrophic smart phone app glitch, as of this writing on Friday, February 7, there is still not a definitive winner from the Iowa caucuses. (With 99% reporting, Bernie Sanders is at 26.1% with 12 delegates and Buttigeg is at 26.2% with 13 delegates). 

Nevertheless, in front of hundreds of raucous supporters and a national television audience, in front of a sign with his name in bold, blue lettering against a bright yellow background- looking not unlike the uniform of a high school cheerleader- he did something that Democrats have vehemently accused Donald Trump of doing several times over: declaring victory before the official results had been tallied, thus sewing discord into the democratic process.  

pet01_400Watching Buttigeg take advantage of the confusion in Iowa revealed aspects of the candidate’s personality that he has worked diligently to conceal or reinvent: namely, his arrogance, hypocrisy, and self-entitlement. It was also difficult to stomach Buttigeg’s blatant use of racial tokenism in his “victory” performance. Always hypersensitive about his image and the way he presents on television, it is simply not believable to assume that he had no idea who was standing directly behind him in full view of the TV cameras. In the first row, there were five African-American women with an age range of 20-50. In the second row, there were five white women and one woman of color (same age range with one woman probably in her 70s). Everyone knows that he has an optics problem when it comes to being a candidate who can truly unite the party and reinvigorate the Obama coalition. This is not the way to fix that problem. People of color are not symbols. People of color are not pawns to be moved around a political chessboard. People of color do not stand in for a candidate’s personal agenda. That type of stunt treats their bodies as representations and is painfully belittling. Not to mention, they see through it. According to reporting in the Washington Post, he stands at 2% among Democratic black voters nationally.

What matters far more than moving people of color around on a stage, is how he is respecting their voices. The New York Times reported that “In interviews, current and former staff members of color said they believed that senior Buttigieg officials didn’t listen to their concerns and ideas about the campaign. One said there was a daily “emotional weight” on people of color who felt they were employed in order to help the campaign meet its ambitious diversity targets. Some Hispanic employees said managers asked them to translate text even if they didn’t speak Spanish, making them feel disrespected.”

The same article pointed out that “Early in the campaign, he faced questions as mayor about his decision in 2012 to fire Daryl Boykins, South Bend’s first black police chief. Then, in June, the fatal shooting of a black resident by a white police officer in South Bend presented perhaps the biggest crisis of his candidacy. Mr. Buttigieg was briefly forced off the campaign trail to address the matter… In October, the campaign was rocked by revelations that among the hosts of a scheduled Chicago fund-raiser was Steve Patton, a lawyer who had tried to block the release of footage of the 2014 police shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. After black leaders including Jesse Jackson objected, the campaign distanced itself from Mr. Patton." 

And in late November, “Mr. Buttigieg came under fire for comments he made in 2011 about children from “lower-income, minority neighborhoods” not having “someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”

 The bottom line is that Buttigieg does indeed have a crippling race problem. It’s a problem that won’t be solved by just declaring victory before the polls have closed or standing in front of a half dozen African American women with “Text Pete” signs. What will be needed, and there is very little time to change course so dramatically, is for Pete Buttigieg to embrace voters of color with humility and deep listening. He is a great talker but can he listen? He is a great campaigner but can he stop to actually pay attention to the needs of people he is addressing? He is a revolutionary politician but what type of revolution does he really believe in? Is it one that is all about the ambitions of Mayor Pete? Or is it about the people in this country who need someone who will stand with them and not for them?


George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer, adjunct professor of philosophy, and social worker in Rochester, NY. He has a master’s degree in theological studies and politics from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. 


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