Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of a small midwestern city, sees many similarities between himself and 5C students, and he wants their votes for the U.S. presidency.
The South Bend, Indiana mayor who recently entered the 2020 Democratic presidential primary came to Scripps College Wednesday to talk with journalist and Snapchat news head Peter Hamby. Although Buttigieg was there to talk about his new book, “Shortest Way Home,” his longshot presidential aspirations dominated nearly all of the discussion.
Buttigieg stands out from the rest of the growing Democratic field; he’s just 37 years old, which would make him the youngest president ever, if elected. Buttigieg is openly gay, and has more military service under his belt than any president since George H.W. Bush.
His highest elected office, however, is the mayor of South Bend, a city of around 102,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In an interview with TSL prior to the talk, Buttigieg said his experiences as mayor, which include crafting policy proposals, running an administration and bringing people together during crises, have prepared him for the presidency. He said some candidates, including longtime senators, do not have such experience.
Buttigieg said 5C students should vote for him because, like them, he has “a lot of stake in the decisions” that are currently being made by the federal government, and he does not share the attitude that he sees in many current politicians that the “consequences [of their policies] are someone else’s problem.”
The United States needs to “make deep change in its political and economic systems” and must be willing to “entertain structural solutions,” Buttigieg added. “We need to build up a new sense of what freedom means, not just freedom from regulation, but freedom to live the life of one’s choosing supported by good policy.”
“We need to build up a new sense of what freedom means, not just freedom from regulation, but freedom to live the life of one’s choosing supported by good policy” — Pete Buttigieg
He said Democrats need to challenge the status quo with bold ideas, focus on values and appeal “without condescension” to people, especially Midwestern voters, who feel “left out” of the country’s progress.
Buttigieg proposed a number of seismic changes to the U.S. political system, including abolishing the electoral college, granting statehood to Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico and examining the setup of the Supreme Court — a reference to comments last week that he is open to the idea of adding seats to the nation’s highest court.
Buttigieg also wants to address climate change as a security issue and an economic opportunity for sustainable industries, implement a “Medicare for all who want it” program as a step toward universal health care and re-evaluate U.S. standards for the use of force abroad.
Buttigieg expressed empathy for students struggling with student loan debts, which he said he has dealt with as well. Buttigieg graduated from Harvard in 2004, according to the school’s Institute of Politics.
“I understand what it means to be living with debt,” he said.
He proposed a plan for helping students address their debt and increasing the affordability of education, including allowing students to refinance their loans and expanding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to “make sure the cost is not completely on the individual.”
Buttigieg’s proposal stops short of those offered by other candiates, like Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who advocates for tuition free college, and Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, who support debt-free college education, according to The Atlantic.
Buttigieg currently sits at a severe disadvantage in the Democratic primary. Currently, more than half of Democrats say they haven’t heard of him, and he had the support of just 1 percent of the party in a Feb. 24 Morning Consult poll. Until this week, he had been stuck at 0 percent.
Buttigieg seemed undeterred, however, and said he plans to continue campaigning, focusing on the goal of gaining 65,000 unique donors to qualify for the Democratic debates beginning in June.
“You start at zero and hope to go north,” he said. He added that he has been getting “good buzz” at speaking engagements and that it is still “very early” in the campaign.
Buttigieg also said his previous low profile could be an advantage that allows him to define his own image and campaign, rather than have it defined by others.
“People want something totally new,” he said.
Students in the audience seemed to react favorably to Buttigieg’s talk.
Matt Brunstad PZ ’20 said the talk was “fantastic,” while Bryce Wachtell PO ’21 said it was a “wonderful opportunity to see someone who occupies space in the political limelight” on campus.
“I was so excited and impressed by his talk that I donated to his campaign as soon as I had internet access,” Zachary Freiman PO ’20 said via message. “Buttigieg exceeded my highest expectations.”
Brunstad and Wachtell said they were undecided on whether they would vote for Buttigieg, although Brunstad said Buttigieg is his “favorite candidate for now” and Wachtell said he would be keeping track of Buttigieg’s campaign. Freiman said he would vote for Buttigieg over President Donald Trump “in a heartbeat.”