[guest post by JVW]
Some of you old-timers like me may remember way back four years ago ’round about this time when a small-town mayor by the name of Pete Buttigieg, straight from the heartland of America, emerged on to the national scene and briefly became the heartthrob of a certain sort of progressive elite. No, not the old-school drawing room Marxists or even parlor pinks who dominate lefty thought from such lofty perches as Nob Hill, West Hollywood, Hyde Park, Park Slope, or Cambridge Common, and not the young radicals who were chasing the twin goals of perfect intersectionality and a lavish welfare system.
Instead, Mayor Pete’s fanbase mostly consisted of the professional class, ages 25-55, who had been educated at highly-renowned colleges as their hero had been, who like him had participated in the capitalist economy in decent-to-well-paying positions while still reserving the right to be highly critical of the unfairness of the system when Tweeting from their vacation homes, and who joined the Mayor of South Bend by articulating all of the trendy social justice positions without ever having been called upon to do anything in support of them, save for voting for the “correct” political party and candidates. Pete Buttigieg was damn near the walking-talking embodiment of the perfect résumé: Harvard and Oxford (Rhodes Scholar naturally), the U.S. Navy Reserve with a deployment to Afghanistan, McKinsey & Company consultant. He’s openly gay (yet not aggressively so, at least not to a suitable degree to satisfy the shrillest gay activists) but at the same time he’s old fashioned enough to be in a monogamous relationship. For one shining moment it almost seemed as if he might vault all the way to the top of the greasy pole that is the Democrat nomination, but Mayor Pete’s inability to close the deal with the party’s African-American voting bloc combined with the pesky popularity of a senile socialist led to the party throwing its weight behind an old (emphasis on old) and familiar hack, and Pete Buttigieg — who can make banal small talk in something like 17 different languages, though he is truly fluent in consultant blather — ended up with the “so that you don’t go home empty-handed” prize of being named Transportation Secretary.
But now the prospects of a second Biden term are getting more and more dicey each week, with questions arising of whether he can win reelection and, should he do so, if a second term wouldn’t be a Wilsonian exercise in keeping him hidden from the American public lest his advancing infirmaries be fully exposed. On top of that, Mr. Biden’s Vice-Presidential selection has shown herself to be an appalling airhead, utterly unfit for the job and even less likely to keep the White House in party hands than her boss is. So is this at long last the Buttigieg Moment? Virginia Heffernan of Wired sure seems to think so, and she writes a hagiographical piece which seems intended to get the Secretary Pete bandwagon rolling:
The curious mind of Pete Buttigieg holds much of its functionality in reserve. Even as he discusses railroads and airlines, down to the pointillist data that is his current stock-in-trade, the US secretary of transportation comes off like a Mensa black card holder who might have a secret Go habit or a three-second Rubik’s Cube solution or a knack for supplying, off the top of his head, the day of the week for a random date in 1404, along with a non-condescending history of the Julian and Gregorian calendars.
As Secretary Buttigieg and I talked in his underfurnished corner office one afternoon in early spring, I slowly became aware that his cabinet job requires only a modest portion of his cognitive powers. Other mental facilities, no kidding, are apportioned to the Iliad, Puritan historiography, and Knausgaard’s Spring—though not in the original Norwegian (slacker). Fortunately, he was willing to devote yet another apse in his cathedral mind to making his ideas about three mighty themes—neoliberalism, masculinity, and Christianity—intelligible to me.
Because Buttigieg, at 41, is an old millennial; because as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford he got a first in PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics), the trademark degree for Labour-party elites of the Tony Blair era; because he worked optimizing grocery-store pricing at McKinsey; because he joined the Navy in hopes of promoting democracy in Afghanistan; because he got gay-married to his partner Chasten in 2018; and because, as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he agitated to bring hipster entrepreneurism and “high-tech investment” to his rust-belt hometown, I had to ask him about neoliberalism, the happy idea that consumer markets and liberal democracy will always expand, and will always expand together. I was also fascinated by the way that Buttigieg, who has long described himself as obsessed with technology and data, has responded to the gendering of tech, and especially green tech, by fearsome culture warriors, including Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Take my word for it, Good People, the piece doesn’t get any less annoying from there, even though it mostly turns into a Q&A with the subject himself. It comes out that ol’ Pete was in his younger days a huge fan of Comrade Bernie — no really, he’s not just trying to win over Red hearts and minds — and now that he is in the seat of federal power he’s starting to rethink neoliberalism! Ms. Heffernan continues to lob up softball questions, the answers to which are supposed to frame the Secretary as an average unthreatening Middle American dude who goes to church, eats burgers, drinks beer, and drives a muscle car, while at the same time being keenly aware that progressive ideas are the only possible way forward into a glorious future of shared wealth, racial equality, sexual freedom, and environmental bliss. Unfortunately for the subject and the author, Mr. Buttigieg also comes across as a cloistered lefty living in an echo chamber where the New York Times editorial page represents the political center and where ideas from conservatives and from libertarians can safely and smugly be dismissed as cartoonish and mean-spirited.
Naturally, people on the right are having a field day taking down this pretentious claptrap. At NRO, Charlie Cooke delivers a wicked parody of Virginia Heffernan’s obnoxious profile:
In between the seductive sips of Courvoisier atop which he builds his heady pedagogical flights, Pete Buttigieg leans back into his pulchritudinous chair and takes me through the history of the Asian subcontinent.
I am sitting in the great man’s office, in the heart of Washington, D.C., stealing a few moments of his valuable time. I was early, and he was late. But that was to be expected. Some people require their own rules.
Buttigieg, who is white but makes up for it by being gay, is young for a Secretary of Transportation. And yet, with his authoritative air, his famed ability with Norwegian, and his remarkable professional record, he has the mien of a figure who has been in the role for decades. “In just two years,” he informs me, “I have responded to more train crashes, air-travel crises, and supply-chain problems than any of my predecessors did in eight. People often ask me why I think I’m doing a good job. I think that answers the question.”
David Harsanyi has some fun from the pages of The Federalist:
It is the year of our Lord 2023, and I’ve finally read the most obsequious feature story that has ever been written about a politician in a major publication.
Wired magazine was once home to thought-provoking writing on technology and entrepreneurship. Today, it pumps out slabs of conventional left-of-center technocratic wisdom. But Virginia Heffernan’s depiction of Pete Buttigieg’s glorious mind is so much more. It is a masterpiece.
[. . .]
[I]t’s when this hypersycophantic prose collides with Mayor Pete’s real-world, tedious, cliché-ridden tautologies that the piece really springs to life.
“Fortunately,” writes Heffernan, Harvard, PhD. “he was willing to devote yet another apse in his cathedral mind to making his ideas about three mighty themes—neoliberalism, masculinity, and Christianity—intelligible to me.”
And Stephen Miller, a contributing editor at The Spectator, marveled at the amazing prose which Ms. Heffernan brought to her piece:
There might not be a better paragraph from the American media this year. Hang it in the Louvre. https://t.co/w5CD4JGFpK
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) May 18, 2023
I’m afraid that we are going to have much more of this between now and next November. In addition to this sort of nonsense, look for the usual suspects to start coughing up pieces with titles along the lines of “The Underappreciated Steady Leadership of Joe Biden,” “Kamala Harris Quietly Proves Her Mettle under Trying Circumstances,” and “Once a Punchline, Merrick Garland Is Restoring Law in Washington.” I think a Grumpy Gus like me ought to go into hibernation for the next eighteen months.