He’s the Obama-style boy-from-nowhere with charisma and the potential to become the first openly gay president of the United States Of America. But who is Pete Buttigieg?
Hollywood’s most powerful and fabulous homos are mobilised; the eyes of the LGBTIQ+ world are upon him; and Trump-loving, right-wing TV network Fox News is shitting its pants.
This is the impact of Pete Buttigieg (pronounced boot-edge-edge): a handsome, young gay man from a little-known mid-Western state who has announced he’s going to run for President of the United States Of America in 2020.
If he becomes the Democratic nominee, he’ll be standing against President Trump: a man revered by redneck, racist, white supremacist, misogynistic homophobes as a god, even while the rest of the world considers him somewhere on a sliding scale between clown and catastrophe. Buttigieg launched his presidential bid by directly butt-kicking everything that Trump stands for.
So far, it’s his charming, boy-next-door all-Americanness and erudite eloquence that has shone through. At just 37, his wise-head-on-young-shoulders made noises about real change for a new generation. The next generation.
Change. Sound familiar? One of President Obama’s enduring campaign slogans was “change we can believe in”. The other was “yes, we can”. The last ten years have certainly changed the face of US politics. Obama was hotter than the average president and a generally decent guy. And he was the black. What’s more, the American electorate were smart enough to not be spooked by a surname sounding like Osama or the middle name Hussein or Donald Trump’s efforts to depict him as a scary Muslim and not even American.
But has the road been paved for a minority citizen to become Commander-in-Chief? Is Buttigieg change we can believe in? Can a thirty-something gay man really say yes he can?
Witnessing Buttigieg’s candidacy develop has been electrifying. He’s a married man. He met high school teacher Chasten Gelzman via an app in 2015 and married him three years later. They have two dogs, Truman and Buddy. It’s all picture-perfect cute.
His résumé reads like something you or I might invent to bag ourselves an out-of-reach job: he’s a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and a graduate of Harvard University; he has served as a lieutenant in the US Navy Reserve and took an unpaid, seven-month leave during his mayoral term to deploy to Afghanistan. He earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work. He was elected Mayor of his hometown of South Bend, Indiana in 2011 aged just 29 and re-elected in 2015 with 80 percent of the vote, positively transforming both the local economy and its prospects in the process. He campaigned to ensure every resident of South Bend, “regardless of race, religion, gender or orientation” felt safe and included.
He already has more years of government experience than Donald Trump, more years of executive government experience than Vice President Mike Pence, and more military experience than anybody to walk into the Oval Office since President George HW Bush.
If that wasn’t enough, Buttigieg can speak seven languages, play piano and guitar, and generally do everything that’s simultaneously irritating and admirable at the same time.
He came out in his twenties, found closeted army life difficult, and wishes his fellow Americans would learn to trust and accept people from different backgrounds, such as gay men. It’s all sounded a bit vanilla, but then to the meaty stuff: how will a gay president exert moral authority in countries where it’s illegal to be gay?
Whether you want America to be the undisputed global headmaster or not is a different discussion, but Buttigieg’s response is intrinsically sound: he’s on a mission to make gay men more credible in the political arena, so that we are taken more seriously as human beings around the world; so that leaders like the Sultan Of Brunei or Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Bin Salman or Russia’s Vladimir Putin would be confronted and condemned by a powerhouse homosexual.
And we haven’t even spoken about the fact that he’s a practicing Christian…
After Buttigieg’s town-hall address in April – a tradition where American politicians are granted a platform to reveal standpoints and views – CNN’s Anderson Cooper (himself a handsome, gay, married man) told viewers that Buttigieg is hot on character information but notably short on policy specifics. Indeed, even Buttigieg has said, “I think it’s important that we not drown people in minutiae before we’ve vindicated the values that animate our policies,” during his speech. One thing is clear: the road to the 3 November 2020 presidential election is going to be a rocky one, made all the more fascinating by Pete Buttigieg.