How Mayor Pete Pretends to be Progressive

In the US, the presidential primaries have kicked off for real, with the first round of votes being held in Iowa. The Iowa Caucus is regarded by most as a good indicator of how the rest of the contest is going to play out. You know what’s really bugging me? Nobody is talking about the Republican primaries, at all. What’s going on with them? Trump might have pulled out of the race altogether, but nobody would know because everyone is talking about the Democratic primaries all the time…

Alternative title:
don’t Pete me cuz I’m close to the Buttigieg

TW for brief mention of racist violence!

Anyway, I want to talk about the Democratic primaries. 

The leading candidate, by precisely two votes, was Pete Buttigieg. A candidate needs to have 1,990 candidates pledged to them by the end of the primaries to be the candidate for president: in this first vote, Pete received thirteen, Bernie Sanders received twelve, Elizabeth Warren received eight, and Joe Biden received six. 

Who’s this Pete guy and where’d he come from? Peter is the ex-mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He’s 38. He’s been openly gay since 2015. He used to be an intelligence officer in the US Army. He speaks eight languages. He was viewed as an outsider in the race in the beginning but has managed to claw his way into the top tier of candidates, and now has gained the most votes in Iowa. 

Pete claims he’s going to offer “the most progressive presidency of our lifetimes.” ( Fighting words. The thing is, whilst Peter paints himself as a progressive, he doesn’t really hold up against more radical candidates like Warren or Sanders. What’s more, Pete isn’t nearly as progressive as he’d like people to think he is. 

One of the controversies surrounding Peter’s campaign is his graduate job with a management consulting firm called McKinsey & Company. It’s okay; I don’t know what a management consulting firm does either. But as far as I can tell, this company helps out organisations like US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, proposing cuts in spending on food and medical care for migrants and an acceleration of the deportation process ( After journalist Jamal Kashoggi was assassinated in 2018, McKinsey compiled a report of prominent Saudi dissidents using data from Twitter, which was then used by the Saudi government to repress said dissidents ( They vehemently deny that they knew what the report would be used for. 

This isn’t necessarily a black mark for Pete, though, far from it. He didn’t even work there when those things happened! 

He did work there when McKinsey were involved in a scandal involving fixing the prices of bread in Canada. He strenuously denies that he was anything but tangentially involved in it. But he did work there. 

And the fact that Pete has dedicated years of his career to bolstering the interests of big business shines through in his policies: when discussing healthcare, he constantly stresses allowing insurance companies to remain in business, and making sure people are given a “choice”. This is a conservative position compared to other frontrunners, Warren and Sanders, who both support single-payer, universal healthcare. He doesn’t even offer his own staffers healthcare; instead, they get a stipend to allow them to buy their own ( 

For education, he plans to create a grant for low-income college students, whilst Warren intends to cancel student debt and Sanders will abolish tuition fees altogether. Conversely, he has the most exclusive billionaire donors of any democratic candidate ( He’s Wall Street’s darling. As he said to the New York Times, “I’m not sure anyone cosmically or morally deserves to have a billion dollars, but I don’t hold it against them.” Sure he won’t, as long as he gets his cut. 

He doesn’t think it’s worth boycotting corporations. Even ones like Chick-Fil-A, who think Peter, being a gay man, is going to burn in hell ( Whilst he’s since stopped the practice, for a while he was the only candidate openly receiving donations from political lobbyists. 

It all just seems a little…bland, don’t you think? Less the “most progressive presidency of our lifetimes” and more “status quo”. 

One of Buttigieg’s big selling points is his two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where everyone was just dandy. 

It’s unfortunate, then, that reports indicate that systemic racism ran rampant in South Bend under his leadership. The disparity in marijuana arrests between white and black people increased whilst he was mayor ( He refused to investigate the alleged lynching of a black teen in South Bend ( He asked a black police officer to resign when tapes were released of his white colleagues making racist comments about him (; he allowed a white police officer to keep his job after he broke into a house and tased a teenage boy ( Whilst he was mayor, the police department paid out $1.3 million in brutality and civil rights settlements ( All around, his record with the black community in South Bend is pretty despicable. 

It’s LGBT+ History Month; it would be cool if the next President of the US was a gay man, right? Peter doesn’t want to be ‘pigeon-holed’ as the ‘gay candidate’. He’s managed to avoid that pretty niftily though. In fact, a few members of the LGBT community openly protest against him ( The fact that he’s gay has little bearing on the fact that he’s white, expensively-educated, and overall very privileged, and that perspective is eminently clear every time he expresses an opinion. 

I’m not an American and have no influence over the race. I’m just sitting here, occasionally eating popcorn, and marvelling at the weird struggle that US politics has become. Am I too into my own radical echo chamber? Do people really believe that keeping tuition fees and private health insurance is the “most progressive” a president will ever be in our lifetimes? 

It’s impossible to say. But Buttigieg is definitely a capitalist on steroids, and his presidency would be devoted to preserving the institutions of American society that perpetuate suffering – as far from progressive as you can get.

Caitlin Flavell, Political Editor