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SHAH: Pay attention to Pete's presidential campaign

Opinion Column: The Progressive's Hot Take

Until a few weeks ago, I was about to give up trying to pronounce Pete Buttigieg’s last name. He is the gay, 37-year-old mayor from South Bend, Indiana running for president like the little engine that could. 

Yes, there was a certain charm to that profile, but up until a few weeks ago, most of the American public had mutually agreed that Buttigieg did not stand a chance, especially in such a crowded presidential race filled with national heavyweights with name recognition that occurs only after decades of public service. But stranger things have happened.

It all began with a CNN town hall on March 10. He “kicked ass,” said party operative Patti Solis Doyle. In the 24 hours following, he raised approximately $600,000, and just a few days after he hit the 65,000-donor mark, which qualifies him to appear in the first debate. He has been profiled by “The Daily Show,” appeared on “The Late Show” and “Meet the Press” and has caught the eye of elite Democratic operatives who have likened him to a young Barack Obama. 

A Quinnipiac poll found Buttgieg tied for fifth place with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). A New Hampshire poll placed Buttgieg in third behind Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). An Emerson College poll put him in third place in Iowa. 

Within the first three months of the year, he has amassed more than $7 million in donations, outshining Warren, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Still, in the Morning Consult’s March 18-24 poll, only 45% of respondents nationwide had heard of Buttigieg. So, I suppose that is the point of this article. 

For future reference, it is "Boot-edge-edge." And trust me, you are going to need to know how to say it. 

The son of an immigrant, Buttigieg grew up in a blue collar family in South Bend and left to pursue an education at Harvard University and later at University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In 2009, he was commissioned as a naval intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and in 2014 was deployed for a seven-month tour in Afghanistan. 

In 2010, he decided to quit his full-time consulting gig and pursue public service in his hometown. By getting coffee with every constituent he could, he won a crowded Democratic primary and the general in a landslide to become the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents. 

In just the past few days, Buttigieg has become a symbol for a rising Christian Left, unabashed about his identity and struggles and is publicly challenging homophobic Vice President Mike Pence to a duel. 

Whether Buttigieg can mobilize his political moment and take it all the way to the White House is uncertain right now, but regardless of where he ends up, he has already made a big splash. Not only as a gay man, but also perhaps more radically as a young man. 

There has been a historic belittling of young people within government that has been highlighted by the intensity of media coverage given to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) every time she vaguely opens her mouth. But with Buttigieg’s newfound national profile, young people may finally have the mouthpiece we have always deserved in American politics. 

For far too long, candidates of generations before us have struggled to cater to our specific demographic, either by failing to be cool or choosing to ignore us altogether by always talking down to us. At 18 years old, we can be drafted to fight for this country, but God forbid we have a nuanced take on healthcare or tax policy. The appeal of Buttigieg is that he is shedding the model that elitist politicians have had for decades — the “Mommy and Daddy Know Best” model, patent pending — and has chosen instead to use radical honesty to produce thoughtful answers instead of soundbites. 

For example, when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) — a seasoned politician — was asked about her controversial record on criminal justice, she gave a vague, roundabout answer that said basically nothing to ease my worries about her time as a prosecutor. Similarly, when Buttigieg was asked about his own shortcomings regarding his lack of national experience, he chose to be straightforward, making concessions about his profile while reinforcing what uniquely qualifies him to be a part of the conversation and why he is passionate about serving his country.  

Buttigieg's moment is in direct opposition to Biden’s moment. It is one that is fraught with political and social tension, but one that has yet to break his overwhelming lead in current polling. As a young person who is adept to our current socio-political climate, Buttigieg has mastered communication that does not feel contrived nor manipulative. 

On the other hand, Biden lent the public a half-hearted promise to be more diligent about our evolving status quo — not quite apologizing for his actions — and then went on to joke about consent the following day. Does that sound like someone who allows women to feel ownership over their bodies? 

It is not too early to be thinking about the 2020 presidential race. I have been a lifelong procrastinator, so I certainly understand the appeal, but this is not something we as college students can afford to sleep on. The field may be crowded, but it is precisely at this time when the passion we have for our future can truly drive the trajectory of the presidential race. 

There is real potential for us to make a change, especially now that there is finally a candidate that shares our concerns and has a stake in the issues we care about. I am not suggesting that we need to pick our favorite candidate immediately — in fact, I think this is a decision worth the utmost amount of deliberation — but I do think that we need to be paying attention.

This is our future. Let is not miss the opportunity to determine the kind of world we will inherit. 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School sophomore, contemplating her primary major but minoring in political science and philosophy. Her column, “The Progressive’s Hot Take,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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