Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is pretty much the Democrat candidate of the moment.
He was the second-most-mentioned candidate on cable news last week, according to FiveThirtyEight, right behind the omnipresent Bernie Sanders. He’s moved up into a tie for fifth among Democrat presidential candidates in the RealClearPolitics polling average, pulling 6 percent nationally.
If only we could figure out what he stood for.
“Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., could turn out to be the biggest, boldest surprise of the 2020 presidential campaign. But he’d better come up with some policies first,” Doyle McManus wrote in a Wednesday column for the Los Angeles Times.
Indeed, Buttigieg is mostly backstory. An Afghanistan veteran, mayor of a Rust Belt city trying to reinvent itself, Harvard graduate, millennial, first serious LGBT candidate for major party nomination — all of that sounds great on paper. He even has a nickname: Mayor Pete, which sounds like it came from a Christopher Buckley novel.
That’s great, but is there any policy chops behind the backstory? The only two novel suggestions Buttigieg has signed onto are genuinely awful: He supports packing the Supreme Court and doing away with the Electoral College, both of which are blessedly unlikely to occur.
However, if you wanted a direction in which a Buttigieg administration might head, you could have done worse than the appearance Mayor Pete (ugh, even I’m saying it now) made on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday morning. And, as conservative pundit and former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino pointed out, that’s not necessarily a good thing for America.
The topic was the popularity of socialism, given that Bernie Sanders is solidly in second place in the polls and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the most visible members of the Democrat caucus. Buttigieg’s explanation was a bit more problematic than it may have initially appeared.
“I think the reason we’re having this argument over socialism and capitalism is that capitalism has let a lot of people down,” Buttigieg said. “What I’m out there to say is that it doesn’t have to be so,” he continued. “I believe in democratic capitalism.”
— The Hill (@thehill) April 17, 2019
OK, then — what is “democratic capitalism?” It’s a buzzword that Buttigieg has used before, particularly during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He identified himself as a capitalist — but then argued that capitalism came second to democracy.
“America is a capitalist society. But it’s got to be democratic capitalism,” he said. “And that part’s really important. And it’s slipping away from us. In other words, when capitalism comes into tension with democracy, which is more important to you? I believe democracy is more important.”
“If you want to see what happens when you have capitalism without democracy, you can see it very clearly in Russia,” he added.
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) April 7, 2019
Russia, by the way, is an obvious oligarchy — a country where a small cabal of individuals have control over virtually every aspect of the economy, not to mention a panoply of other things. It represents the opposite of a free exchange of goods and services. This doesn’t really give us a definition of democracy or democratic capitalism. However, it gets in a Russia reference, which will always earn you points with the left.
Back to “democratic capitalism,” however: Does he mean democracy in the strict philosophical definition of it — that is to say, direct public control over every aspect of a polity without protections for individuals and corporations? If it’s anything like that, judging by the fact that he places democracy over capitalism, America could well be socialist if a plurality of voters decided it was so.
Of course, it’s difficult to stick definitive political or philosophical labels on someone who has engineered it so that he’s impervious to labels. However, as Dan Bongino pointed out, the other option isn’t exactly one we should feel comfortable considering.
Note: Socialism has killed a lot people. That “let a lot of people down” too. https://t.co/U7COJrxA1V
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) April 17, 2019
Well, yes — 100 million people died at the hands of communism, which is either socialism’s end-stage or its more malignant cousin, depending on your angle. There are few purely communist regimes left in the world; North Korea and Cuba definitely are and China still believes it is, for whatever that’s worth. They still kill people who are seen as a threat to the state and do so without compunction.
Socialism still kills people, too. In Nicaragua, former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega has been back in power since 2006 and deaths attributable to his regime aren’t exactly uncommon, and that’s without even mentioning the all-pervasive oppression. Expounding on the woes in Venezuela seems supererogatory at this point, as a power struggle in that benighted country enters its fourth month.
Even in Scandinavia, beau ideal of democratic socialists, the Foundation for Economic Education’s Luis Pablo de la Horra notes this system is kept sustainable by regressive taxation, which punishes the lower and middle classes and a deregulated business environment. (Given that Mayor Pete seems to imply deregulation “has let a lot of people down,” one assumes this would not be an unalloyed component of “democratic capitalism,” whatever that means.)
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this and Bongino is, too. Everything Buttigieg has done so far — including embracing that bromidic, retch-worthy nickname — has been perfectly calculated to maximize media interest while minimizing his exposure to actually explaining the effects of policy positions.
For all we know, “democratic capitalism” could be one of those meaningless buzz-phrases one of his advisers cooked up: “Hey, Pete. Everyone’s talking about ‘democratic socialism’ these days. It’s pretty hot. Why not use ‘democratic capitalism’ to explain your position? It’ll give you time to figure out what your positions actually are.”
If it is something like what his vague statements imply, however, it isn’t necessarily capitalism as we know it — that’s “let a lot of people down,” after all. Whether it’s closer to something that’s let a lot more people down is something that remains to be seen.
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