All In for Mayor Pete

Wherein I make an earlier-than-expected endorsement for President. 

Around the time the twelfth prominent Democrat announced their exploratory committee, I decided to spend 2019 in a permanent seat on the political fence.

My reasons for this weren’t lazy or apathetic: I follow politics more closely than most, and have a bevy of opinions on the candidates, the issues, and the erstwhile sport of electoral politics.  Rather, my benign neglect resulted from two equally important factors: so many of the candidates are just SO good, and would make SUCH good presidents;  I wanted to see how the fared in the early process of ramping up, building a national following, and articulating an election message that has broad enough appeal to defeat the sitting president next year.

Today, I’m setting that plan aside, and declaring my early support for Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Like most of the country, I had never heard of Mayor Pete until he started considering a run for the presidency.  South Bend may be a small town, but I have some personal ties: both my parents are Notre Dame alums (go Irish!),  my younger brother was born there, and my uncle still lives there.  It’s a great town, but won’t be confused with a metropolis.  Mayor Pete is an unlikely mayor, particularly in Indiana: he’s gay, married, and all of 37 years old, barely old enough to seek the presidency.

As a candidate, his strengths are immediately apparent as soon as he starts to speak.  He can speak to the “religious left,” a thing I did not previously know to exist.  He draws constant contrasts with Mike Pence, Indiana’s former governor and our current veep, in a plainspoken but intelligent way that shows Pence to be the cynical hypocrite that he is.

But most of all, Pete knows how to recruit quality staff.

This morning, I learned that my sister will be taking a leave of absence from her top-tier law firm to work for his campaign full-time, advising them on immigration policy.

I haven’t written much about my sister previously, so let me briefly make up for it here.  Elizabeth has one of the smartest, most incisive minds of anyone I know, and she has a moral drive that is downright inspiring.  When the travel ban took effect, she went to LaGuardia and advised members of congress, along with detainees, helping protect their rights.  When the border crisis began, she rushed down south to take cases reuniting small children with their families.  She worked as an asylum officer, and clerked for a federal judge.  She’s absolutely brilliant, and when she believes in a cause, she does everything she can to make a difference.

In short, my sister is a major inspiration to me, and is one of the very few people who can and does utterly sway my views about political topics, because I trust her instincts, and I trust her analysis.

If you had held a gun to my head yesterday and asked me who I would vote for in the primary, Mayor Pete would have had my vote, but I wasn’t ready to commit.  His decision to hire my sister helped.  Her decision to join the campaign sealed it.  If someone as inspiring, hard-working, and intelligent as my sister believes so strongly in this small-town mayor, then he’s the real deal, full stop.

It is going to take a lot of hard work for a politician with a last name I still have to google to spell correctly to win the nomination.  I’m going to need some time to reconcile that next week, I’ll be the same age as my preferred candidate for president.  I trust that both of us are up to the task.

And while we’re here: BOO-duh-jij.  I think.


Published in: on March 27, 2019 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Was Lincoln a Founder?

How we view the bones of American history may be a product of our own demographics. 

John Quincy Adams would be my test-answer delineation for where the “founding fathers” ended and the list of presidents-I memorized-once-but-know-little-else-about begins. The former I view as a group of problematic faves, where some of their ideas and accomplishments were awesome and inspiring and others, mostly having to do with their treatment of women, people of color, and the poor, were shocking and awful.  The latter is a group that kept the basic status quo of the founders chugging along, the same vices as before but none of the transformative evolution of society.

Then came Lincoln.  He stumbles into our history, with a war and tales of heroism and brutality that changed our country, and he does brave things that make us substantially better.  He frees the slaves. He saves the union. He acquires that mythos, that same granite veneer that makes him the face on the five, while history majors grumble about his impure motives.  

I’ve always thought of Lincoln as an anomalous figure in history.  The founding fathers came as a group, not as one individual dominating everyone around them.  The generals of the Civil War are pretty well-known, but that’s mostly because wars are interesting and people like writing about them.  They weren’t transforming the country, at least in a lasting way, the way Lincoln was. He had no peers, and even his vaunted “rivals” are of the sort where, if you hear their names, you say “oh yeah…sounds familiar.”  

So why isn’t he considered a parent of our nation?  This came up in a political speech I was watching a few weeks ago- this mild-mannered Colorado senator said, in a rhetorical valley during an otherwise fiery speech, that he considered Lincoln a founding father.  The idea struck me, so I started to think about it.

My initial instinct is “no,” because there’s something different about establishing the country and our system and making big changes to it later.  For twenty minutes, give or take, I was pretty solid on the idea that there’s a meaningful distinction to be drawn, and that Lincoln is plainly on the other side of the line.  We had been a country since 1776; you can’t found something that started four score and seven years before your contribution.

One idea was nagging at me, though.  The way I’m perceiving the country and its history is through a lens of demographically relating to the founders in very specific ways: I’m white, male, and educated.  For folks like that, the country really was founded in 1776. So when I ran the “privilege check” part of my totally-not-neurotic process for forming opinions about things, some red lights were going off.  

Hilariously, I realized- as I have on several other occasions, but just can’t seem to correct- that this group of founders I supposedly relate to have no actual kinship with me.  I’m a Jew, a descendent of early-20th-century imports. My only relationship to them is through a modern demographic lens, and I think that’s telling in the “defaults” we learn growing up.  I like to joke that as a Jew, I’m white in a bull economy.

But I would not have had an invitation to the convention in Philadelphia.

I think that the Ante-Quincy Adams crowd founded the country for white men.  I think Lincoln founded it for people of color, and so did King. I think Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott got royally cheated by our history books, since I never learned enough about them to even correctly spell their names without the aid of Google.  As someone who sought out history in school, drank it up and kept refilling the glass time and again, even to today, it’s only in the last three years or so that I’ve really learned anything about them.

And they founded the country, too.  

If we persist in claiming that our country is exceptional because it is an idea, or even an ideal, then we can’t let the tyranny of chronology dictate the bounds of who is considered a founder.  Designing systems of democracy is no more important than opening up those systems to more people.

As I read, daily it seems, about the travesty happening at our southern border, the menacing over-imprisonment of our citizenry, and the creeping racism and xenophobia of our nominal leadership, I realize that our grand experiment in democracy hasn’t really gotten underway; there are still empty seats at the table.  Perhaps our youngest founding fathers- even the term smacks of patriarchy- are yet to be born.


Published in: on March 12, 2019 at 7:32 am  Leave a Comment