America’s Mayor 2.0

Rudy Giuliani was “America’s Mayor” after 9/11 – he rode that national tragedy to fame and fortune – before everyone noticed that he’d screwed up a lot in his city’s response to it all. But that came later. He was named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2001 and then ran for president in 2008 – and bombed. Joe Biden killed his candidacy with a single quip – “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence, a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” And that was that. Rudy had nothing else to offer. He was pro-choice, supported same-sex civil unions, and embryonic stem cell research. He stuck with that, saying it is better to make abortion rare and increase the number of adoptions rather than to criminalize it. He was also known for dressing in drag – here he is almost twenty years ago dressed as a woman flirting with a much younger Donald Trump – who tries to feel him (her) up. One of his advisors thought that would get Giuliani the gay vote. Rudy played along. So did Trump.

There’s not much more to say. When Giuliani took office he appointed a new police commissioner, William Bratton, who applied the broken windows theory of urban decay, the idea that minor disorders and violations create a permissive atmosphere that leads to further and more serious crimes – so the police should enforce minor “quality-of-life” laws – public drinking, littering, and jay-walking. That seemed to work, and then it seemed it was all racial profiling and quite illegal. And it didn’t really work. Then there was Bernard Kerik, who started out as an NYPD detective driving for Giuliani’s campaign – his personal driver. Giuliani appointed him as the Commissioner of the Department of Correction and then as the Police Commissioner. George W. Bush appointed Kerik as the interior minister of the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority. In 2004, Bush nominated Kerik to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security. And then Kerik withdrew his candidacy. Something was up. Kerik eventually pleaded guilty in 2009, in a New York district court, to eight federal charges, including tax fraud, and on February 18, 2010, he was sentenced to four years in federal prison. After that, no one listened to “America’s Mayor” anymore.

That’s not quite true. Donald Trump hired him to go on national television and explain that Donald Trump had done nothing wrong, and what seemed like crimes were not really crimes, or if they were they didn’t matter much, and that Robert Mueller was a fool and possibly a traitor, leading a coup against the duly-elected president, Donald Trump. So everyone had to listen to “America’s Mayor” again. But no one took him seriously, not even Donald Trump. Giuliani was useful. He kept everyone confused. That’s still his job.

The job of “America’s Mayor” fell vacant. Maybe there can be no such thing. Mayors are local, specific to a time and place, not national figures. The job is locally specific too. Fill the potholes. There’s no way to scale-up that job. But that may not be true. Rudy Giuliani could do that. The new guy may pull that off. Robert Costa reports this from South Bend:

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of this northern Indiana city who in just weeks has vaulted from being a near-unknown to a breakout star in the Democratic Party, officially started his presidential bid here on Sunday, presenting himself as a transformational figure who is well positioned to beat President Trump, despite being young and facing off against many seasoned rivals.

“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern, millennial mayor, but we live in a moment that compels us each to act,” Buttigieg said in front of thousands of supporters, jacket-free with his sleeves rolled up. “It calls for a new generation of leadership.”

Buttigieg added, “It’s time to walk away from the politics of the past and toward something totally different.”

He wants to be America’s mayor, but the one who doesn’t lie about what’s what:

The scene for Buttigieg’s rally was a hulking former Studebaker assembly plant, whose closure decades ago rocked this region’s economy. The site has since become a data and education hub pushed by his administration – and central to his technocratic, hopeful pitch that he is ready to help communities still struggling with the effects of globalization.

“Change is coming, ready or not,” Buttigieg told the crowd. “There is a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back,” and he touted his attempts in the city to assist the workforce with training and skills programs.

No one is going to be making Studebakers ever again – the old Ford Model-T assembly plant in Los Angeles is now a tech center too – and mining coal by hand is not America’s future either – and Donald Trump is not going to bring back the steel industry either. The world has moved on, and in more ways than one:

Some attendees drove from around the country after being inspired by Buttigieg’s message and the historic nature of his campaign as a gay presidential candidate.

For Buttigieg, Sunday’s upbeat gathering on a dreary, snowy mid-April afternoon was an important political juncture: a reintroduction to a party that has only begun to pay attention to this mayor with a hard-to-pronounce name, but is now certainly listening closely as it searches for a standard-bearer.

Yeah, he’s gay, but no one cares:

As rain fell on this city of roughly 100,000 on Sunday morning, thousands lined up under umbrellas and bundled up in jackets, waiting to enter the facility, holding homemade signs and carrying coffee cups and copies of his book, “Shortest Way Home.”

One of them was Ashley Pawlowski, 34, a self-described independent from South Bend who works at a local nonprofit. “The South Bend we all grew up in was very different. He changed this city and brought a new attitude,” she said. “He’s got this ability to help people deep down in his bones.”

And he’s not Trump:

Buttigieg has worked to rub off the heavy sheen of implausibility from his upstart candidacy, insisting that being a two-term mayor of a city in the middle of the country gives him more governing experience than Trump and that he is the face of a new generation that wants to bypass the partisanship and rancor that has gripped Trump’s Washington.

“My face is my message,” Buttigieg often tells voters on the campaign trail, a catchall way of referring to a calm persona that has drawn comparisons to President Barack Obama and to his own political profile: a gay Midwestern mayor, a retired Navy officer who served in Afghanistan and a Rhodes scholar who, if elected, would be the youngest president in U.S. history.

One can hear Trump’s initial attack. Yeah, but is he rich? And this mayor does have baggage:

In recent days, Buttigieg’s record in South Bend has come under scrutiny. His administration’s efforts to knock down blighted houses in the city have been criticized by some Democrats as a policy that was overly aggressive in revamping lower-income areas that are home to many minority voters. South Bend also continues to grapple with a quarter of the city hovering on the poverty line.

Buttigieg’s record on race has drawn criticism from Democrats as well, particularly his demotion of South Bend’s first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, in 2012. Buttigieg has cited a federal investigation of Boykins as his rationale for the ouster, but Boykins went on to sue the city for racial discrimination.

But he can work with that:

Buttigieg’s campaign is aware of the growing spotlight on his mayoral decisions and is determined to showcase his record and make the case that running a city like South Bend enables him to understand vexing national issues from a ground-level perspective. Sunday’s rally featured introductory speeches from mayors from other states who have become allies, following Buttigieg’s work in mayoral groups and his unsuccessful run for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2016.

“The horror show in Washington is mesmerizing. It’s all-consuming. But starting today, we’re going to change the channel,” Buttigieg said.

So bring it on:

On Sunday, he spoke out against the rise of white nationalism, voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering and the influence of corporate money in campaigns.

“Sometimes a dark moment brings out the best in us,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg may mean something quite specific by that. That’s what the New York Times’ Alexander Burns explains here:

The question was simple enough, but Senator John Edwards squirmed painfully. For 49 long seconds, the North Carolina Democrat, a masterful courtroom orator, sputtered before a crowd at Harvard, unable to settle on a favorite movie.

Taunted by the MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, who accused him of scrambling political calculations in his head, Mr. Edwards eventually supplied a thoroughly inoffensive answer: “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Pete Buttigieg watched in horror.

Two weeks later, in October 2003, Mr. Buttigieg vented his dismay in The Harvard Crimson. Contrasting Mr. Edwards’s hollow presentation with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brazen campaign for governor of California, Mr. Buttigieg wrote that Republicans had cornered the market on political swagger.

“Across the aisle,” Mr. Buttigieg lamented, “members of a Democratic Party, aghast at the hypocrisy of their counterparts’ personalities, seem themselves reluctant to demonstrate any personality at all.”

So he’s now doing something about that:

Sixteen years later, that observation informs Mr. Buttigieg’s underdog campaign for the White House, an enterprise driven powerfully by personality. Other candidates have anchored their candidacies in ideological or social causes, like Senator Elizabeth Warren’s opposition to corporate power or Senator Cory Booker’s concern for racial justice.

Mr. Buttigieg’s distinctive political passion appears to be storytelling, wrapping conventional liberalism in an earnest, youthful persona that Democrats might see as capable of winning over the middle of the country.

So he’s a storyteller, telling the other story of America, not Trump’s:

Dan Glickman, a former secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration who knew Mr. Buttigieg at Harvard, said he saw him as a “tonal” moderate with a “calm, sensible demeanor.”

“He’s got this way of articulating a vision, which is progressive but not off-putting,” said Mr. Glickman, 74, who led Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the time.

This may be a matter of who tells the best tall tales:

As a student, Mr. Buttigieg, now 37 and the mayor of South Bend, Ind., habitually discussed Democrats’ challenges in terms of language and argument, rather than policy or ideology. Mr. Buttigieg urged liberals in his student columns to speak in terms of “effective political values,” and he recalled corresponding in college with the University of California, Berkeley, linguist George Lakoff, who in 2004 published a best seller about political communication…

In an interview, Mr. Buttigieg said his college writings were no longer fresh in his mind. But then, as now, he acknowledged, he was focused on the interaction of “narrative and politics,” and how parties connect with people beyond policy decrees.

“The story that we tell, not just about government but about ourselves, and the story we tell people about themselves and how they fit in, really grounds our politics,” Mr. Buttigieg said.

And that’s why John Kerry was never president:

Mr. Buttigieg said in the interview that Democrats in 2004 faced a “crisis of authenticity,” with too many “pretending to be more hawkish than their consciences were.”

He channeled that frustration at the time into columns that ripple with disappointment about the “spineless Democratic Party.” Mr. Buttigieg wrote in passing about policies he found intriguing, like enacting single-payer health care and eliminating oil as a fuel source. But campaigns hinged on wider themes, he wrote: “Americans need a narrative.”

And now they have this one:

Despite lacking traditional qualifications for the presidency and declining, so far, to detail a distinctive policy agenda, Mr. Buttigieg has risen to the middle of the Democratic field in polling numbers and fund-raising.

Propelling Mr. Buttigieg is an anxiety-free persona of the kind he once identified as lacking in Mr. Edwards. He has presented himself as a cerebral type of Jimmy Stewart character, plain-spoken in manner but boasting degrees from Harvard and Oxford, discoursing happily about James Joyce and flaunting his proficiency in Norwegian.

Mr. Buttigieg often appears beside his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, a teacher and emerging social-media star. Both men speak with unselfconscious pride about their marriage, and they display public affection of a kind never seen before in a presidential campaign.

And they’re good people. And they’re not going to hurt you. They might even help. And they won’t bore you:

Liberals’ conviction that their defeats stemmed from failing to communicate made a 2004 tome about political argument, Mr. Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” into an influential commercial success. Mr. Buttigieg confirmed through a spokeswoman that he had read the book, and said he corresponded as a student with Mr. Lakoff but doubted the linguist would remember.

Mr. Lakoff said in an interview that he did not recall interacting with Mr. Buttigieg, but praised him as a communicator with a gift for breaking down ideas for voters.

“He knows how to talk plainly,” Mr. Lakoff said. “Usually, Democrats are saying: What are your ten most important policy areas? And he doesn’t do that.”

And the usual Democrats are outraged:

In the left-wing magazine Current Affairs, the editor Nathan J. Robinson ridiculed Mr. Buttigieg as a clever political marketer without ideas or a record undergirding his ambition.

“He’s from the Rust Belt so he’s authentic, but he went to Harvard so he’s not a rube, but he’s from a small city so he’s relatable, but he’s gay so he’s got coastal appeal, but he’s a veteran so his sexuality won’t alienate rural people,” Mr. Robinson wrote. “This is literally the level of political thinking that is involved in the hype around Buttigieg.”

Buttigieg tells these people to calm down:

Mr. Buttigieg said he would outline more proposals with time. But he rejected the idea that the Democratic race might hinge on “who has the most elegant policy design.” Because a president cannot execute his plans freely in office, Mr. Buttigieg argued, it would be “inauthentic” to make too many detailed promises.

“I actually think I’ve been plenty specific; it’s just that we don’t lead with it,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “I don’t want to drown people in minutiae.”

Hillary Clinton did, and maybe that was the problem:

In 2004, he co-wrote a New York Times column describing research into the platforms of political parties, concluding that winning parties tended to have shorter platforms. And in his final column in his college newspaper, Mr. Buttigieg urged Democrats to focus chiefly on reclaiming terms like “morality” and “compassion” from the right.

In short, Democrats should tell a better story. So he made his announcement:

Buttigieg said he was running “to tell a different story than Make America Great Again.” Because there’s a myth being sold, the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back.

“The problem is that they’re telling us to look for greatness in all the wrong places. As South Bend has shown, there is no such thing as an honest politics that revolves around the word “again.” It is time to walk away from the politics of the past and towards something totally different.”

“They call me Mayor Pete. I’m a proud son of South Bend, Indiana, and I am running for president of the United States.”

And he’s running for Mayor of America:

Saying he was part of the first generation to grow up with school shootings and to expect to live with the fallout from climate change – “Climate security” is “a life-and-death issue for our generation” he said – Buttigieg outlined a campaign he said would spotlight the themes of freedom, security and democracy.

“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor,” he said. “More than a little bold… but we live in a moment that compels us each to act. The forces changing our country today are tectonic.”

“This time, it’s not just about winning an election. It’s about winning an era. It’s not just about the next four years; it’s about preparing our country for a better life in 2030, in 2040, and in 2054 when, God willing, I get to be the same age as our current president.”

That’s the story. And now think of the character Alex P. Keaton – the Young Republican with the hippie parent as played by Michael J. Fox on the television show Family Ties – and then read Olivia Nuzzi:

Sick of old people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Scared of young people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Religious? He’s a Christian. Atheist? He’s not weird about it. Wary of Washington? He’s from flyover country. Horrified by flyover country? He has degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Make the President Read Again? He learned Norwegian to read Erlend Loe. Traditional? He’s married. Woke? He’s gay. Way behind the rest of the country on that? He’s not too gay. Worried about socialism? He’s a technocratic capitalist. Worried about technocratic capitalists? He’s got a whole theory about how our system of “democratic capitalism” has to be a whole lot more “democratic.”

If you squint hard enough to not see color, some people say, you can almost see Obama the inspiring professor. Oh, and he’s the son of an immigrant, a Navy vet, speaks seven foreign languages (in addition to Norwegian, Arabic, Spanish, Maltese, Dari, French, and Italian), owns two rescue dogs, and plays the goddamn piano. He’s actually terrifying.

What mother wouldn’t love this guy?

And out here in Hollywood there’s TMZ:

The mayor of South Bend, IN, who’s expected to officially announce his candidacy Sunday, stopped by our office and downloaded us on his favorite music. Seems he’s got a thing for jam bands because he told us the Dave Matthews Band and Phish were his faves during high school and at Harvard.

He also told us his pops got him hooked on Creedence Clearwater Revival, and he’s been revisiting those tunes lately. Now, we knew he played guitar growing up… so we kinda put him on the spot by handing him a Gibson Les Paul.

Mayor Pete didn’t disappoint as he started riffin’ “Hey Joe” by Hendrix!

Seriously – politics aside, for just a moment – it would be pretty cool to have a President who can play Hendrix, right?

Rudy Giuliani couldn’t do that, and Jimi Hendrix is far too black for Donald Trump, and Trump wasn’t at Woodstock in August 1969 to hear Hendrix reinterpret the Star Spangled Banner – but Mayor Pete can play Hendrix. And he’ll tell a different story. He’s America’s Mayor after all, isn’t he?

He is now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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