Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN, is the latest Democrat to throw his hat into the 2020 presidential ring and will now discover just how maddening it can be steering his way through the choppy waters of a party defined by division and victimhood. Buttigieg sees himself as a uniter, hoping to tout his executive experience as a two-term mayor while downplaying his homosexuality as not being central to what he brings to the table. The problem is, Buttigieg is swimming in the progressive identity politics stream even as he tries to float himself as the man to rise above it.
Another Divisive Dem
In a March interview with The Intercept, Buttigieg said President Trump is “failing to protect” Americans “from the clear and present dangers that white nationalism” poses. Is this the language of a healer? But Buttigieg took it much further than that.
“I think … he doesn’t want to acknowledge that [white nationalism is] a problem probably because he’s sympathetic to it. Look, it’s no secret that this president came to power largely by turning people against one another and by taking advantage of the use of white nationalism as a sort of version of extremism that can provide a sense of identity or community in the most ugly fashion to people who are wondering whether they have a sense of belonging today.”
By acceding to the standard Democrat attack line on social tensions, Buttigieg plays a dangerous game. As a white male, he may find such divisiveness can easily turn back on him. In fact, the elements are already in place for this to happen. A racially charged drama involving the South Bend Police Department has sparked concerns of potential strife with the black community as the ever-left-leaning Democratic primary process beckons and has led some to question the Midwestern mayor’s much-hyped executive acumen.
Skeleton in the Progressive Closet
In 2012, Buttigieg demoted South Bend’s first-ever black police chief following a wiretapping scandal. Chief Darryl Boykins had allowed the taping of fellow officers’ telephone conversations without their knowledge. The conversations allegedly featured racist remarks. Boykins confronted officers about the remarks, and they, surprised to discover that what they thought were private communications were in fact being recorded, went to the FBI, the Washington Free Beacon reports.
Buttigieg demanded Boykins’ resignation two months after federal investigators first notified him of the probe. South Bend city council members were outraged at Buttigieg’s unilateral action.
“[T]o learn that Mayor Pete Buttigieg has known about a federal investigation taking place within the South Bend Police Department since January 2012 is truly disturbing, especially since … (the mayor) did not inform anyone on the South Bend Common Council about the investigation,” council member Oliver Davies said at the time, The South Bend Tribune reported.
“This shows a tremendous lack of respect and poor communication between the city’s administration and the South Bend Common Council.” But Buttigieg’s problems didn’t end there.
Later, Boykins rescinded his resignation, but the mayor refused to reinstall him as police chief. Boykins sued the city for racial discrimination. In his suit, Boykins noted that the top three black police officials in South Bend had all retired, been removed, or were demoted since Buttigieg had assumed office, The Hill reports.
“The Mayor seized the ‘tape scandal’ to make a clean sweep of the heretofore African American leadership in South Bend,” Boykins’ suit claimed.
Buttigieg eventually settled the lawsuit, but the tapes of the police officers’ alleged racial statements still exist, and black activists want to hear them, feeling they might reveal a conspiracy by white officers against black citizens. This is the kind of racially charged hornet’s nest that no white Democratic presidential candidate can afford to confront. And Buttigieg did himself no favors in his previous attempts to move on from the entire affair.
In a 2015 State of the City address made as the police tape controversy continued to swirl around him, Buttigieg called for “racial reconciliation” between citizens and law enforcement. “There is no escaping the fact that the most grievous injustices experienced by minorities in American history were often served at the hands of police officers,” Buttigieg said in his speech.
He then went on to exhort citizens to be “both pro-minority and pro-police, at the same time … for the simple and profound reason that all lives matter.” Oops. The “all lives matter” line is seen as a rejection of the progressive mantra that “black lives matter.” Buttigieg is being slammed to this day by leftist activists for using that phrase.
“That’s four years ago, but it was not that long ago. It was not a time when ‘all lives matter’ was a smart thing to say, or reflective of someone who is concerned about black people being killed by the police,” Nate Levin-Aspenson, a local organizer in South Bend, told CNBC.
“What I would say is, take a look at what he is saying now, and compare that to his record as mayor. See what you find.”
Now that he is a declared candidate, rival progressives will indeed look more closely at that record. And Buttigieg very well may find, to his dismay, that white males willing to play the identity politics game in the Democratic Party are not immune from being clotheslined by it themselves.