As he jogged down the hill toward his makeshift stage and through a crowded throng of students and community members into the University of New Hampshire (UNH) “fishbowl” on Friday, Oct. 25, presidential candidate and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN. presented himself as a man of many titles.
“I’m an Episcopalian, I’m a veteran, I’m a husband, I’m a feminist, and I’m here to ask for your vote for the American presidency and I’d like to tell you why,” he told the audience of nearly 100. That crowd in turn presented him with cheers and cries of excitement as he presented his vision a Buttigieg 2020 nomination and his views on hot-button issues like climate change, women’s rights, international diplomacy, homelessness and others.
“I’m running for president because I think our country is running out of time,” he said as he explained his motivation for entering the chaotic Democratic race. “We have come to a moment that is going to decide what the course of this nation is going to be for the rest of our lifetimes. Now, no pressure, but even now, we might be underreacting to the stakes of this moment, and what’s on our hands right now is a make-or-break choice for the United States.”
Before diving into the details, the mayor asked his attendees to imagine beyond the 2020 election itself and into the future – specifically, the possibility of the morning sun “going up” on a Donald Trump-less Oval Office. He asked them to picture the day in January 2021 that could mark the end of “chaos and…tweets to start off the news cycle.”
He also stressed that, in spite of left-leaning optimism, such a feat would not come easily.
“The sun’s going to come up over a country that still has these tremendous crises on our hands,” Buttigieg said. “Climate did not take a vacation during the impeachment process…the problems in our economy did not take a vacation. The need for healthcare for every single American didn’t take time off during this presidency; it just became more severe.”
Over the first half of the hour-long event, the candidate – who would make history as the nation’s first openly gay president if elected – offered his own slate of solutions to those issues, such as an overarching emphasis on tampering growing political divisions within and beyond Washington.
“You know, it’s not that far from Thanksgiving, and I think a lot of us are looking at Thanksgiving with a mixture of anticipation and a little bit of nervousness about how to keep the peace…[sirens]…because that meal’s turning into a minefield,” he said of the severity of the nation’s polarization problem. “That is what has happened.”
Buttigieg said the solution to America’s coast-to-coast schism goes beyond discussing compromises “in a generally agreeable way” and calls for action on the same issues dividing its citizens online and in the streets.
“Remember, under normal circumstances, if our economy and our democracy were working the way they were supposed to, then a guy like Donald Trump would never had been able to get within cheating-distance of the presidency in the first place,” he explained. “That doesn’t happen if things are going fine.”
The mayor concluded that, due to the breaking of those “normal circumstances,” that a return to a pre-Trump America would not do enough to address the long-term impact of the current administration on the country, thus accentuating his desire for a “new normal” and “new American majority” fashioned out of people in favor of “American values.”
Buttigieg, while defining these “values,” listed “love of country” as one of its key components, stressing that “you can’t love our country if you hate half of the people who are in it.” Other components of his set of “values” included protection from domestic and foreign threats and maintaining diplomatic ties with international allies, climate change – an issue he called “the security issue of our time, globally and nationally,” – and gun control, where he called for keeping the Second Amendment from being “twisted into an excuse to do nothing at all about guns when we could save thousands of lives every single year” through the likes of background checks, red flag laws, and bans on assault weapons.
Another part of Buttigieg’s platform rested on his personal definitions of freedom, which he said goes beyond “freedom from” governmental burdens and “freedom to… live a life of our choosing.”
“And yes, sometimes that does mean getting government out of the way; for example, getting government out of the business of dictating to women what their reproductive healthcare choices ought to be,” the mayor said to enthusiastic applause. “Then again, sometimes it means insisting that our government step up and deliver, and that is the idea of ‘Medicare for All Who Want It,’ making sure every American can get healthcare coverage because you’re not free if you don’t have it; that’s freedom, too.”
He also insisted that government should interfere less with other issues as well, including gerrymandering, the influence of money in politics, and acts of suppressing the public vote, “whether it’s racially-motivated voter suppression in the South or the suppression of the student vote right here in New Hampshire;” the latter claim resulted in a larger wave of student cheers than the last.
“I’ve even gone so far as to suggest that, in a democracy, we might go ahead and pick our nation’s leader by just counting up all the votes and giving it to the person who got the most in November,” Buttigieg said in support for dropping the Electoral College, which he called “a bold new direction.”
Beyond the policies themselves, however, the candidate spoke of the symbolic importance of governance itself, which he said should be based on how decisions made today impact the future and “everyday life,” adding that improving the lives of others is “why we as a species invented government in the first place…”
Taking that issue to heart, Buttigieg, in the midst of the public rally, also shared the personal impacts of past politics on both himself and his family.
“For me, I think about the day I found myself writing a letter to my family and putting the words, ‘just in case,’ on the outside and slipping it where I knew they would find it in the event I didn’t come back from Afghanistan,” he said. “…I think about the look on my mother’s face when the social worker explained that the best financial solution to long-term care for my father after he became ill would be to spend down everything that the family had until we qualified for Medicaid.
“It can have such terrible and such wonderful consequences for our everyday lives, the decisions they make out there,” he continued. “I say that, standing before you as somebody who marriage exists by the grace of a single vote on the United State Supreme Court; that is what politics means to me.”
The event’s second half gave the traditional rally format a local twist, as Rep. Maria Robinson (D-MA) of the state’s 6th Middlesex District, presented a glass fishbowl filled with questions participants submitted prior to the event; Robinson called it “from the fishbowl to the ‘fishbowl.’”
Among the questions answered by Buttigieg over the next half-hour, one of them touched upon his earlier point of greater unity in Washington, with the question asking how the candidate would “incentivize” increased collaboration between members on Congress. He responded with a two-pronged attack: Plan “B” and Plan “A.”
In regards to the former plan, the candidate said it relied on the necessity for his administration to acquire a majority to secure support and safe passing of the issues his presidency would hope to address.
“You wouldn’t know it, [but] Democrats have this habit of being in this defensive crouch, like we preemptively think everything we believe is unpopular,” he explained. “But if you go back and look at it, the American people are with us on raising wages, with us on paid family leave, with us on the right to abortion; even [with] folks who can’t agree on where to draw the line, a majority agree on who gets to draw the line, and that’s the woman making the decision.”
He added that, upon acquiring the office, he would also use Air Force One as part of this plan to land into the home districts of opposing members of Congress and engage his “new American majority” to pressure his political opponents, “even in conservative states,” to back his policies.
Despite the more active nature of Plan “B,” Buttigieg called Plan “A” his “preferred approach,” mainly because it aims for the likes of [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell not to be in the majority at all, which is why we need a candidate with coattails going into the White House and bring the Senate along.”
Another question from the crowd asked for Buttigieg’s plans for tackling homelessness; he took this moment to describe his personal experience with dealing with the issue back in South Bend, where the town had seen the most progress in dealing with veterans’ homelessness and was even going as far as to complete paperwork to register as a “functional zero” community in this regard.
However, the mayor stressed that his solutions would not be “one-size-fits-all,” as he pointed out that nearly 40 percent of the homeless population lie within the LGBT+ community. Of those solutions, he said they would include extra focus on mental health issues, an increase in “culturally competent teachers” to help provide education to those who need it, and the passing of an “Equality Act” that would ban discrimination of all kinds, including discrimination against gender and sexual identities.
Buttigieg returned to the topic of environmental policy, meanwhile, when a question asked for his solutions to climate change concerns; he responded that “our lives depend on it.”
“I think maybe it’s a mistake sometimes to think of it just in terms of saving the planet because, the truth is, in some form, the planet will be here; the question is how do we save the planet’s ability to sustain life. It’s really about saving people, because people’s lives are on the line…” He took that moment to recount how his own South Bend was affected by two consecutive floods that came within two years of each other yet, per the candidate, were only supposed to occur once every “thousand years or so.”
While also calling for a new “global climate policy” led by the U.S. in response to the Trump administration, he also emphasized his desire for a restoration of diplomatic ties worn by the current White House. The candidate recalled how the nation’s past diplomatic ties with foreign allies helped him while serving in Afghanistan, saying that the American flag he carried on his shoulder while on duty “stood for a country known to keep its word.”
Buttigieg stressed that chances to help and spread peace and freedom around the world get harder without strong diplomatic ties, and how, in his mind, the president’s actions resulted in many partnerships being “chased out” or leaving in “disgust.” He even went as far as to express sympathy with many of the diplomats still serving the Trump administration when he said how he is “surprised that the ones still left are there!”
The candidate’s visit to UNH, as with other Democratic visits to the campus, generated positive responses from both attendees and overseers of his Granite State campaign operations. For instance, junior political science and justice studies major Alex Stern, who heard of the event through a College of Liberal Arts (COLA) email sent out by one of his political science professors, said he was most looking forward to Buttigieg’s stances on gun control and the state of campuses around the country, among others.
“This is the only time in my life that I’m going to have this easy access to all the candidates,” he said. “So, honestly, no matter what my political beliefs are, I love going to all of the political events, so that’s why I’m here.”
Meanwhile, sophomore social work and women’s studies major Sophie Baker, a new volunteer to Buttigieg’s local campaign, said that she had been following the candidate for “the past few months” and attended the town hall to show her support; she expressed interest in hearing about his stances on reproductive rights and the ongoing southern border crisis.
“I think it’s good to bring publicity and to see how many people in the community support him,” Baker said.
Kevin Donohoe, the New Hampshire director of communications for Buttigieg’s campaign, called the event “really exciting” and “energetic,” describing the turnout as “really strong” and exceeding initial expectations.
“Pete got to share his message about addressing the challenges our country faces and coming together to do what we need to do to create a better country, so I think it was really successful,” Donohoe told The New Hampshire. “The energy on campus for Pete has just been really exciting for us.”