Pete Buttigieg “warned that identity politics can be corrosive on the right and the left,” the New York Times noted in a recent gushing profile of the young mayor of South Bend, Ind. But that didn’t stop the paper from framing its entire story exactly along those lines.
“Pete Buttigieg Confronts Race and Identity in Speech to Gay Group,” read the headline on Jeremy Peters’ story on Buttigieg.
Buttigieg “directly confronted one of his biggest vulnerabilities as a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination: running as a white man who has led a life of relative privilege at a time when many in his party are eager for a woman or a minority candidate to become their next leader,” read the lead.
It went on to say Buttigieg “drew on his own experiences as a gay man in a predominantly straight society. But he also rejected the notion that ‘there are equivalencies’ in the forms of discrimination experienced by different minority groups and individuals.”
It then quotes Buttigieg saying, “I may be part of the LGBQ community, but being a gay man doesn’t even tell me what it’s like to be a trans woman of color in that same community, let alone an undocumented mother of four or a disabled veteran or a displaced autoworker.”
Buttigieg “recalled the experiences of several historically oppressed groups and the political movements that brought greater social and political equality, including Latino farm laborers, black civil rights activists and the modern gay rights movement that grew out of the Stonewall rebellion in Greenwich Village,” Peters wrote.
At that point, Peters informed us identity politics can be a problem and that Buttigieg thinks “it often drove people in his party with a common purpose bitterly apart.”
“The wall I worry about most isn’t the president’s fantasy wall on the Mexican border that will never get built anyway. What I worry about are the very real walls being put up between us as we get divided and carved up,” Buttigieg was quoted as saying.
Buttigieg added, “And what every gay person has in common with every excluded person of every kind is knowing what it’s like to see a wall.”
The identity politics didn’t stop there. Buttigieg’s biggest problem, Peters wrote, was “persistent doubts form activists and allies alike about whether he could appeal to voters beyond the mostly white crowds who have been showing up at his campaign rallies in growing numbers.” There are also questions about his firing a black police chief and “frustration among some African-Americans that they have not benefited equally from the city’s economic resurgence.”
The story then name-checks a Hollywood star – Gwyneth Paltrow, who held a fundraiser at her home for Buttigieg.
It’s not just trying to be in the right demographic, sexual preference and racial groups, Peters wrote. The Buttigieg candidacy is also the proper age demographic. Peters said one sign Buttigieg is making an impression is that he’s starting to take flak from President Trump.
The president nicknamed him Alfred E. Neuman, the front-page character of the old Mad magazine. “Mr. Buttigieg, who has attempted to make much of his argument to voters about the need for generational change in politics, professed to being a bit puzzled by the Neuman reference.
“The humor magazine’s heyday was years before he was born. ‘I had to Google that,’ he said when asked about it. ‘I guess it’s a generational thing.’”
Given the heavy play of the identity politics angle – the Times both decrying it and discussing it in nearly every sentence – it wasn’t surprising to read one last Buttigieg quote: “I am ready to use my story, my energy, my alliances, and yes, my privilege, to throw myself into tearing down those walls.”