In the category of inspiring hope, both former President Barack Obama and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are wunderkinds. And as powerful orators, both Obama and Pete Buttigieg are stars of the brightest magnitude. And when it comes to playing smart politics and energizing the electorate, there’s good reason why pundits are equating the phenomenal rise of Pete Buttigieg to Obama’s.
But Pete Buttigieg is not Barack Obama. Those who want to praise him by using both names in the same breath (“Pete could be the next Obama!”), would be better served simply engaging Pete for what he is and what he could represent on his own terms. Because comparing a two-term former leader of the country – a man who defeated Hillary Clinton, defeated John McCain, captured Osama bin Laden and gave Americans landmark health care reform – with a two-time Mayor from Indiana running his very first presidential campaign, is not only unfair, it could very well get Trump re-elected.
There’s no denying there’s a similar excitement factor between Obama and Buttigieg and the firsts each of them represent. It’s meaningful that Pete’s historical candidacy has gained head-spinning traction. Obama’s campaign had that excitement in 2008, and Pete’s has it in 2019. That is real.
What’s unfair to the Buttigieg campaign is that it’s impossible to look at “2008 Obama candidacy” without seeing it through the lens of the “2019 Obama legacy” and everything Obama accomplished in between. His rise, his twice winning of the White House, and all his political triumphs are simply too big and intertwined in American consciousness now for us to really recall what Obama was as a mere candidate: a very smart man whose ability to go all the way was being questioned by millions.
Think of Obama as Daniel Craig in the role of Bond. We love him now. He’s a proven entity. By comparison, any actor mentioned as the next Bond is going to be seen with concern over whether he can really “fill the tux.” Obama wore it like a boss, but we have yet to see how it will look on Pete.
Pete Buttigieg’s numbers in Iowa are not just good… they’re great. Like Obama great! Obama, you’ll recall, won the state in 2007, and it propelled him to front-runner status. Yes, he already had stronger numbers going into South Carolina than Pete does at the moment. No one is more aware than Pete Buttigieg and his staff that his obstacles are different, and his approach will have to be as well.
It seems some people think black voters may have a problem with Pete Buttigieg. You’ll notice I didn’t say, “black voters definitely have a problem with Pete Buttigieg.” As far as I can tell, no black person has cast a vote yet. So how can anyone really know?
Yes, there are polls that indicate Pete has a lot of work to do with African Americans. Yes, South Carolina is a concern for his campaign, as it should be. But there’s a difference between the statement “I am currently not supporting Pete Buttigieg” and “I will never support Pete Buttigieg.”
In 2008, there were only three brands: Obama, Clinton and Edwards. Today, in a field of 18-plus candidates, African American voters have the luxury of still weighing their options and waiting to see which candidate will really fight for them. Not only does Pete have to battle through all the other voices on the debate stage, he also has to contend with a president who sucks the air from every room and every news cycle. It makes sense that many more voters this time around have yet to settle on their candidate. That Pete has climbed this high at this point in the race is astonishing.
Pete Buttigieg does not have Obama’s spirit; he has his own. And this is not 2008, a time that now seems delightfully inconsequential in comparison to the impeachment hearings, porn stars, and backstabbing that prevail over the present White House. The intellects of the two men may be comparable, but the playbooks certainly aren’t. At some point, no matter who the nominee is, Democrats will either have to come together to support him or her, or allow their fears of how they think someone else might vote to overcome them. Doing so will keep the country in the hands of an autocrat and the paltry minority base feeding his insatiable ego. That’s something I can assure you Pete Buttigieg and Barack Obama both want to end, in equal amounts.