What corner of political heaven did Pete Buttigieg fly down from? The 37-year-old Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has mightily impressed mainstream Democrats with his refreshing common-sense intelligence. And that's won him admiring glances from many Republicans, as well. Buttigieg's last name is pronounced like "boot-a-judge." You can skirt the issue by simply calling him Mayor Pete. And oh, it looks as if he's running for president.
Hollywood couldn't script a more appealing political resume. Buttigieg is an Afghanistan War veteran and a Rhodes scholar who studied Arabic and speaks a little Norwegian. He's also an earthbound mayor working on problems in a Rust Belt city. Importantly, he speaks fluent policy in an accessible way. Though definitely a progressive, he describes his ideas with a Midwestern modesty that doesn't scare moderates.
Most pundits put the fact that Buttigieg is gay in the first paragraph. Not I. Buttigieg doesn't make a big deal of it. Obviously, voters in his blue-collar city don't, either. A big distinguishing factor is his age. Buttigieg won't reach Donald Trump's vintage, 72, until the year 2054. A candidate's health should matter more than age — but there's no denying that today's bad governing will hurt young Americans the most.
Another unusual feature for a Democrat is a desire to talk about faith. An Episcopalian, Buttigieg disputes that the only way a religious person can enter politics is through the religious right. In an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Buttigieg said that a truly Christian viewpoint should be marked by compassion, reaching out to others and humbling oneself. That couldn't be more different, he added, from "what we're being shown in Washington."
And that's all he had to say about Trump. Mika Brzezinski tried to drag the president's latest tweet about George Conway into the conversation, but Buttigieg wouldn't bite. He's smart that way.
One could also see him as a candidate for vice president, a heartland voice that could balance out a presidential nominee with a sharper delivery. But he could also be an interesting running mate for Joe Biden, who inhabits the other end of the age spectrum.
What about the issues?
On foreign wars, Buttigieg opposes open-ended commitments involving ground troops. However, he added, "limited counterterrorism presence that involves intelligence and special ops — I can get on board with."
As for Syria, he noted that the president said we were getting out quickly but now we're not. "We literally don't have a policy."
Would he add seats to the Supreme Court as some Democrats advocate? Only if it is part of a project to depoliticize the court, he answered.
"Medicare for all"? Buttigieg prefers "Medicare for all who want it." That means people could buy into it but stay with their employer's plan if they prefer that. This, of course, is the most sellable approach.
Universal background checks for gun buyers? Yes, he said, noting that this is what 80 percent of Republicans also say they want. Denying guns to people on the no-fly list is a no-brainer.
And he has a gentle sense of humor. He sidestepped a question of whether he thought Mike Trout is worth the $430 million the Los Angeles Angels say they'll pay him. Instead, he responded as you would expect from a mayor. "I could do our entire sewer separation project for that much," he said wistfully.
So many Americans watching Buttigieg in action come away saying, "I like that guy." President in 2020? Not likely. Then again, who knows? But unless there's some big bad secret waiting to escape, it's a good bet that Pete Buttigieg will be president before the first half of the 21st century is out.