Pete Buttigieg’s Authenticity Problem

 Pete Buttigieg’s authenticity problem is real.  

Two weeks ago small city mayor Pete Buttigieg heaped praise on to former Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy. It did not go well.

In an interview, Buttigieg said, while explaining his proposal to drastically reshape the Supreme Court, that “The idea here is you get more justices who think for themselves. Justices like Justice Kennedy.”  

What followed was a cascade of backlash across the liberal spectrum. Bernie Sanders went so far as to tweet “I’d like more justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

Buttigieg’s assertion that Kennedy wasn’t tethered to any ideology is laughable. Although Kennedy was regarded as the court’s swing vote, he was still a committed conservative on the court who ruled more often against liberal causes than for them.

Supreme Court reform has been a pet project dog for the mayor during his candidacy. He made a splash when he proposed expanding the size of the court by adding six new justices, bringing the total number of justices to 15. Under the policy, the court would have five conservatives, five liberals, and five apolitical justices who would be chosen by the first ten.

His proposal to re-shape the Supreme Court is bold and controversial. The proposal helps satisfy a desire among Democrats to elevate the importance of the Supreme Court during the primaries, and general election.  

The policy, when it was first rolled out in June, helped to show voters and pundits that his mild demeanor, pragmatism, and Midwest folkiness didn’t hide progressivism.  

But Pete Buttigieg’s authenticity problem is that his comment about Kennedy wasn’t progressive. It was naive. 

The Kennedy comment underscores a central problem that Buttigieg has: Authenticity.  

Concerns about authenticity have historically only applied to female candidates. Buttigieg himself has questioned Elizabeth Warren’s authenticity, specifically whether she is offering false promises in the form of grand-scale policy proposals.

Medicare for all is one such Warren plan that Buttiegieg has criticized. He tried to torpedo Warren on the debate stage on how she’ll pay for her healthcare plan. The critique from Mayor Pete pissed off enough Warren supporters/activists with a twitter account to fill every NFL stadium. Warren has since released her plan on paying for an overhaul of the healthcare system. 

Pete’s bold court policy took a page out of Elizabeth Warren’s playbook of “big structural change.” The problem, however, for Mayor Pete is that you can’t push for big changes in one policy area and then pushback on other big changes like Medicare for All.  

If Buttigieg as any chance of winning the nomination, and then uniting the party behind him, then he can’t continue to shy away from being bold. 

Header Image: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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