Who is Pete Buttigieg?

Have you watched the Showtime series House of Lies? It’s worth watching the first episode if nothing else. The series follows a small team of management consultants at a fictional firm that in the industry rankings is second only to McKinsey. The team is led by Marty Kaan, a partner at the fictional firm who happens to be black. He also has a bi-racial child who may be transgender.

In the first episode, Marty and his team fly into New York to pitch to the fictional Metro Capital, a financial firm on Park Avenue that sold a lot of mortgages during the housing boom and went short at the right time, making billions. The firm’s senior managers are about to reward themselves with enormous bonuses for their foresight/machinations. Meanwhile, one of MetroCapital’s foreclosure victims (an older white woman) is camped out in front of their offices in a cardboard box with a protest sign. A more perfect set-up for the systemic issues laid bare by the 2008 financial crisis couldn’t be imagined. Metro Capital has called in two consulting firms to help them prepare for and manage the bad press they will undoubtedly receive.

Marty’s team is about to lose their bid to his ex-wife’s (who happens to work at McKinsey). So they pitch a hail mary. They tell the assembled managers that they should offer a mortgage forgiveness program to millions of home-owners. The bankers balk at the prospect of losing billions. Then Marty’s staff explains how it would work.

Metro Capital would roll out the loan forgiveness program with fanfare and announce that millions of mortgage owners would be eligible for it. After basking in the positive press they’d dole out the enormous bonuses which no one would pay attention to. The press would be too busy congratulating them for their compassionate capitalism. Once the headlines were past, they’d chip away at the applicants, putting them through a Kafkaesque bureaucracy that would delay, deny and defer eligibility for forgiveness. While this process played out, many homeowners would die or give up in the face of opaque barriers. The press would never cover such a complex story, most people wouldn’t take the time to understand it. Marty’s team then presents an estimate that Metro Capital would have to write off a few thousand loans worth a few million. That they explain, is a small price to pay for the positive press and the chance to get their individual pay-offs without scrutiny.

The show is deeply subversive, largely because it showcases a dynamic we recognize. Its protagonists are accomplished, smart, culturally aware bi-coastal professionals many of us can identify with. Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) is admirable when he acts to protect his son as he figures out his gender identity.  At the same time, he acts as a handmaiden for powerful actors who perpetuate injustices.

What does all this have to do with Pete Buttegieg?

Well, for one thing, Pete Buttigieg worked at McKinsey. He has often talked about how much he learned at the management consultancy, devoting several pages of his memoir to this experience. Strangely, Buttigieg does not seem to have paid much attention to major scandals McKinsey was involved in during his tenure.

The former head of the firm was indicted and sent to jail on insider trading charges shortly after Pete Buttigieg’s tenure at McKinsey ended. McKinsey staff advised Perdue Pharma on how to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales, a strategy that severely exacerbated the opioid crisis. It has already resulted in several criminal convictions and will lead to more. McKinsey has also helped Saudi Arabia target its critics online, and has a long history of facilitating very unsavory regimes.

That he was able to ignore all this going around him speaks to an ability to compartmentalize culpability that should give us pause. An honest examination of the role McKinsey plays in facilitating systematic injustice would tarnish the shiny resume Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy rests on.

Pete Buttigieg’s political success relies on credentials acquired at several institutions. They include Harvard, Oxford, McKinsey and yes, the US Army. He seems largely untroubled by the problematic role these institutions have played in the lives of less privileged people, whether they be the homeless folks in Harvard Square, or Afghani and Iraqi civilians. Mayor Pete’s inability to honestly face, or even acknowledge the role these institutions have played should trouble us mightily. Here’s how Natan Robinson describes the problem in Current Affairs:

All of this made me go back and rethink one of Buttigieg’s proudest stories. Every time the media talks about Buttigieg, if they mention anything other than his résumé, it’s his signature initiative to deal with “blight.” Buttigieg says that when he took office, there were “too many houses,” that the main complaint he received from residents was about the proliferation of vacant homes. His major policy goal, then, was to “repair or demolish” 1,000 homes in 1,000 days, a number his staff thought impossible. The council president called this an initiative to “right-size the city” (“right-size” is a euphemism from the business world used to make layoffs sound like the simple reasonableness of a corporate Goldilocks). Thanks to his diligent, McKinsey-esque management, Buttigieg blew past the goal. — www.currentaffairs.org/…

This sounds great, what could be more civic-spirited than “blight” removal. Except for the history of such projects. “Blight removal”, has often been used to sweep away poor neighborhoods to smoothen the road for developers like Trump. These choices have often destroyed the culture and community of entire neighborhoods.

NYC, the city I live in, is scarred by such projects. The old Penn Station, a miracle of public architecture, was torn down to build the ugly monstrosity that is Madison Square Garden and the office tower next to it. Developers like Trump made a lot of money out of this travesty. Commuters were left to make their way through the underground warren that is the new Penn station.

Robert Moses built a grand series of highways through New York City to ease commutes for those who fled the city to live in segregated suburbs. This focus on roads instead of public transit has led to a subway system long in a state of disrepair. Numerous neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx were demolished or torn in half to make way for the highways Moses built. At one point, he wanted to run an eight lane monstrosity through Greenwich Village, tearing down virtually every low-rise building there. This was pitched as “tenement removal” and “blight removal”. What an enormous cultural and public disaster that would have been.

So it’s worth examining the mechanism Mayor Pete used to bring about his vision of a brighter, shinier city, and who exactly benefited from it. Distressed home owners were fined, and those unable to pay those fines saw their houses demolished by the city.

Make repairs or have your house flattened? Wait, who were these people who were “unable” to make repairs? Were they, by chance, poor? Also, how did these houses become vacant in the first place? Were people evicted or foreclosed on? Look a little deeper into the coverage and you’ll find that this was not simply a matter of “efficient and responsive government,” but a plan to coerce those who possessed dilapidated houses into either spending money or having the houses cleared away for development. — www.currentaffairs.org/…

And who are the poor people in South Bend Indiana?

For that we can go to the Racial Wealth Divide in South Bend report:

Hispanic households in South Bend have a 32.9% income poverty rate, which is 10 percentage points higher than the national Hispanic income poverty rate. Hispanic households in South Bend are more likely to own their homes, but the median value of their homes is $60,000, which is one-third of the national median home value. […]

The situation is most troubling for the African American community in South Bend. For almost all measures, African Americans fall significantly behind White residents in the city. For example, the median African American household income in South Bend is $14,000 lower than the national average. As such, 40.2% of African Americans in the city fall below the poverty line, a number which is almost twice the national poverty rate for African American households.Although all racial groups in South Bend face lingering economic challenges in the aftermath of deindustrialization, communities of color face the dual burdens of a weak local economy and deep racial economic inequality. — prosperitynow.org/…

Mayor Pete’s redevelopment program left many of these communities and people behind.

Community advocates in poorer, often African-American or Hispanic neighborhoods began to complain that the city was being too aggressive in fining property owners over code enforcement. The city leveled fines that added up to thousands of dollars, in certain cases, to pressure homeowners to make repairs or have their houses demolished. It also charged homeowners for the cost of tearing down those houses.

Regina Williams-Preston experienced that firsthand. It’s what spurred the sometimes-critic of Buttigieg to run for City Council. She said the city contacted her and her husband about three investment properties and began issuing fines over unmade repairs.

Ultimately, she said, the city bulldozed the homes. Her husband had intended to flip the properties, she said, but he was hospitalized and lost the time and the financial means to do so. She ultimately owed the city about $2,000 in fines, she said. Her husband, she said, settled lawsuits by agreeing to pay about $25,000 for the cost of demolition.

The city’s policy was not to bulldoze a home with someone living in it. But, Williams-Preston said, some folks like her had acquired cheap investment properties with the intention of fixing them up. Others had inherited homes. It’s not unusual for generations of any family to live in the same neighborhood, she said. — www.indystar.com/…

Clearly Mayor Pete has a lot of work to do to convince South Bend’s black community that he will represent their interest. Given the sky-high poverty and inequality rates in South Bend, one would think he’d be focusing on addressing these issues first. They have not been a priority.

Nathan Robinson’s article in Current Affairs is a troubling read. A big part of it is a critical review of Mayor Pete’s book “Shortest Way Home”.

Buttigieg’s book is actually one of the strangest pieces of writing I’ve ever read by a “progressive.” Buttigieg doesn’t even seem to speak the language of progressivism. Justice. Workers. The powerless versus the powerful. It’s just not in here. Don’t believe me? Read the book! Oh, you’ll find a cursory reference here and there, perhaps something like the students were volunteering at homeless shelter or we need to think about people’s lives. In the story about his publicly coming out as gay, he mentions that he wished reporters would talk about poverty and hunger “that were impacting our city” instead. But you’ll get a lot more that’s completely apolitical: the origins of his husband’s tattoos, what it was like to first get Bluetooth, snowflakes on an Indiana winter morning, the biographies of his professors, a former mayor’s picky eating habits, etc. There is more about the snow in South Bend than the people of South Bend! By the time you finish Shortest Way Home you may be thinking what I was thinking: Where the hell is justice. — www.currentaffairs.org/…

What this country, and the Democratic party need, is a candidate who will work relentlessly to reverse the injustices foisted on us by a political and economic system that works against the people. We have systemic problems, we need a candidate who offers systemic solutions and has fought for them over decades.

Pete Buttegieg isn’t that candidate. He might be able to speak the language, but those of us on the left should not be fooled by his natural facility with words.

here’s a fact about Pete Buttigieg: He picks up languages quickly. He already speaks seven of them, and you can find stories online of him dazzling people by dropping some Arabic or Norwegian on them. The lingo of Millennial Leftism will be a cinch for Pete. He will begin to use all the correct phrases, with perfect grammar. The question you should ask is: What language has he been speaking up until now?

www.currentaffairs.org/…

@subirgrewal

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