Mayor Pete is gaining some momentum in the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary. As a mayor from a mid-sized city in Indiana, he has to be considered a very long shot, but I’ve enjoyed seeing his profile raising a bit. His auto-biography has been well-received and he made effective use of a town hall slot on CNN. However, I cringed a bit when I saw a tweet making the rounds talking about how he’d learned Norwegian to read more books by a Norwegian author for whom he could not find translations. I mean, that’s obviously very impressive, but talking about how smart he is doesn’t do him any political favors.
In a blog post about him I wrote about nine years ago when he was running for Treasurer, I mentioned, “we have an anti-intellectual streak a mile wide in this country where we want politicians to go with their gut and not any silly book-learnin’.” At the time, I believe I was still irritated a bit about Jill Long-Thompson’s campaign against Mitch Daniels for governor where she seemed to mention that she had a Ph.D. about every fifth sentence. That stuff does not impress American voters (and probably impresses Hoosier voters even less). We prefer “common sense” and “street smarts.” (Obligatory Einstein quote: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”) I think our ambivalence about education has something to do with discomfort about the class system we like to ignore having in the U.S.
We don’t have titled nobility, and class warfare is for Communists. This is America where all men are created equal, and you rise and fall on your own merit. This cherished belief creates a blind spot which makes us ill-equipped to explain the success of mediocrities like George W. Bush or Donald Trump. Blue collar workers are resentful of the out-sized influence the professional classes like lawyers, doctors, and accountants seem to have on their personal lives — they feel keenly that these white collar types are looking down their noses at them. But, because we pretend to live in a classless meritocracy, we lack the vocabulary to talk about structural impediments to people rising or falling based on individual merit. So, to some extent, I think the unspoken resentments over social class gets translated into a distrust of highly educated, intellectual types.
Anyway, that’s a long way to go to say that I don’t think Pete’s self-teaching himself Norwegian will win him many votes. I suppose it’s some sort of progress that I think his educational achievements are likely to cost him more votes than the fact that he’s gay. (We’re maybe getting better at talking about social justice issues than we are about social class issues).
Carlito Brigante says
There is an apocraphyl quote attributed to Adilai Stevenson which goes. “Well, I have the intellectual vote. Now I just have to figure out how to get the other 95% of the American voters. ” He made plenty of other quotes that demonstrate his erudite wit, though. He, Mark Twain and Gore Vidal should have shared a few drinks. Perhaps they have done that in heaven. I read a lot of CNBC articles on Facebook and an occasional theme are the high debt levels and/or high default rates on student loans. Workers hamstrung with high student debt get little sympathy. And lots of schadenfruede aimed at them.
The Stevenson exchange I heard was:
“Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!” And Adlai Stevenson answered, “That’s not enough. I need a majority.”
Pete is smart? Hold it! Give us good old Trump who doesn’t have a brain in his head and who resists or fires anyone who might possibly interfere with his need to be the smartest in the room.
I remember hearing once that a huge percentage of senators and representatives had doctorate degrees, but never used it in correspondence or in public. Sort of like the clap. Don’t want anyone to know whether they had it or where they got it because it might interfere with relationships.
“His was not a small mind” yes I saw both the 60 minute interview and 1/2 of the CNN town hall. He made the statement that global warming (he gave examples of a 50 and 100 year floods in South Bend) had already started and will get worse. Pete is not stupid but I think he will have to change his message up just a bit. His answers were almost word for word when answering questions about identical subjects asked on each platform. John F and Bobby Kennedy were highly educated and intellectuals and were widely (of course both being shot may have skewed the odds) thought of.
He is gathering steam at the moment (even more since this was published) *because of* the highly evident breadth and depth of his knowledge, not in spite of it. There are a whole lot of people out there to whom smart sounds pretty damn good right about now.
Can you imagine him in a debate with Trump?
George Emmert says
There’s some tragedy in the intergenerational momentum attached to the style of seeming at least semi-ignorant. Perhaps in large part we muster that semblance as part of the price of tribal belonging, but it can also be a valuable part of being open to each other, listening patiently to each other, and responding usefully. The issue for Mayor Pete is not his considerable intelligence per se, but how constructively he deploys it to facilitate interpersonal and policy deliberations. His extended popularity as mayor of South Bend should be seen as evidence of those skills.
My South Bend friends were touting Buttigieg’s skills to me during his first mayoral campaign in 2011. They made it clear then that he had his eyes on a higher office, though I thought they meant the governorship. My impression of his skills is that he has honed, and is doing a beautiful job playing, a 21st century update to the old Wendell Wilkie -just a kid from a small town- ploy. It might just work.