I really didn’t want to write this and am still feeling conflicted even as I type. Because I really like Pete Buttigieg. He’s smart and young and a passionate public servant. And yes, I also like that he’s gay — both because I’m gay and it’s pretty amazing to see an openly gay candidate faring so well in a presidential primary, but also because his proud gayness is an implicit middle finger to Donald Trump’s anti-LGBTQ, anti-everyone-who-is-not-just-like-himself presidency.
Also, and I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit this, I genuinely look forward to every single one of Chasten Buttigieg’s Instagram posts gushing about his hubby. But I don’t think the hubby should be president. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the 299th largest city in the country, is simply not qualified to be president of the United States of America.
Experience matters. This feels like it should be an obvious point, but being president of the United States is a really hard and complicated job. To even list just a sampling of the things a competent president has to understand and respond to in the course of just one single day would be insultingly reductionist because the actual range is so wide and deep and, well, includes pretty much everything.
Trump thought it would be easy
Even Trump confessed about the presidency, months after his inauguration, “I thought it would be easier.” Indeed, Trump’s inexperience was attacked by Democrats in the lead-up to the 2016 election. And for good reason. Even if you support Trump’s agenda, he has shown that he is completely, ridiculously incompetent and in over his head.
So, what? We didn’t mean any of that and now we’re going to elect the mayor of a city that isn’t even the largest in Indiana to run the entire nation? Is this some kind of joke? Or just the next step in the increasingly slippery slope toward discarding all the principles and standards we once held dear before Trump became president?
Indeed, the trend in presidential elections is toward candidates with less and less governing experience, but if Trump was a giant leap too far in that direction, doesn’t the same go for Buttigieg? Are we now going to cheer if our next president uses Twitter to smear journalists and political opponents as long as that next president is a Democrat?
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Meanwhile, it’s stunning that so much of the “electability” debate has been focused on Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who literally created an entire new federal government agency — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — before, seven years ago, becoming a U.S. senator for Massachusetts. For the record, one might argue that makes Warren more experienced than former President Barack Obama, who was in the Senate for not even four years. And one might also argue that Obama’s lack of governing experience was the biggest shortcoming of his presidency, that with more experience and interest in governing (as opposed to campaigning) Obama could have achieved even more.
Buttigieg, race and gender
And let’s be clear, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was correct when she said in the latest Democratic debate, “Women are held to a higher standard.” Indeed, the debate question Wednesday was the very first whisper I’ve heard from the news media about Buttigieg and electability, while there are binders of thought pieces on whether Warren can win.
There’s something about the whole Buttigieg phenomenon that feels hard to separate from issues of race and gender. Sure, he’s gay, that’s a big check mark for diversity and inclusion and all, but amid the most race and gender diverse Democratic presidential field in history, it’s noteworthy that big donors, much of the political elite and obviously many voters as well are clinging to the white guys.
If it’s not Biden, the thinking seems to go, then we need another white guy. Like this race is too important to risk on a candidate who might actually excite the women and people of color, and especially the black women voters — who as Sen. Kamala Harris of California correctly pointed out, make up the “Obama coalition” that actually can win the election for Democrats.
I mean, yes Buttigieg speaks up to seven languages and served his country, but he has been consistently undazzling in the debates and in his policy rollouts, not to mention downright flailing in response to his shortcomings and crises. All of which also stems from his lack of experience.
Look, I think Pete Buttigieg is amazing. And of course I think he would make a better president than Donald Trump. But so would a piece of lint from the bottom of my sock, so that’s not enough. I have a theory that in the face of the monstrous disaster that is Trump, many Americans — especially young, white, millennial-ish Americans — think that they, too, would make a better president than Trump, not just someday but now. Which could be a big reason why they like Buttigieg. As a friend of mine said, he’s the mirror they want to see themselves in.
The fact remains that the next Democratic president must be a masterful and experienced tactician who can not only clean up the vast messes made by Trump, but also do the careful work of competently governing and leading our nation toward a better future for all. The good news is there are at least a half-dozen Democratic presidential candidates with the leadership experience to do just that. The bad news for Pete Buttigieg is he’s not one of them.
Sally Kohn, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is author of "The Opposite Of Hate: A Field Guide To Repairing Our Humanity." You can find her online at sallykohn.com and on Twitter: @SallyKohn
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pete Buttigieg doesn't have the experience to be president