John F. Harris explains why Mayor Buttbandit is failing to capture the hearts of the democrat party’s pierced and tattooed, Pabst-swilling millennial constituency.
Buttigieg is still 17 months younger than Macaulay Culkin of â€œHome Aloneâ€ fame, an attentive reader notes. After all these years, that is a gap that shows no sign of narrowing. On the other hand, he is now a full three years older than Mozartâ€”another prodigy, but who never served one term as mayor of South Bend, Ind., much less twoâ€”was at the time of his death.
As early middle age inches into view, Buttigieg is welcoming a new year filled with dazzling possibilities. Heâ€™s bunched in the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire. But heâ€™s also experiencing a change in the weather that must be uncomfortable for someone who has known since early boyhood that he is very smart and that the Big People invariably find him impressive.
The very traits that usually impressâ€”his fluency in political language; go-getterâ€™s rÃ©sumÃ©; intense ambition carried in the vessel of a calm, well-mannered personaâ€” are increasingly being greeted with skepticism and even derision. Notably, this is coming from his peers.
â€œButtigieg hate is tightly concentrated among the young,â€ a writer at the Atlantic observed. â€œWhy Pete Buttigieg Enrages the Young Left,â€ read a headline in POLITICO Magazine. â€œSwing Voter Really Relates to Buttigiegâ€™s Complete Lack of Conviction,â€ said a headline in The Onion. For months, the satirical site has been vicious toward him in ways that evoke the wisecracking cool kids at the back of the class mocking the preening overachiever in the front row.
The Buttigieg backlash, by my lights, flows from origins that are less ideological than psychological. I noticed it some time ago with someâ€”certainly not allâ€”younger journalistic colleagues in particular. He torques them in ways that seem personal.
They are well-acquainted with the Buttigieg type. They find his patter and polish annoying. They regard his career to dateâ€”Harvard, Oxford, McKinsey, the mayoraltyâ€”as a facile exercise in box-checking: A Portrait of the Bullshit Artist as a Young Man.
Above all, they wonder why the artifice and calculation that seem obvious to them are somehow lost on others.
These Buttigieg skeptics, in my experience, typically overlook another possibility: His admirers arenâ€™t oblivious to the fact that heâ€™s partly B.S.-ing. It just doesnâ€™t much bother them. Iâ€™ll go a step further: Viewed in the right light, his teacherâ€™s-pet glibness and implacable careerism are desirable traits.