Skip to main content

At a time when the country’s moral standards are being shredded, Mr. Buttigieg comes across as a young man of moral stature and authority well capable of leading an ethical renaissance.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Democrats have a habit of falling in love with saintly new faces as potential nation-rescuers.

After Richard Nixon, along came the pious Jimmy Carter. “I will never lie to you,” he solemnly vowed. He won the Democratic nomination, then the presidency.

In 1988, Michael Dukakis, another virtuous type, became the nominee and was promptly walloped by George H.W. Bush. After Mr. Bush’s son W. and his warmongering vice-president, Dick Cheney, came the noble and high-minded Barack Obama.

Story continues below advertisement

Now, another do-gooder threatens to claim the country’s saviour mantle. That would be the brainiac wonder boy Pete Buttigieg. Less than a year ago, he was the totally unknown 37-year-old gay mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Now, he’s the candidate on the move. He’s only fourth in national polls, far behind the three old warhorses – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – all of whom are no less than two generations older than him.

But national polls aren’t the key barometer. Where to look is where the candidates stand in the first two primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire. Mr. Buttigieg is right there with the front-runners in Iowa and on the rise in the Granite State.

Mayor Pete is touting the Obama comparison. In a recent fundraising letter (I’m somehow on his mailing list), he made the point that this campaign was 2008 all over again, that he is rekindling the same excitement in today’s hyper-divided country as happened that year.

What gives Mr. Buttigieg distinction in the field is that he is a religious Democrat. At a time when the country’s moral standards are being shredded, he comes across as a young man of moral stature and authority well capable of leading an ethical renaissance.

A devout Espicopalian who cites Scripture, Mayor Pete uses the language of faith in his campaign, something Democrats have always shied away from and something that is normally the domain of Republicans. He confronts religious conservatives, calling out the Christian right for its shameful charade in supporting an immoral President such as Donald Trump.

It’s hypocrisy on stilts – and he is right to do so. “The Republican party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,” Mr. Buttigieg says. “We should call out hypocrisy when we see it.”

Story continues below advertisement

He has taken on Vice-President Mike Pence for his opposition to same-sex marriage. On immigration, he says any party that thinks “God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

Mr. Buttigieg has the three leading candidates looking over their shoulders. He is a moderate from the Rust Belt. He isn’t saddled with the yesterday’s-man foibles of Mr. Biden or with a radical medicare-for-all policy such as Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren. Given that tens of millions of Americans would have to relinquish their private health-insurance plans, it’s a high-risk issue. National medicare, the critics say, equals national nightmare.

It was expected that Mr. Buttigieg’s being gay might be a handicap. But so far, there are few signs. If the United States could elect a black president, it could elect a gay one, too.

Mr. Buttigieg’s military background (he served in Afghanistan) gives him credibility on the right. Intellectually, he’s second to none – a Rhodes scholar with a working knowledge of no less than eight languages.

Weaknesses are his inexperience and his lack of traction thus far with minority voters, a big handicap.

It’s presumptuous for him to think of becoming president at such a tender age; he would be the youngest ever. But the more people see of him, his composure, his broad perspective, his balance of mind, the more they’re convinced he is exceptional. That’s why he’s gone from an unknown with an unwieldy name to the candidate with the Big Mo.

Story continues below advertisement

He could have waited to go for the top job until he has more seasoning, but because Mr. Trump is in power, the timing is right. In many ways, he is the perfect counter to this President.

Mayor Pete is doing so well that he said the other day that the Democratic race is getting to be a two-person fight between himself and Ms. Warren.

It isn’t. In fact, he walked the comment back. But it’s well within the realm of possibility that the Democrats – and the country, too – will turn to the long-shot morality candidate the way they did for Mr. Carter and Mr. Obama.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter