Will a Charm Offensive and Oodles of Money Land Pete Buttigieg in the Oval Office? Ask Barack Obama

Obama Remembered

Who can forget that halcyon moment on the evening of November 4, 2008, when newly-elected President Obama in the wake of the economic devastation brought on by greedy bankers and other financial titans (aka Obama’s major donors) promised “…because of what we did …in this election…change has to America…This is our time to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to…promote the cause of peace;…And where we are met with cynicism and doubt…we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can.”

Obama and Buttigieg

Among the crowded field jostling for the top spot among the Dems in 2020, one candidate stands ready to repeat the “Yes we can” mantra. Meet Pete Buttigieg (aka Mayor Pete) the eminently charming and folksy small town mayor, whose campaign playbook and much of his staff come right out of the bad old campaign days of 2008 and 2012 when marketing savvy not principled positions on the issues catapulted Obama into the presidency.

Hold onto your hats folks, history is about to repeat itself. Here comes Buttigieg complete with all the right credentials — Harvard, Rhodes scholar, ex-naval intelligence officer and alumnus of that powerful kingmaker, McKinsey and Company (the Goldman Sachs of the secretive corporate-government-military complex). As CNBC reported Pete Buttigieg’s increasingly popular presidential run has drawn the support of more than two dozen top Democratic fundraisers, including people who bundled big-dollar donations for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during their White House bids. The financiers on the roster range from former U.S. ambassadors to real estate executives… Particularly, Buttigieg’s sincere approach is generating enthusiasm among the Democratic donor class” (CNBC 4/17/2019).

And why in 2019, as memories of the heady days of 2008 flood back, should the heavyweights of the Democrat party who handed Obama his victory belly up to the Buttigeig campaign trough? To keep the music going.  Mayor Pete seems poised to galvanize the popular imagination with the same lies, misdirection and empty promises that led to two terms of the Obama White House. Here’s Buttigieg’s cure for the ills that bedevil the U.S. body politic— eliminate the electoral college, institute same-day voter registration, confer statehood on Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Not exactly a revolutionary agenda, no whiff of national health care, free college tuition, an end to brutal immigration policies, universal day care, a green new deal, or progressive tax reform. Even when questioned about a timeline for the anodyne reforms he was championing, Pete was in no hurry — “We can set it to take effect in the 2030s.”

Of course, Buttigieg is not a perfect Obama clone. He reported being “troubled” by Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence, one of the few humanitarian gestures this war-besotted president made and that only as he was tripping over the White House welcome mat on his way out. Although Manning had by that time served more than seven years in federal prison for the “crime” of informing the American people of the scope of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Buttigieg in concert with his major donors preferred to leave it to Congress— “I certainly agree that we’ve learned things about abuses and that one way or another that needed to come out. But in my view, the way for that to come out is through Congressional oversight, not through a breach of classified information.” The brainy Buttigeig must remember that the last time “Congressional oversight” revealed the misdeeds of the government was forty-four year ago when the Church Committee hearings revealed U.S. war crimes in Vietnam.

There’s another big hurdle facing Buttigieg that may make his road to the general election and from there to the White House a lot more problematic than Obama’s — his ability to woo black voters. A comparison of Obama’s victory in 2012 and Clinton’s loss in 2016 underscores the importance of the black vote for Democratic victories in presidential elections.  In Obama’s last election in 2012, black voters made up 13% of voters, and only 9% of those who didn’t vote, The tables turned in 2016 when black voters made up 11% of voters and 19% of those who didn’t vote. Since Clinton got 82% of the black vote, her unsuccessful attempt to woo black voters to the polls hurt her in states where black support might have made the difference in the electoral college. It didn’t help that among younger voters (ages 18-29),46% of black registered voters didn’t vote compared to only 30% of whlte registered voters. (Survey Monkey)

 Buttigieg and his campaign staff certainly understand that the black vote is the base of the democratic party and key to a winning strategy. His unfortunate statement in 2015 that “all lives matter,” the recent death of a black man by the South Bend police and the damming statistics on Buttigieg’s handling of race relations since becoming mayor have exposed major fault lines in his campaign. Top campaign aides are hoping that his carefully scripted appearances at black events and his apparent sincerity when discussing race relations will change that dynamic.

Appeal to Ordinary Americans

Turning to the Buttigieg fundraising prowess, memories of the Obama haul are inescapable. Using the same strategy that led to eight years of Obama, Buttigieg’s handlers adeptly spin the myth of a peoples’ campaign while running a big money extravaganza. Meanwhile Buttigieg  gets the Oscar for positioning himself as the can-do candidate poised to drive the money lenders out of the temple. That story takes a hit in light of those fifty fundraising events Buttigieg has already attended with tickets going for $2,800 (the maximum individual contribution allowed for a primary). Better to showcase the twenty events that cost $15.

To downplay the notion of a campaign governed by the rich and powerful, a little gimmick known as debundling comes in mighty handy. When the statistics on average gift per candidate are tabulated, donations not donors are the measure. So much for Buttigieg’s boast that 60% of his contributions were from donations of less than $200, completely obscuring the possibility that many donors may have made multiple gifts of $200 or $300 or more.  As Buttigieg goes his merry way promising to shake up the ruling class and tend to the needs of ordinary folk financing his campaign, his words sound oddly familiar. Where have we heard that before? “My [Obama speaking] campaign was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause.” Actually, he was flat-out lying.

According to the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, “the myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama’s finances. The reality of Obama’s fund-raising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth… Only 26% of the money he collected for the primary and 24% of the money for the campaign through October 15, 2008, came from donors whose total contribution was $200 or less…”

As to the kinder, gentler America Buttigieg is promising, two decades ago, we heard and believed the same claptrap from then-President Obama at his first Inauguration — “On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” How did those lofty promises pan out? Two bailouts for the financial services industry costing taxpayers more than $15 trillion, healthcare legislation written by a health care lobbyist, income and wealth inequality continuing to widen in the wake of more than five million American families who lost their homes and eleven million with more debt than equity in their homes. The response of the Obama administration: silence.

Recently Buttigieg announced that he would return contributions from lobbyists. Guess who made a similar announcement but never returned a dime? Their “policy” positions are also eerily similar. Here’s Obama’s explaining his silence on the murderous attack by the Israelis on the Gaza Strip twenty-two days before his inauguration — “There is only one ruling president.” In the enduring tradition of “monkey see, monkey do,” when asked about the right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, Buttigieg piously intoned I don’t think it [right of return] should be presumptively declared by a U.S. presidential candidate.”

 Healthcare was another stand-out moment for both candidates. Obama’s healthcare bill cobbled together from a plan created by the conservative Heritage Foundation failed to cover thirty million Americans, price gouged in the form of sky-high deductibles, copays, and premiums, and extortionate drug prices and fattened the wallets of profit-driven healthcare executives.  Eleven years later and here’s Buttigieg trolling for same large donations that Obama received from the titans of healthcare. For the first two quarters, he collected $94,000, second only to Joe Biden’s haul of $97,000) from the healthcare industry (OpenSecrets.org) —  thanks to heavy hitters like Aetna, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Pfzer, and his homeboys at Indiana’s Lilly & Co. In Buttigieg’s case as in Obama’s, money dictates policy. Here he is laying out the fate of national healthcare in a Buttigieg administration — “If we need a road, a gradual way to get there [Medicare for all], then we can start with Medicare for all who want it by… making some version of Medicare available on the exchanges for people to opt into, as part of the pathway to Medicare for all so that you can try before you buy…” Note the magic word “buy,” geared to gladden the hearts and wallets of all bottom-feeding healthcare bosses. To make sure that no potential big donor took him for a progressive weenie touting national health care, he emphasized — Nationalized medicine, which we’re not calling for…”

 Next on the hit list of both charming Charlies: working people and unions. Who can forget Obama’s promise to be on the side of working men and women as they fought attacks on collective bargaining.

If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner. (Spartansburg SC, 2007)

Wisconsin public service workers sure found out in 2011 who wasn’t standing in their corner. After Wisconsin governor Scott Walker declared he was reining in collective bargaining, Obama’s promise turned out to be as flimsy as a two-dollar suitcase. He eventually settled on this tepid response not from the picket lines but from the Oval Office—What I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions… I think everybody’s got to make some adjustments… Welcome to the Obama administration where “making adjustments” is king (if you’re not a rich campaign donor). Now listen to Butigieg’s weasel words— “Workers here are interested in the same things any American is interested in. You see a lot of signs of, I think, energy in the movement. But the Democratic Party and organized labor need to make sure they are in dialogue and working together.”  In both candidates’ happy talk conspicuously missing — concrete policies to resurrect a moribund U.S. union movement. How about supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the act Candidate Obama promised to pass that President Obama kicked to the curb.

And so it goes. Buttigieg employing the same people who crafted the Obama miracle, reprising the same disarming rhetoric, at the same time signaling to corporatists and oligarchs that like Obama, no boat rocking will be part of the Buttigieg agenda.  Pete’s support for Israel, “a strong ally,” his lack of concrete support of unions and working people, his buy-into a corporate healthcare system, his rejection of free college tuition on laughable grounds, “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidize a minority who earn more because they did”  his love affair with capitalism, “American capitalism is one of the most productive forces ever known to man…” and his disingenuous remarks on the power of corporations in 21st century America “Threats to freedom come not just from government, but also from corporations… and economic and social conditions… Our vision of freedom must address all dimensions of life, including political, economic, and social freedom,” emphasize how he has taken to heart the legacy of two successful Obama campaigns — the victory of style over substance, the capture of big money donors, the seduction of corporate media, the myth of the man of the people.

Is it working? So far, Buttigieg’s poll numbers put him a distant fifth among candidates. Not necessarily a deal-breaker. Consider: for most of 2007 up to two months before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Obama was far behind Clinton in the polls, running more than twenty points behind her at one point. What he did have and what Buttigieg now has is a commanding lead in the fundraising department (in the second quarter of 2007, Obama raised $31 million to Clinton’s $27 million). As is painfully clear, U.S. politics is a zero-sum game revolving around money. That’s how ex-Obama operatives who are now steering the Buttigieg ship plan to put their man into the White House. Obama’s wealthy donors, corporatists and oligarchs, are stampeding to his campaign. What’s the average American to think?

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.


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