On his initial swing through Iowa after announcing his campaign for President, South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg only got as close to us as Marshalltown, a 45-minute drive from home. I had already driven there once to see a Cory Booker event, and that was a in worse weather, so, okay, Mayor Pete, I would make the trip to see you at a house party. Besides, this would be my opportunity to learn to spell “Buttigieg.”
Buttigieg had made a pretty big initial splash, and I wondered whether the house party format would work for him. Such gatherings are usually small events held in a supporter’s living room, and I had to think there would be more people in attendance than the average living room could hold. As I made my way to Marshalltown and approached the destination, a neighborhood of modest-sized houses, and saw cars lined up around the block, I thought this was going to be interesting. And then I got to the house and things took a turn.
Apparently, a right-wing homophobic group had decided to stalk and disrupt all of Buttigieg’s events. Parked right in front of the house was an expensive tour bus covered with Biblical verses. Basically, it looked like a Dr. Bronner’s bottle with wheels. Out in front of the bus, there was a guy wearing a devil costume shouting over a loudspeaker. He was accompanied by a guy in a Jesus costume with running shoes and dragging a giant cross. To get to the house we had to walk in front of Satan and Jesus’s Jay and Silent Bob routine. Of course, this whole schtick was meant to be visually arresting, so on principle I’m not going to post any pictures of it. You’ll have to make due with vicious mockery.
Once I got past the clown show, I saw that the organizers had wisely abandoned the house party model and relocated the event to the backyard, where people gathered around a deck. The Devil had about a three minute routine with lines like “leave your baptismal vows at the door” that he kept repeating. It was like listening to Dennis Miller on an infinite loop, so in that regard it may have been an accurate rendition of Hell.
Fortunately, I ran into some friends, Christine and Del, from my town. Christine works with the National Breast Cancer Coalition and is an omnipresent force within our area on issues related to advocacy around this issue. The three of us got to hang out and chat about Buttigieg, the weather, and basically anything else that would block out the sound of the droning Devil.
Buttigieg is an interesting political figure because of how he checks a series of boxes that make him difficult to pigeonhole. He is a mayor of a modest-sized city, he is openly gay, he is a veteran, at 37 he is the youngest candidate in the race, he is running as more of a moderate, he wears his intellect on his sleeve, and his vibe fits clearly within a soft-spoken midwestern type. All of that makes for a compelling, and complex, story.
People continued filling in the backyard, and event organizers began fiddling with a public address system, which clearly had been put into commission at the last minute and was not working. Meanwhile, Satan’s sound system was pretty robust, and he had relocated to the alley next to the backyard. He was only about 30 yards from where Buttigieg was to speak, belting out quasi-hymns and retelling the same lame jokes. There was one good moment when the Devil stopped singing in the middle of a hymn to answer his phone. Then the Devil started texting.
As the scheduled start time for the event came and went, about 150 people crowded into the backyard. The crowd began chanting “Boot-edge-edge” (I had thought the pronunciation was “Buddha judge,” but whatever) to drown out the Devil. When organizers parked cars in the backyard, blocking Satan’s view, we all cheered. But that got old after a while, and soon even the Devil seemed bored. An organizer stood up on the deck and clearly lied to us by announcing “he’s almost here.”
Conversation turned surreal, as often happens when events run late. A guy standing next me started telling a story about his high school in North Dakota, which had “the Satans” as their mascot. He said it was weird to go to basketball games and hear a gym full of people shouting “go, Satan!” Then, four different people began working on the sound system, which gave me some hope that the event would actually take place. About five minutes later, there was the sound of a pop and buzz, and it looked like we were a go.
Soon after, Pete Buttigieg took to the deck to the applause of the crowd and the sound of mock whispering from Satan. Buttigieg and the crowd made an implicit, unspoken agreement to ignore protesting duo and proceed as if they weren’t there. Mayor Pete thanked everyone for coming out, and he acknowledged that this crowd was never going to fit into a living room, as the campaign had picked up faster than expected. Still, he was going to stick with the house party model and go with a short talk and time for questions. He introduced both his husband and his mom, both of whom were here for the event, and that was very sweet. Even the Devil let that one pass.
In his stump speech, Buttigieg alternated between a big picture vision and a wonkish interest in policy details. He spoke about global warming in terms of climate security, but was also happy to go down the rabbit hole of regulations to ensure local drinking water safety. When he spoke about the federal deficit, he described it as a generational issue. And when talked about challenges facing the fundamental principles of Democracy, his reference point was clear to the crowd.
Much of his vision was an argument for common sense approaches. For example, “It would help if we had an EPA head who supported the environment.” These were easy applause lines, and they drew on a frustration with an administration willing to ignore basic science and burn down decades of incremental progress on issues. He discussed decriminalization and legalization of marijuana as non-emotional policy matters to be worked out. However, there was a cautiousness in Buttigieg’s rhetoric that spoke to a tendency to hedge his bets. At one point, he announced that he supported “Medicare for all who want it,” which sounds good but means he doesn’t support Medicare for All. “Medicare for all who want it” is more like a public option within Obamacare, which is better than what we have now but something less than an ambitious overall of the public health system. To be fair, he did talk about a “glide path” toward Medicare for All, but how that would all happen was not clear.
My friend, Christine, got to ask him a question, and requested his support for a platform in support of breast cancer research and health care access. Mayor Pete said he looked forward to reviewing that platform and supported the general principles. He recently lost his father to cancer and was aware of the challenges that many families faced. Followup: a week later, the campaign sent an email stating that Buttigieg would sign onto the NBCC Policy Platform, but as of the time of this blog post, he hadn’t officially signed on. I’ll update this blog post when his signature arrives. UPDATE: after a round of emails, I’ve been able to confirm that Pete Buttigieg has signed on to support the NBCC Policy Platform (joining eight other candidates). Yea, Christine!
After he finished speaking, there was a rush to the deck for pictures. It was pretty hard to compete with the little girls who drew pictures and make cookies for the event, so I wasn’t able to get very close to the candidate. Overall, Buttigieg did a nice job mixing inspirational messages with policy details that focused on common sense (rather than cutting edge) solutions. He left the crowd in a good mood, and it was easy to feel sympathy for a candidate who has to deal with homophobic trolls in costumes.
I’m happy to report that by the time I left, Satan has quietly slinked away quietly and was nowhere to be seen.