Pete Buttigieg, Democratic contender and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, appeared before a crowd of more than 1,000 college students at Northeastern University to discuss millennials in politics on Wednesday night.
Once considered a small name in a crowded Democratic primary, Buttigieg has impressed potential voters with his unique background. If elected, at thirty seven, he would be the youngest president ever. He would also be the first veteran from the war in Afghanistan and the first openly gay person to serve as president.
Buttigieg’s campaign has caught the media's attention recently, as he polls ahead of senators with higher name recognition, including Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand. He exceeded expectations when he announced that he had raised seven million dollars in the first quarter.
Given his recent success in the polls, Buttigieg's visit to Northeastern was highly anticipated. The venue changed twice to accommodate turnout, moving from a room for 200 people to ultimately a room holding around 1,000 people. More than two hours before Buttigieg arrived, hundreds of students already stood in a line that stretched around the building.
During the event, the candidate spoke with moderator Kimberly Atkins from public radio station WBUR for half an hour and took questions from the audience about the role millennials have to play in politics.
The greatest enthusiasm was given for Buttigieg’s responses regarding climate change.
During the Q&A section of the event, one student challenged Buttigieg’s support on the Green New Deal as impractical. While the mayor described the proposal as “a set of goals rather than solutions,” Buttigieg also made it clear that he believes that drastic changes need to be made.
“When you think about whether we can get to net zero carbon by 2030 or not, I don't view that as a decision that's going to be made in Congress,” said Buttigieg. “I view that as a decision that's already been made by science.”
Loud clapping ensured as he continued. “The right year to achieve those carbon goals is yesterday. The only question now is how fast can we do it.”
As Democratic reforms are a popular talking point now, Buttigieg has been challenged not only to explain what he want to do, but also how he plans on doing it. Buttigieg has joined several other candidates in proposing the abolishment of the electoral college.
A more controversial point was his proposal regarding the Supreme Court. Buttigieg believes in Supreme Court reform not with the aim of making the court less conservative, but less political.
"For example, one [reform] that I find very appealing, is you have fifteen justices, but only ten of them are appointed through the traditional political process,” said Buttigieg. "The other five can only be seated if there’s unanimous agreement among the first ten.”
Buttigieg did not break through the noise by simply just saying what his audience wants to hear. While tuition-free college has come to be seen as progressive ideal among millennial voters, Buttigieg disagrees that it is the solution.
“Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t,” he explained. “As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea of a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidizing a minority who earn more because they did.”
Buttigieg believes that politics must go beyond just addressing economic concerns. When asked about universal basic income, for example, the mayor critiqued it for not going far enough.
“Even if we figure out the income puzzle,” said Buttigieg, “if your identity is disrupted, if there's a void, then some really ugly things can rush in to fill that void.”
He pointed to this void as a possible explanation for the rise of white nationalism and drug addiction across America.
“The income issue isn't enough for people who don't understand where they fit,” Buttigieg concluded.
Unlike most young people today, Buttigieg’s faith is a large part of his identity. He’s Episcopal, and he considers the tradition of the religious left to be a valuable one. At the same time, however, he is also sympathetic to why many millennials have become disillusioned with religion.
“One thing about young people is, we have a really finely-tuned antenna for hypocrisy," Buttigieg said, prompting wry chuckles from the crowd. “The impression a lot of people in our generation got of religion was intervention of religion in the political space designed to constrain our freedom.”
He pointed to opposition from religious communities to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights as examples of why young people are not interested in religion.
A sophomore asked the mayor to speak to the rising number of millennials who identify as LGBTQ+.
Buttigieg mentioned that he did not come out until later in life, explaining that his careers in the military and as an elected official have not been "super gay-friendly.” He pointed to representation of LGBTQ+ people as one of the best ways to advance gay rights.
“What it means, not only for other members of the LGBTQ+
The first Democratic primary will be in Iowa in February 2020.