The word “progressive,” means something. It’s not just the basic definition of moving progress forward, but it is a political ideology that stands opposed to the tenets of the ideology of liberalism. Liberalism approaches politics from the standpoint that the capitalism-based status quo is worth preserving, and policy focus should be on fixing its deficiencies around the edges. Progressivism takes the attitude that the status quo is the problem, and the only solution is to get rid of the system perpetuating the unsustainable status quo.
This is important because whether or not it gets covered, the dramatic ideological split on the left will have a massive impact on the 2020 election. In 2016, 43% of the Democratic Party did not vote for the party’s hand-picked nominee. Progressives are not some small faction of the party, and in fact, given that millennials prefer socialism to capitalism, you could define our generation—the largest in human history—as largely “progressive.”
I bring this up because Pete Buttigieg is having a moment in the early 2020 Democratic Primary, and the former McKinsey consultant has (falsely) branded himself as a progressive. Right or wrong, this is simply not a progressive position.
He also claimed not to know that when he said “all lives matter” in 2015, that was actually a counterpoint to Black Lives Matter, which…well…he's proven that he's smarter than he suggests he is in this comment.
Plus, per CNBC, the “all lives matter” comment is not the headline out of this scandal overseen by Mayor Pete:
Buttigieg was apparently referencing his administration’s refusal to hand over tape recordings of South Bend police officers that remain the subject of legal dispute, as well as the city council’s request that a local police officer stop selling t-shirts that seemed to make light of the 2014 police killing of unarmed black man Eric Garner in New York.
Providing further proof that the former Navy intelligence officer does not espouse progressive politics, Buttigieg said that he was “troubled” by President Obama’s decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence. Manning released information about our atrocities in Iraq, including a video (whose authenticity was confirmed by the United States) that shows the United States firing on Iraqi journalists. Mark Taylor, an international law expert, told Al Jazeera that “there’s a case to be made that a war crime may have been committed.”
We are undoubtedly better off because Chelsea Manning leaked information about our war crimes in Iraq. Plenty of folks make the case that Manning’s disclosures got people killed, but when retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Robert Carr’s investigation into the leak tried to paint Manning as a murderer, he could only come up with one example, and later conceded that person had not been named in Manning’s leaks.
President Obama was fairly center-right when it comes to foreign policy, and one of his most liberal actions has been decried by a self-described “progressive.” I’m sorry, you just cannot call yourself a progressive while making a pro-military argument that even a Brigadier General leading the investigation could not prove. This isn’t the only arena where Mayor Pete has recently proven himself to not hold progressive positions.
Buttigieg visited Israel last May, and while he was there, he laid the blame for the misery of the Palestinian people at the feet of the Palestinian people, and did not even mention the fact that Gaza is an open-air prison policed by Israel where none of its residents can ever leave. Per Buttigieg:
[We got] a more nuanced idea of what is happening on the Palestinian side. So one of the first things that was very clear to us was the extent to which there really is not a unified or single voice for the Palestinian … people. Most people aren’t aware of the difference between what’s happening in Gaza run by Hamas in a way that is contributing to a lot of misery there but also totally different than an environment where you would have a negotiating partner across the table is really important. I don’t think that’s widely understood and I think if it were you would see more Democrats would be asking more questions as we face these kind of 90-second cable news versions of what’s going on over there.
Now, even though Buttigieg repeated the standard right-wing Likud party line out of Israel, he has expressed some progressive ideas when it comes to this literal apartheid state, as he told Esquire:
I just saw more of the complexity there. So, on one hand, really marveling at the achievements that have taken place in Israeli society. And on the other hand, seeing the extent to which no one can explain how you can have a democracy and a Jewish state at the same time unless there’s a two-state solution.
So far, these two quotes on Israel sum up the Mayor Pete experience pretty well. The Rhodes scholar is clearly incredibly smart and well-educated, as demonstrated by his ability to speak seven languages and play both the guitar and the piano while discussing the intricacies of political philosophy. He can see the natural contradictions in theoretical framework like Israel’s “democracy” that passed laws mandating that Arabs are second class citizens, but the moment he gets on the ground, it’s just standard D.C. policy-talk. Listening to Buttigieg talk about Israel does not convey the new, exciting persona he is trying to cultivate. It’s just more of the same.
And ultimately, that’s the fear with these new candidates. A lot has changed in liberal politics since 2016, and most candidates do not have political histories that match up with our current political moment. Given that seemingly everyone has moved left to some degree post-2016, we should give folks like Buttigieg enough room to change their minds and explain why, but given that Buttigieg has already branded himself a progressive post-announcement while also endorsing decidedly not progressive positions, you cannot help but be skeptical of him. Progressivism is a specific platform that is simply not represented in much of Mayor Pete’s current or past policies, and like Kamala Harris with “progressive prosecutor,” calling decidedly non-progressive ideals “progressive” is a really good way to lose progressive votes.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.