Once every four years we all go through the ritual of yelling at each other over who we think is the best person to run our country. Somehow over the past few we’ve decided that one year of incessant yelling wasn’t enough, so we decided to stretch it into almost two full years. I do mean two years quite literally because I distinctly recall the day after the 2018 elections pundits already talking about why certain people should run and who shouldn’t. And when I say talking, I of course mean petty sniping and attacking.
We’ve got almost two years of this to go, with some candidates like Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren already declared by fiat to be the Democratic nominee, and people are having the kind of enlightened and amicable discussions that delighted us in 2016 over them. That’s sarcasm if you can’t tell. So far the media has focused on maybe four or five of the notable candidates, and has spent more time asking if certain folks like Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke are running than talking about some of the candidates who are. One of those is the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg.
Pete Buttigieg is not the first openly gay person to run for president, and considering that just this year on the Democratic side alone, 203 people have filed with the Federal Election Commission, but he’s the first one of any real note (a Republican candidate ran in 2008 when the GOP was somehow even more anti-LGBTQ). Surprisingly this in itself has generated relatively little buzz. That’s something you really have to sit down and ponder on. Why isn’t his sexuality getting the media buzz one would think it would?
Now, I’m fully on board with the argument that his sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with his qualifications to be president, but let’s just be really real here for a moment and state the obvious; of course it’s a major factor in his electability. Just look at the country we live in. We currently have a president who has carried out a policy of attacking transgender people to appeal to an evangelical base, with his vice president being one of the most notoriously anti-LGBTQ politicians to come along since Pat Robertson. Oh, some of you may not be old enough to remember that the 700 Club founder, who once declared that gay sex caused Hurricane Katrina, ran for president in 1988, and came in third in the Republican primaries, even winning a few states. LGBTQ issues are most certainly a factor in presidential elections, with the Republicans pandering to homophobes and transphobes and Democrats pandering to the LGBTQ community. Yet here we are, a major (and popular) gay candidate running for the presidency and it’s generated relatively little talk.
Mind you, it’s still very early in the campaign with the first primary still 11 months away, but one would think Buttigieg would have generated more discussion outside of LGBTQ media on this topic than he already has. Part of this reason is the national media has already decided that the Democratic primary is already down to a fight between Warren, Harris, Sanders, Booker, and Joe Biden if he runs (likely). Buttigieg isn’t even really showing up in the polls. Mind you, it’s a weird cycle of press and polls, the more people talk about you in the press the more your poll numbers increase. Buttigieg just had his first major media even this past Sunday with a CNN town hall where he did quite well, so he might start showing up more, but it’s still a bit of a long shot for him and not even because he’s gay.
Americans as a rule prefer their presidents last job to be governor, senator, or vice president, not mayor of a mid-sized Rust Belt city. There is something to be said about experience with large scale government service that prepares one to run the largest economy and military in the world. Despite the fact the Trump won, it doesn’t mean that experience on that level doesn’t count, and frankly Trump’s raging dumpster fire of a presidency proves it. Buttigieg is also only 37, which would make him the youngest person elected to the office. With much of America arguing that Sanders, Biden, Warren, and Clinton (in 2016) were too old, there’s also an argument of too young. Experience counts and rarely does someone at 37 have the leadership experience and career to qualify them for the office, which is why there’s usually a “sweet spot” of being in your late 40s to late 50s for candidates.
Because of these factors Buttigieg just isn’t getting the media attention the “big five” candidates are. While everything I said doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t win, it’s just that history is working against him. Certainly, his sexuality will come up the longer he is in the race and if his poll numbers improve, but it’s just not a major factor right now. We’ve had openly LGBTQ candidates elected on the state, local, and federal level since the 1970s. It’s always come down to where they lived and what they ran for, with openly gay candidates winning in even deep red states for local office and state legislatures. Yet, Pete Buttigieg is the first person to seriously raise the issue of a gay person’s electability to the most important position in the country outside of idle speculation and think pieces. It’s just that in the insane world of national politics in 2019 with its social media wars, presidential corruption scandals, journalistic obsessions with certain candidates, and the hyper partisanship even within nominally allied parties, it’s actually not surprising that a candidate being openly gay isn’t the major topic folks are wanting to discuss. Buttigieg’s sexuality is probably one of the least interesting things happening in this election. And, frankly, I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing yet.