If Pete wasn’t gay, I’d say with some confidence, that he could win the presidency.
Or, because Pete is gay, I could say that’s quite a differentiator, and with his impressive approach. he just might win the presidency.
Finally, I can’t say that it doesn’t matter that Pete is gay. Because it does, and it’s personal.
I’ve spent my entire life obsessed with politics, and was lucky, as most of you may know by now, to work in it for a while. Presidential elections are like another sport for me. I study the polls, know the candidates’ messages and platforms inside and out, watch the debates, the town halls, and all the political shows filled with punditry, i.e., Morning Joe, Deadline White House, The Situation Room, Inside Politics, and Hardball (I’ll stop there lest you think I don’t have a life). I read all the political columns and columnists.
So, what I’m about to write is not based on data, stats, polls or the pundits, so I don’t bore you with the wonkery of “inside baseball” factoids. The following thoughts come from the heart of a gay man, who happens to write a column, loves politics, and can name every president. Always could. When I was as young as six, my parents would call me down to recite them to guests during their dinner parties. I named them in order and with their middle initials. “You’re going to be president one day,” they always said. And at that age, I dreamed that I would.
Pete’s campaign has rekindled all the memories of my recitations — and scrapbooks — of the presidents. The letter recognizing my great-great grandmother’s 100th birthday auto-penned signed by Richard Nixon. I had the president’s autograph, even if I didn’t realize it wasn’t real. I devoured presidential biographies, written for kids, Meet George Washington, Meet Abraham Lincoln, Meet John F. Kennedy. My great-grandmother gave me her Franklin D. Roosevelt scrapbook, and all her political buttons that stretched back to Theodore Roosevelt. I treasured each artifact, each book, each newspaper clipping declaring “NIXON RESIGNS,” because the presidency was my destiny.
As a Catholic, I was young enough to know and comprehend that John F. Kennedy was the first person of my faith elected to the presidency. I was, and still am, fascinated with all things Kennedy. Which is why, when Senator Edward Kennedy, and President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline endorsed Barack Obama for president, I knew that he would go on to win, and become another first.
Now, here we are again, faced with another pioneer, and groundbreaker, Pete Buttigieg. He is making our community so proud. His message is clear and resonating. His demeanor calm and welcoming. His background stellar and reassuring. His pitch convincing and investing. He’s raising the money and his profile the way a good candidate should.
He has had early success in Iowa, giving him a big boast going forward. He’s come further than probably anyone of us expected. He’s still a long shot, but he is raising eyebrows, in a good way, and now the campaign heads into new regions, populaces, and mindsets.
As a leader in the primary, he has momentum, his poll numbers, while still trailing nationally, are inching up. And as he gains traction he also gets a target on his back. So, the real and new test for Buttigieg is about to begin. So far the other candidates and the media have questioned his youth and inexperience as a small town mayor. And they have not gone beyond those critiques. What lies ahead, if he picks up steam, is an untested excursion, not just for him, but for everyone in our community.
After it was revealed that the congressman I worked for from blue-collar, southwestern Pennsylvania had a child-out-of-wedlock, our constituency shrugged it off. And they did so by telling him, “just as long as you’re not gay (the actual word was much more vulgar).” That stung, and still does.
The congressman used to say to me all the time, “Casey, when I retire, you can run for my seat.” But at that point, my childhood dreams of becoming president gave way to the cold, dark reality, that as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t possibly be elected in a district that didn’t accept the type of person that I was. And president? Would never happen in my lifetime.
Pete’s upcoming venture into the bible belt, the rust belt, the southern belt and beyond makes me wonder if that “as long as you’re not gay” attitude still persists? We saw a viral video of a horrified woman in Iowa rescind her caucus vote for Pete after she realized he was married to a man.
She’s not alone. “Scorched earth.” That’s the type of campaign that’s planned to be run by the Republican incumbent. God only knows what that entails, but I think we have a good idea. This ribald tactic will surely be adopted by the so-called base; a tear-down of anyone seeming to take the lead during the primary, and then vilification for the Democratic presidential nominee.
So what happens if Pete surges? His ascendency will surely test the breaking point of how far “scorched earth” will go to demonize Pete, his marriage and our community. The vitriol likely to increase as Pete’s support does too.
He’s a military veteran, so he can fight. And what does it say about me, or any of us, if we can’t help him in the battle that lies ahead? Isn’t it the most consequential election of our time? Exceptionally for our community? Aren’t we committed to supporting each other when one of us is breaking barriers? Especially, when that wall shattering is for the most powerful job in the world?
He needs all of us to get behind him, in the event that the opposition puts a bulls-eye on him — and us — and goes “scorched earth.” We need to stick together and fight with him. It’s not going to be easy. For him, or for us, if Pete pulls out a miracle.
Is it in his best interest to succeed, when ultimately, he might fail? And what does that say about me when I fear for his success? Or us, if we don’t honestly consider the pain his success might spill upon us? I’m excited for Pete. I’m scared for Pete. I’m excited for us. And I’m scared for us.
But we can’t sit back and be frightened, and we can’t let Pete fight this alone. So until he’s finished, I’ll root for Pete.
There’s an old adage, “bet with your head, not with your heart.” Am I betting on Pete? Not yet. But I am putting my heart behind him. And, I am going to live vicariously through Pete. He will do all that I fantasized about, read about, and pasted onto the pages of my scrapbook about. Maybe, because it was so far-fetched that it’s just my generation that understands the enormity of this moment? We’ve been accepted in the military. Our marriages are legal. It’s easy to think that the worst is behind us, when hypothetically, the worst — or the best — could be in front of us.
Who knows what the impending primary race will bring? And it’s way too early to forecast or confront the general election.
But fantastically, in a year from now, when someone calls on me to recite the 46 Presidents of the United States, I can proudly end my oration with Peter P.M. Buttigieg.
A boy can dream, can’t he?
John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.