Everyone knew that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. Her senate seat was always just a stepping stone. The aura of inevitability around her was so strong that people fretted that the American presidency would become a dynastic cycle: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton…
Almost no one at the time thought of Barack Obama as a serious contender. He’d been elected a senator in 2004 and had only a thin record on national issues. But through skilled grassroots campaigning, he won the Iowa caucuses. From there he cobbled together a wide-ranging coalition to take on the Clinton juggernaut: labor unions and business leaders, political activists and insiders, celebrities and academics. He even won over conservative intellectuals like David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan (who, today, like Buttigieg).
Obama was a deft campaigner. Slippery, some would say. He could play to the left of Hillary in front of some audiences, to the right of her in front of others. No one quite knew where he stood. This infuriated some Democrats. Hillary was a wonk touting a long list of progressive policies. Obama was running on a vague promise of “change.”
But that lack of ideological rigidity was precisely what made him an outstanding politician. Despite the long, sometimes rancorous primaries, he won a landslide victory in the general election against one of the most respected senators in American history.
Over the years, some of Obama's supporters were (inevitably) disappointed. I never was. We got everything I’d hoped for when I cast my vote: We got 8 years of quiet, competent administration. We got a complete economic recovery from the Great Recession. We got the world’s respect.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. This time around, the talented young outsider causing a stir in the primaries is Pete Buttigieg. “Running for office is an act of hope,” he announced. “You don’t do it unless you believe in the power of a law, a decision, sometimes even a speech, to make the right kind of difference, to change our lives for the better, to call us to our highest values.” Others have tried to run the Obama playbook, but Mayor Pete is the only one who’s succeeded so far. If anyone is capable of being a unifying candidate in 2020, I believe it’s him.
This is Part 2 of an ongoing series making the case for Pete Buttigieg in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.