Preet Bharara: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you so much for being on the show.
Pete Buttigieg: Thank you for having me.
Preet Bharara: So can we start of by talking about the most interesting or funny way that your last name has been mispronounced, because that happens to me a lot. So I want to commiserate with you.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, I should keep a list. I’ve gotten everything from Butteregg, to Buttenger, to you name it, I’ve heard it. Some things you really wonder how they could possibly get that out of what they see in front of them, but that’s why they just call me Mayor Pete.
Preet Bharara: But it’s very easy, it’s just Buttigieg. It’s like the kind of thing you do to someone on the bench that you don’t like. Boo the judge.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, exactly.
Preet Bharara: I think I was once called Preet Bruhaha.
Pete Buttigieg: Ah, I like that.
Preet Bharara: That’s the worse that I’ve gotten. Yeah, it’s not so bad. It could be worse.
Preet Bharara: So you have formed an exploratory committee. I never understand what exactly that is. So if I were to ask you, “Are you running for president?” The answer to that at this moment, is technically maybe?
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, the best way to put it at this stage is that we’re in the early stages of putting together a run. So there’s a maze of compliance things that I don’t even fully understand other than that I know that you only get to launch once, and we want to do it the right way. But that being said, in the month or so that’s passed since we set up the committee, we’ve set out to find out how we would do in terms of early state response, in terms of what was resonating through the press in terms of fundraising. Everything that we’ve seen so far has exceeded our expectations and all of the sings are pointing in the same direction.
Preet Bharara: When would you decide to announce by?
Pete Buttigieg: We’re certainly getting close, but again there are a bunch of pieces you need to have in place, especially as somebody who’s not personally wealthy, who has to raise funds to put all of these pieces together. As someone who hasn’t had a pack in Washington for 10, or 20, or 40 years, there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to build from the ground up, and since you only get to launch once, we want to make sure we do it right before we come out guns blazing and go for it.
Preet Bharara: So I’ve done a lot of interviews, and you and I have met. You participated in our conference last year-
Pete Buttigieg: That’s right, it was a great event.
Preet Bharara: It was an amazing experience. Yeah, thank you so much. I was impressed with you then, but I’ve never interviewed anybody who was on the cusp of running for president, who likely will run for president. So apologies for this maybe inane question, but who are you? How do you identify yourself, given your attributes, and credentials, and everything else? People talk about that, and I’ve read all the profiles on you, but how do you describe yourself, if you had a minute?
Pete Buttigieg: Maybe the simplest way to introduce myself is that I’m a midwestern millennial mayor. I’m rooted in the industrial midwest, the very part of the country that my party unfortunately really lost touch with in many ways in recent years, but where I now think there is a real resurgence happening and something that I believe is a powerful answer to the idea of being peddled by the white house, that the only way to our hearts here in the middle of the country is through resentment or promises to turn back the clock. I’m a millennial, I belong to a generation that grew up with some of the problems that we’re facing now in the news. I was in high school when Columbine happened. I belong to the school shooting generation. We’re also the generation that put forward most of the troops that served after 9/11, and the generation with the most to lose from climate change. That’s really shaped my world view, and frankly is one of the things that’s motivated my approach to 2020.
Pete Buttigieg: And I’m a mayor. I come at politics and government through the perspective of somebody who is accountable every day on the ground for the wellbeing of the community around me, who deals with things from race relations in policing to parks and recreation, and fits it into one picture about how good government can help people live lives of their choosing and tear down the obstacles that get in our way. It’s the attitude that I wish were more commonly seen in Washington these days.
Preet Bharara: You have stated a couple times that you’re a millennial, and stated that proudly and I respect that. Another way that people talk about your generation is to say that you’re 37 years old, barely passed the threshold in the constitution of the age required to run for president. I’m not going to ask you to justify it, I’m going to ask you instead: Do you get tired and irritated with the constant questions about your age?
Pete Buttigieg: No, I think it’s fair game. I think somebody like me shouldn’t step into this process unless you’re prepared to speak to those questions. But I’ll also say that in many ways the message of generational change has been a real advantage. I think when you run at my age, and in some ways your face is your message. The one group that’s responded even more powerfully that younger voters, is older voters. People I meet, I was just with a bunch yesterday in Iowa, my parent’s generation, who really embrace the idea of a new generation putting forward leadership, and a question of who’s old enough to run was settled a long time ago in the US Constitution. I think the real question in front of us is: Who brings the right combinations of experiences to be able to approach this job in a way that makes sense for the 21st century? People may not expect experience to be one of the first words to come out of the mouth of the youngest guy in the conversation, but I really think that the experiences of my community, my experiences in executive roles in government, as well as my experiences in business in the military shape how I come at things, and give me a message and a way of talking that is just not like the others.
Preet Bharara: How do you expect, at the debates, to explain your lack of experience as a reality television star?
Pete Buttigieg: You know, apparently that’s suddenly become a qualification. Regrettably it’s probably an experience I will never have. The Undercover Boss people came around once, and we had a talk with them, but I just couldn’t figure out how my own workforce, even if you changed everything about my physical appearance, pretty sure I would have been spotted in a matter of minutes by any number of cops, or firefighters, or garbage workers here in South Bend.
Preet Bharara: What do you think about the folks who are not of your generation, several generations older, like Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, and potentially Joe Biden. Do you think that they maybe shouldn’t run and move over for people of the younger generation?
Pete Buttigieg: That’s not my place to tell anybody whether they should or shouldn’t run. I do think that there’s something to be said for leaders stepping forward who have a personal stake in what the future will look like. I’m worried that we, especially in our party, the Democratic Party, think on cycle at a time, when we really need to be thinking as conservatives very effectively have over the course of my lifetime, one era at a time. I think we’re at a hinge point between eras in American politics, and I think anything could come up ahead. So we need to be asking these big picture questions, and it helps to be able to present the facts that I have a personal stake, not a theoretical, but a personal one in what the world will look like in 2054, which is God willing, when I will reach the current age of the current president. When you view the state of our democracy, our economy, and our climate in 2054 as something you personally need to be preparing for, I think it gives you a different outlook than some of the folks in Washington right who seem to treat these issues from climate to fiscal policy as though their consequences were somebody else’s problem.
Preet Bharara: What do you think the future of the Democratic Party is? We can maybe later talk about the future of the Republican Party, the counterweight, which I don’t understand what that party is anymore, but how much of a rift do you think there is within the party in terms of ideological differences?
Pete Buttigieg: I think the future of the party is in bold and structural ideas that speak to the flaws in our economy and our democracy that made the current presidency possible. A figure like the current occupant of the white house should never have been able to come even within cheating distance, unless something were seriously wrong in our country, and frankly communities like mine have long felt, here in the industrial midwest, that we’ve been left out of a lot of the growth and progress that leaders of both parties have been touting over the course of my lifetime.
Pete Buttigieg: So I think for the Democratic Party to have a future, we need to be developing messages that are going to make as much sense in 2030, 2040, 2050 as they do in 2020. Which means that they can’t be messages that revolve around the other guy. I do think one of the biggest problems we’ve had, really across my lifetime, is a fixation on what the republicans are doing. Whether it’s trying to outdo each other in being against it, or whether it’s the formula that dominated in the 90s which was trying to imitate it and go halfway there. Either way, you’re in trouble when your policies and priorities are all keyed off the other party’s policy and priorities. We should be thinking for ourselves, we should be offering a different account of what freedom means that’s about a lot more than freedom from government and regulation, but includes things like freedom to live a life of your choosing because you have healthcare and the ability to organize, and reproductive rights, and all of the other things our party stands for. More than anything, I think we should be the party of the long-term. The ones that are concerned about how to keep America healthy, and safe, and productive for the decades to come as though our lives depended on it, because if you belong to my generation, they do.
Preet Bharara: So give us an example of one specific thing that gets at the big picture that’s important and that’s as relevant in 2020 as you hope that it will be in 2030 and 2040.
Pete Buttigieg: There’s no question that climate deserves to be front and center. This is an issue that has already asserted itself, just in terms of the reality around us. Communities like mine experiencing historic floods that are supposed to be 500 year or 1000 year events, on an almost annual basis. Parts of California catching on fire, sea level rise in Florida cities that my fellow mayors are dealing with. So we’ve got to rightly situate that as a major priority and a historic challenge that our country is facing. But there are also structural issues, things that are going to decide whether our democracy is healthy for the half-century to come. That’s everything in my view from things like electoral college reform, so that we can be a true democracy and not just one in name only, to taking some step that will confront the slide of the US Supreme Court toward being regarded as a nakedly political institution, which if that continues to happen, really undermines not just the court, but the country.
Preet Bharara: Are you a pragmatist?
Pete Buttigieg: I think so, yeah. When you’re a mayor, you are in a very pragmatic world because you’ve got to get stuff done. You don’t get to indulge in philosophizing, but you also have to have a philosophy because at the end of the day, executive roles in government are basically an experience in practical, on the ground philosophy. But the thing is to me, pragmatism is not the same thing as ideological centrism. Sometimes pragmatism pushes you in a direction that is considered bold, or even radical. But you’ve got to follow the facts where they lead, and then we’ll let the political class sort out what is defined as being left, right, or center instead of starting by trying to assign a label to an idea and then taking all of our positions based on that. I think the mentality of any executive in government, certainly a mayor, when contemplating any idea is not: Is this left, right, or center? It’s: Is this a good idea and is it going to work? What’s the evidence and how far can we take it?
Preet Bharara: That’s interesting what you said, and the reason I asked the question is in going through your biography, you have gone to many schools and the best schools, as someone says. You studied at Oxford, and I understand that you studied, among other things, the writing of Emmanuel Kant, and John Rawls, with whom I studied. I’m a bit older than you. When I was in college, John Rawls was still alive, and I took a class when I wrote my thesis on Rawls. So I wonder, given your answer, that you can be pragmatic but also have to have a philosophy, is what role has your education in thinking about political theory and political philosophy, things that are very far from the minds and the discussions that we have with voters these days, has that been important to you? Does that inform you in some way? Do you carry some of those thoughts, and theories, and lessons with you as you govern?
Pete Buttigieg: No, it’s shaped me in many ways, and Rawls is a great example. One of the things Rawls was very alive to is that we should have a certain level of humility in assuming that everything we get is something that we deserve. Understanding that life’s lottery assigns us different circumstances and different gifts means that, to me it aligns with the very midwestern intuition, which is we shouldn’t believe that we invented ourselves. Obviously hard work, and originality, and innovation deserve to be rewarded and our market place does a good job of rewarding them, but we shouldn’t assume that success in a material sense is always the same thing as virtue. That’s been one weakness that we’ve had sometimes culturally, is we make that mistake and sometimes follow that to a degree that is not reasonable. He was also really concerned with justice and fairness.
Pete Buttigieg: Another philosophical debate that I tracked a lot as a student is this question between the utilitarian perspective that says that what you’re doing is right or wrong based on how many people it makes better off, and a more [contient 00:13:05] or some would say Christian perspective that really focuses on your intention and what you seek to achieve. I think when you’re in government, it always pushes you more in a utilitarian direction because you can county up how many people you made better off or worse off, and you’re certainly held accountable on that basis by the political process. But I also think values matter, intention matters, why you were doing what you were doing matters, and much of the moral equipment I got to deal with those questions came from two very different sources. One is the faith tradition that I’m part of, and the other is the philosophical tradition that I was immersed in when I was a student at Oxford.
Preet Bharara: So if you’re photographed running from one rally to another reading The Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals, that’ll be because of this conversation. I’m very excited about that.
Preet Bharara: One of the other things Rawls wrote about, and it’s been a while, but he talked about one of the ways that liberal democracies work and function well, and should be though of as societies where there’s an overlapping consensus. On certain principles, how we view liberty, what we think of the social contract, and that helps because there is a culture that’s created that even though people have differences of opinion on so many things, there’s some things about which there is, as he said, an overlapping consensus. Do you think we have that in the US, or are we at risk of losing that in some way?
Pete Buttigieg: I actually think we do. I think in some ways the test of whether our democracy is in good shape is whether it’s able to deliver on things that are objects of consensus across the American people. One thing that’s alarming right now is on everything from economic justice, the general intuition among Americans that not everybody’s paying their fair share and that wages need to be higher and working conditions need to be fairer. Or very specific policies. Like for example, common sense gun safety that 90, or 80 percent of Americans, and in some measures 80 percent of republicans agree on, and Washington simply can not deliver it. Any time there’s that much consensus among the American people, and that little consensus among the American congress, you have to ask whether our representative republic is doing a good job of representing us. I think some of the weaknesses in the system right now helps to explain the sense of disaffection, and disillusionment, and sometimes anger that has risen across America when it comes to looking at the failures of the political class in responding to our needs.
Preet Bharara: Can we talk about a very dirty word that, in some places, gets censored and it begins with an S, and ends in ocialism? Some people may not know that you, where you were in high school not that long ago, wrote an award-winning essay about courage. I believe the contest was the JFK Profiles Encourage Essay Competition.
Pete Buttigieg: That’s right.
Preet Bharara: Tell everyone who the courageous person you wrote about was and why.
Pete Buttigieg: So yeah, the prompt for the essay contest was to write about somebody who demonstrated political courage, and I wrote about a then obscure member of congress named Bernie Sanders. One of the things that really drew me to that example was, no matter whether you agreed with his policies or not, you had somebody who embraced a label that was a career killer for many people. He called himself the socialist. That was a word that was being used to close down debate at the time, because being credibly accused of it was a kill-switch on an idea or even on a person’s future. So watching that happen, the times have changed a little obviously around him as a figure, but also around the way that vocabulary is used. But to me what was so interesting was this moment when it seemed like a lot of politicians had been outgrowing their convictions in order to get elected, you’ve got somebody like him who just came out and said what he was for. I think we’d be well-served in politics if more people on all sides just came out, said what they were for, and tried to win the battle of ideas instead of the other way around, trying to trick people into thinking your ideas are whatever it is they already believe, which isn’t leadership.
Preet Bharara: Who did you vote for in the 2016 primary?
Pete Buttigieg: Secretary Clinton. I was a delegate for her at the convention, and I think-
Preet Bharara: Even though Bernie was your ticket in the essay writing competition.
Pete Buttigieg: That’s right. When I was 18 years old, I was drawn to those qualities and I’m drawn to those qualities today, frankly. I think it’s a good thing that he has expanded the field of the debate within the party and I think that we need to be willing to entertain a spectrum of ideas in order to get anywhere. More than anything, I think we need that attribute of saying who we are and saying what we’re for.
Preet Bharara: So going back to this issue of what socialism is, how do you think the average person who has been maybe around the block in the planet longer than you and who went through the cold war experience, and you’ve written about this, there’s a generational difference between people who went through that experience and who are often likely to equate communism with socialism, and the ultimate bad word and bad form of government for Americans is communism. How should people think about this discussion going forward so that they’re not just consumed by the label, but they think about the policies.
Pete Buttigieg: I think the most important thing, first of all, is to evaluate ideas based on their value and how much they make sense. Because words like socialism get thrown around in so many different ways. Is Social Security socialism? Is Medicare socialism? Is the ACA, which was invented by conservatives? Are we going to go along with calling that socialism, because that’s what the tea party did in those town halls? When you think of a country that’s moved in a socialist direction, are you thinking about Venezuela or are you thinking about Denmark? In many ways, the words have lost their power and lost their meaning because of the way they’ve been thrown around in the debate. To me, I think if you come from a generation that experienced the cold war and grew up to associate socialism with communism, on one side of the spectrum, and capitalism with democracy on the other side, then very naturally you will be susceptible to that word being used to sometimes kill off a line of argument or a debate.
Pete Buttigieg: For anyone who’s my age or younger, those things are more free-floating. We understand that capitalism and democracy, and socialism and communism are all different ideas. The real question is: In our capitalist democratic country, what happens when there’s a tension or even a conflict between capitalism and democracy? Do we put democracy first or do we put capitalism first? It may have been taken as an article of faith one or two generations ago that capitalism and democracy went together, but actually we have some living, breathing examples of what to expect when we have capitalism without democracy. Actually, oddly enough, the place to look for that is the former Soviet Union. Look no further than Russia to see what happens if you try to have capitalism without insisting on democratic controls and things like a rule of law. What you get is a twisted crony-capitalism that does not achieve all the productive value, and growth, and social mobility that America got through a different kind of more honest capitalism. I’m afraid that in many ways we’re tipping in that direction here in the US now.
Preet Bharara: So I want to make sure I understand your view of the way forward on these issues. So on the one hand, you say that the term socialism and socialist can be a deal-breaker and a kill-switch for a lot of folks, and it’s unclear what it means because it’s a different word with different connotation for different generations, and depending on what policy you’re talking about, it can mean different things, and so you should think about rejecting the word and rejecting the label when it’s imposed upon someone. On the other hand embracing the courage of Bernie Sanders, who unapologetically uses the phrase and the term as a label for himself. Which is it?
Pete Buttigieg: That’s what I’m saying, is you should say what you are. If you’re a socialist, say you’re a socialist. If you’re a capitalist, say you’re a capitalist. If you’re a liberal, say that you’re a liberal. If you’re a progressive … It’s interesting that the term of our progressive has come, and I consider myself a progressive, has come to define being leftward on the spectrum. Because I’m just old enough to remember when people used the progressive to describe themselves because they were afraid to use the world liberal, and progressive sounded just a little safer. So I consider myself a progressive. I suppose I also consider myself a liberal, if nothing else than in the classical sense of the term, because I think liberty is the greater share of what we should be working to achieve through good policy. Which by the way, can be delivered by good government tearing down obstacles just as much as it can be impinged on by bad government.
Preet Bharara: What’s the different then? What the Venn diagram look like, liberal and progressive?
Pete Buttigieg: That may be a theoretical question. I think for me, when I think about what it means to be liberal, I think about the etymology of the word, that it’s about liberty. Part of what I’ve been trying to build up is this sense of liberty that is not trapped in the thin conception of freedom that seems to dominate conservative and libertarian thinking, that really understands that good policy leads to freedom. The freedoms that have really mattered in my life are freedoms like the freedom to marry the person that I love, the freedom to be able to access healthcare for us. Now we’re worried about things like the economic freedom that we’ll be denied if we’re never able to refinance the student debt that is weighing down our household. These are kinds of freedoms that really matter to folks. So I think in that classical sense, liberalism is as salient today as ever. I guess when we think about being progressive, to me that evokes a sense of being concerned with the well being of people who don’t always have a voice. The great progressive tradition in America really begins in the 19th century right here in the heartland, because there were a lot of farmers as well as industrial workers who were being left behind in another era where there was a great concentration of wealth and where, as today, that concentration of wealth began to turn into a concentration of power and threaten our democracy.
Pete Buttigieg: So that progressive tradition, all of these labels I think wear differently for different people, because they get thrown around so causally. I’m in many ways a political theory guy, but I’m less concerned with the elegance of our theories, and I’m more concerned with what’s going to work. Again, this may be a mayor’s eye view, and maybe this even makes me a big P pragmatist like the pragmatist school of philosophy, but I really believe that the test of an idea, the test of a policy, the test of a party, and certainly the test of a politician is whether what is being espoused stands to make our lives in the everyday better or worse. My biggest fear about the way that a political horror show has captivated Washington today, is that it takes our attention away from the everyday. Good politics, like a lot of good literature and film, really puts the everyday at the center. That’s our unitive analysis. That’s what we care about. When I think about every day life, I think it’s been made better by policies for the most part that would be considered more progressive, or more liberal, or more leftward, or whatever you want to call it.
Preet Bharara: You mentioned the freedom to marry the person you love. A lot of people when they describe you, Frank Bruni and others, in the first sentence of profiles they talk about the fact that you are perhaps the first openly gay candidate for president who’s a plausible choice. I think Frank Bruni’s column from a couple years ago identified you as a rising star. I think the title of the piece might have been America’s First Gay President. When I asked you who you are, you mentioned a lot of your background and that you’re a midwesterner, and you didn’t mention that you were gay. I know that you have written very movingly about the process of coming out for yourself. You were elected mayor, and then you came out openly on the eve or reelection. Is that right?
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, it was in the middle of a reelection campaign. Mike Pence was governor, it was a challenging time to do it, but it was the right time just in my life.
Preet Bharara: What ever happened to that guy?
Pete Buttigieg: You know, I read about this a little in the book, too. There are competing theories on what happened to him. One is that he really believes … The question is: How does somebody like that team up with somebody like this, who flies in the face of everything that someone like Mike Pence claims to believe in? One answer that some people speculate is that he actually believes that there is some kind of divine plan, that God wants him to be a cheerleader for a president largely known for paying off porn stars. The other competing theory is that it may turn out that he believes a little less in scripture now that he believes more in Donald Trump. Who knows really what’s happened to him, other than that from a cynical political perspective, those two needed each other because as governor, Pence had really lost his credibility here in the State of Indiana, and as a nominee Trump knew he needed to really unite the right. So in just the cold political calculation of it all, it was arguably a pretty good move for both of them.
Preet Bharara: When you decided to tell folks publicly that you’re gay, why’d you do it in a newspaper?
Pete Buttigieg: Well, I was trying to figure out how to do it. Part of me was puzzling over what to do, because I felt like I shouldn’t have to. Straight people don’t have to come out, and so I was asking, “Why do I?” Some day, hopefully the way this works, is I would have just shown up to some community event and my date would have been a dude, and everybody would have noticed, and shrugged, and life would have gone on. But I just knew it wasn’t going to be that simple, not in Mike Pence’s Indiana. I knew there were a lot of questions that people would ask, and there’d be a lot of challenges getting people to understand. So I did what i often do, I just sat down and wrote. What I wrote I realized gave me the chance to explain this clearly and concisely and once. So that I could put it out there and then try to continue with my administration and continue with my life.
Preet Bharara: What was the reaction in the town that you lead?
Pete Buttigieg: It was a mix, but generally it was great. There were obviously some people who were not helpful, there was some ugliness out there, but it was really a tiny sliver compared to two other kinds of reactions. One was people who went out of their way to let me know they were supportive, people who let me know what it meant to them, young people who were struggling with their sexuality, people I had served with in the military who were in the same boat and I never knew it. That was really moving. Then a lot of other people who in one form or another made it clear to me that they didn’t care, which was also great because I just wanted to be judged based on the job I was doing for the city. When I got reelected, we got 80 percent of the vote, and I thought it was a great way to settle the question of wither this was going to be a distraction or a burden as I was trying to make the case for the achievements of this administration and the city.
Preet Bharara: So you’re now married.
Pete Buttigieg: Yep. Got married in June.
Preet Bharara: Congratulations.
Pete Buttigieg: Thank you.
Preet Bharara: You describe a mundane thing that lots and lots of people do, I think you’ve showed up, and your husband teaches. Am I right?
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: You showed up one day with coffee. Describe that incident. I shouldn’t say incident, because showing up and bringing your spouse coffee is a very sweet thing.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, he was teaching I think a fifth grade classroom at a public school in South Bend, and we were sharing a car at the time, so I was getting dropped off. I was picking up the car, I thought while I’m at it I ought to bring him a little something from Starbucks just to encourage him for the day, like you do. Pretty soon after I got back to the office, there was a nasty gram in the inbox, somebody talking about how by visiting the school and bringing Chasten a cup of coffee, I had put things in kids heads that they had no business knowing about at that age, and it was like I was corrupting the youth by trying to be nice to my partner.
Preet Bharara: By bringing coffee. Right, right.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, it was just a reminder that sometimes you are treated differently. But again, that’s really been the minority in terms of the way people have responded around here.
Preet Bharara: You mentioned your service a few times. You joined the Navy Reserve. Why’d you do that?
Pete Buttigieg: I’d always wanted to do it, but always had some excuse for not now. When I was at Oxford, I was overseas, it wasn’t convenient, I had a very demanding job when I came back, but I had always felt a tug. The thing that put me over the top was when I went knocking on doors for Obama. It was 2008, I went up to Iowa before the caucuses and I was sent to some very rural and low income communities that really reminded me of a lot of the areas in the counties around South Bend where I live. I couldn’t believe how many young men I encountered who were on their way to basic training, and it just prompted me to reflect at how rare it was for … I could count on one hand the people I knew of at Harvard who has actually go on to serve, which was funny because while I was at Harvard, I was brought up in the tradition of people like JFK and soaked up those legends, and at the time it was almost a matter of course that if you had the benefit of that kind of education you were more or less expected to serve.
Pete Buttigieg: So I realize that I might be part of the problem, and thought that I wasn’t getting any younger and that I needed to make myself useful. So I marched down to a recruiting office and signed up. I had a background in Arabic too, from college, I thought would be helpful, not knowing that the recruiter would write down that I had minored in aerobics when I was at Harvard. It took a while to clear that up. In the end, I did become an intelligence officer and I put my education to use, although mostly when I was deployed in Afghanistan my most important job probably was just as driver. I was driving and guarding vehicle movements, convoys. But I put convoy in quotation marks because it was usually just one vehicle going around the city of Kabul or sometimes going between Kabul and Bagram, trying to make sure that the people and the equipment in my vehicle got safely to where they were going.
Preet Bharara: Do you think that the requirement of the registration for the draft should be extended to women?
Pete Buttigieg: I think it’s probably the right time for that. We have decided rightly as a country that gender equity extends to the military, and if everybody is prepared to serve then everybody should be susceptible in the same ways.
Preet Bharara: What do you think America’s role in the world should be?
Pete Buttigieg: I think we can either lead the world or we can resent the rest of the world, but we can’t do both. I think that our ability to lead really rests on American moral authority, which is obviously strained, to put it gently, but also still matters because I do believe in American values, and to the extent that we are committed to democracy to the extent that we are committed to things like freedom and human rights, we need to lead on those.
Pete Buttigieg: Obviously we’ve given ourselves a real beating in terms of our ability to stand up for those values, but I still think that when you look at the competing models, when you look at the Chinese model, when you look at the Russian model. The other models that are out there in the world, I still think that America’s is the best one. The question is: Can we be a leading partner to really help different peoples make good on their aspirations. I think if we come back to a foreign policy … First of all, we need to have a foreign policy, which I don’t think we do at the moment. When we do, I hope that we can come back to one that is correctly identifies American interests and American values as something that goes hand-in-hand, and then recognize that in order for us to support our interests and do so in a way that’s consistent with our values, we also need to vet our decisions as much as we responsibly can with American allies so that we are building a community of nations that share the same basic values and the same basic commitments.
Preet Bharara: What would be your policy towards Russia?
Pete Buttigieg: I think we have to recognize that Russia is behaving as an adversary, that they struck at our most precious thing we have, which is our democracy. We need to enter into a relationship if we can call it that, that secures our interests, and also one that hopefully establishes that it’s in both parties interest to do the right thing, to minimize undue interference, to support our values when we do in an open way. Needless to say, we’ve got to build up our capabilities when it comes to things like cyber defense, but also in terms of the regional security framework, we’ve got to recognize that it’s not going to look like it used to.
Preet Bharara: Can we go back to domestic issues for another minute? Do you think the electoral college should be eliminated?
Pete Buttigieg: I do. The electoral college in my short lifetime has overruled the American people twice. It also means that people in states like Indiana or New York are effectively rendered mute most of the time. We don’t get a voice because we don’t happen to be in one of the states that is considered important in the math of the electoral college. If there was any justification of the electoral college that remained convincing into the 21st century, was the idea that maybe it could intervene if somebody who was totally unfit ever were to emerge as a selection for president, and I think we can rule out that remaining thin justification for the electoral college today and move to something that’s more democratic. I think it’s a common sense position that the person who gets the most votes ought to be the person that wins.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. Do you believe that the top marginal tax rate should be 70 percent or higher?
Pete Buttigieg: I haven’t arrived at a number that I think is required, because I haven’t matched that to the costs of some of the proposals that we’re looking at. But I do think that it needs to be higher than it is today, because I think most Americans get that there’s a handful of people who are not paying their fair share. I don’t think you look to income taxes alone as part of how we can have a more equitable tax code, I think the concept of a wealth tax is one that … Again, first of all, it’s common sensical. Here at the city level we have property taxes, and we keep them reasonable. In fact, I worked very hard to make sure that we take pressure off those property taxes, but we use them in order to make sure that we can pay for the basics. The more we can be taxing wealth and not work, I think the better our structure is. I think the time has come to contemplate a tax on financial transactions, especially the type of financial transactions where it’s very hard to gauge whether they represent any actual contribution to the real economy.
Preet Bharara: So let’s talk about what everyone else loves to talk about, the campaign and the process. Let’s talk about the field, first. I haven’t check in the last 48 minutes, but I think it’s something like 300 million people running in the democratic primaries, which would give new meaning to one person, one vote. First, why do you suppose there’s so many people running this time around. Does it have to do with Trump, or something else?
Pete Buttigieg: Partly. I think some of the reasons are good and some of the reasons are not good. I think the not good reasons is that some people look at what just happened with the current president, and they assume, first of all this guy can do it, anybody can do it. They also assume there are no rules. The problem is I actually think there are a great many rules that will reassert themselves. Some of the rules have been broken forever, some of them are going to snap right back into place, and we won’t know which is which until we’ve been through a couple more cycles. But there are some very good reasons why a lot of different people are running, and I think it’s that the templates have been broken and we’re also at this hinge point, as I suggested earlier, between eras in American politics. I think there’s a 30 or 40 year era that was basically conservative, and that was largely predictable that has come to an end. Nobody knows what’s next, so I think there’s a contest to offer different accounts of what’s ahead, not just for our party, but for our country.
Pete Buttigieg: The multiplicity of voices getting in shows you that there’s appetite for that among the voters. The fact that no one person has been able to command a majority, or even three or four people able to say that it’s down to us and there are your options. The fact that hasn’t happened at this stage of the game tells you that there’s an appetite for something very different, and there’s a lot of different versions of what the contrast with the current president and the contrast with our past and its disappointments, what that might look like. So for my dime, I think the more the merrier. Partly maybe a bit selfishly, because I think the more people are in it, the more favorable the environment is for newcomers and underdogs, and I know that I am both of those things. But also because I think it really serves us well to have as many markers laid as possible around the field of ideas and also messengers, as we build an account of what we think the Democratic Party really ought to be about.
Preet Bharara: But it’s incredibly confusing I think, to the average voter, and I consider myself to be a private citizen, average voter. How do you distinguish among policies, programs, when you have that many choices? People are used to watching sports and there’s one team, and there’s another team. I guess there’s individual sports where you don’t have quite this many people in the finals. How do you think about standing out among the crowd, or do you not think about that?
Pete Buttigieg: We’re a long way from the finals, and one other benefit of having this many people in the mix is it’s not really worth, for somebody like me, it’s not worth trying to game out what each of the others is doing or how to position yourself with respect to them. You just got to run your own playbook, and in many ways you’re playing against the house, not against any one of your competitors. Coming at it as a voter, I think the important thing is just to rely on good intuition and pattern recognition, to look for what makes sense. There’s a lot of convergence actually. There will be some novel ideas, some interesting things said, but there’s going to be a broad convergence I think, probably 80 percent of the message among the different candidates. Then it’s going to come back to what kind of messenger do we think makes the most sense, what messenger speaks to us, inspires us, and seems poised to win in that broader competition. The process has a way of sorting these things out, but it’s also a process that needs to be fair so that everybody has a shot. We’re working to build the kind of grassroots support that would make it possible for us to break through. Again, I think the more people that are in the mix, the more voices like mine that will have an opportunity here.
Preet Bharara: If you’re an average democrat and you believe the country is moving very quickly in the wrong direction, is there anything more important to that person that getting someone onto the ticket who is most likely to win in the general election? In other words general election viability. If that’s so, what’s your argument in favor of that?
Pete Buttigieg: So I actually think, on one level that’s certainly true. We’ve got to put a stop to this situation that we’re in. But I think at a deeper level, it could be a very self-defeating approach. Of course, I can explain all the reasons why I think putting forward somebody who’s fresher, maybe doesn’t have the baggage of having been part of the establishment, somebody who comes from the very part of the country that the president ripped from the hands of the Democratic Party, namely me, would be a good idea. But I got to say, most of the time when democrats put somebody forward because we think that person is more likely to win instead of because we think that we believe in that person. When we put forward the person just because we think they’re more likely to win, the wind up being more likely to lose. The reason is it’s not all about ideology. There are a lot of people around here who voted for Obama, and Trump, and Pence, and me. So it means that people aren’t strictly ideological when they’re making their choices.
Pete Buttigieg: The really important thing that I think democrats need to learn, and it’s a little contrary to our habit, we’ve got to learn not to go right into policies, but the right did a very effective job of litigating on values and really winning a big idea debate. So that even when we got our people elected, they were often compelled to do things that were basically conservative. I think that’s been true for the better part of my lifetime. That just might be changing, but that means we’ve got to put forward people that we believe in, that we think are inspiring, that we think matter. If for example, Indiana democrats were trying to figure out who we thought would be the most electable in 2008, I doubt that we would have come up with President Obama, and yet President Obama wound up being the only person in my lifetime, matter of fact the only person since LBJ, to get Indiana to vote democratic. So we psych ourselves out and we outthink ourselves by trying to vote based on some imputation of what we think some people on the other side might think of the people that we think ought to be in office. We ought to just vote for people we think are compelling messengers for what is right, and then trust those voices to be compelling across the aisle when the time comes.
Preet Bharara: It’s an interesting thing to me that there are people who, on prior podcasts we’ve talked about this, who voted for Bush, and then Obama, and then Trump, and then may vote for a democrat the next time. In your own state, as you just said a second ago, there are people who voted for Mike Pence and also Pete Buttigieg. What kind of folks are those that can vote for people who are so different? Is it because they’re compelling messengers on different points?
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah. In some ways it’s that people will give you a lot of leeway on policy if they just think that they can trust you, if they get a sense that you speak for them. I’ve been able to draw a lot of republican and independent support in South Bend here, and it’s never been based on pretending to be more conservative than in am, it’s really had to do with trying to make a case about where our community was headed, and also just introduce myself as a person. A lot of people aren’t, as the press tends to do, arraying everybody on this matrix of policy positions and then identifying the dot that is likeliest to correspond to your own sense of things. A lot of people just want to get to know you as a person. It’s intuition, it’s pattern recognition. If they think that they understand what you care about, then they will trust you to put forward policies that are going to speak to how their everyday lives can get better.
Preet Bharara: During the campaign, do you intend to avoid talking about Donald Trump?
Pete Buttigieg: I’m certainly not going to specialize in it. Look, when he lies we got to correct it, and when he does something wrong, we got to confront it, but this cannot be about him.
Preet Bharara: That’s all consuming. If you’re on a campaign trail correcting his lies every time he makes them, you’re going to be very busy.
Pete Buttigieg: I think we confront it, and then we move on. It can’t be about him. I think a big part of how we got in trouble in 2016 was our message by the end of the cycle was all about him. A lot of folks in communities like mine were saying, “Okay, but who’s talking about me?” That’s part of what I’m getting at when I say we got to have a message that makes sense in 2040 or 2054. We need to really think about what the world looks like when this president and presidency comes and goes. By the way, we need to treat this presidency like a symptom of a set of problems that … This is why I’m very worried about the temptation in the party to have a restoration, back to normal. Right? Because that line of thinking says, “Okay. A, what we’re doing is unsustainable, we can’t go on like this. This presidency is horrible and it’s tearing us up.” That part’s right. Then for a lot of people there’s this temptation to follow from that into a part B that says, “Therefore let’s go back. Let’s go back to what we were doing. Let’s go back to the 2000s.”
Pete Buttigieg: To me, the democratic temptation to go back to the Obama years or the Clinton years is no more realistic than the conservative temptation to try to go back to the 50s somehow. If there weren’t something deeply flawed in the way things were going for the last 30 or 40 years, a presidency like the one we’re living in now would not even be possible, and you wouldn’t have had so many people in areas like mine walking into the voting booth with eyes open, with no illusions about this guy’s character, and consciously voting to burn the house down. If we’re not attending to those issues, which include economic inequality and unfairness, and the distribution of power, and the distortions in our democracy, and the abandonment of the interior. If we’re not dealing with those issues, then even if it weren’t Donald Trump, there would be somebody or something like him and we’d be here all over again.
Preet Bharara: Pete Buttigieg, congratulations, good luck on your run, thanks for being on the show.
Pete Buttigieg: Great being with you. Thanks a lot.