Why Do Some People Dislike Pete Buttigieg So Intensely?

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Democratic primary debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif., December 19, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Two of the more interesting assessments of Pete Buttigieg I’ve read lately focused upon why young online progressives — a demographic that at first glance would be a natural base of support for Buttigieg — seem to not merely not support him but actively dislike or detest him.

Tim Miller finds most of the criticism of Buttigieg from the left absurd, but cites Andrew Tobias’s memoir, The Best Little Boy in the World, describing “the trend of young closeted gay men — who are yes, mostly wealthy and white — overcompensating for their internalized homophobia and lack of comfort in the boys club by focusing on presenting external successes in areas where they can compete effectively: grades, behavior, resumés.”

Over at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson floated four theories, among them, “Young educated liberals look at Buttigieg and see a nauseating caricature, not of the person they are, or even the person they wanted to be, but of the person they’ve felt pressured to emulate but never quite became — an outcome they regard with tortured ambivalence. Buttigieg is the guy they hated in college, not only because he was obnoxiously successful, but also because his success sat uncomfortably, hauntingly close to the version of success they once felt prompted to achieve.”

The thing is, these gripe from these online young progressives won’t differ that much from that of the Right if the mayor becomes the nominee. Sure, Buttigieg’s assembled the golden resume, but . . . what has he actually done? His campaign has tried to pitch the story of his two terms of mayor of South Bend as a renaissance, but it looks like more of the Richard Florida plan — flashy downtown development projects that don’t really do much for poorer neighborhoods. Crime is up a bit, and the police department is still engulfed in controversy.  The city still has a high rate of vacant and abandoned housing. Sure, Buttigieg can point to improvements in the city during his two terms, but almost any mayor who gets reelected can do that. The apple-polishing straight-A student has done an okay job in the real world and charmingly convinced his elders that he worked miracles.

Separately, Buttigieg will turn 38 next month. Andrew Yang is 44 years old, but you don’t see nearly as many people perceiving Yang as young. What’s the big difference? Allow me to float the theory that Yang seems older because he has children, and occasionally refers to them on the campaign trail. Fairly or not, some older voters will refer to a candidate as “the kid” until he can tell a story of his child spitting up on him.

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