If Elected, Democratic Candidate Pete Buttigieg Would Be The Youngest President Ever11:04
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Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg speaks during a news conference Jan. 23, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Buttigeig held a news conference to announce that he is forming an exploratory committee to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg speaks during a news conference Jan. 23, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Buttigeig held a news conference to announce that he is forming an exploratory committee to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democrat Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) recently launched a presidential exploratory committee. The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Afghanistan war veteran, would be the youngest president in history if he is elected.

Despite his age, Buttigieg tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that his wealth of executive experience is one of the main reasons why he is running for president.

“Look, I get that being a mayor is not as conventional a background as having spent a long time in Washington in the U.S. Congress or in an environment like that,” he says. “But I actually think the more we can get Washington to start looking like our best-run cities and towns and not the other way around, the better.”

In addition to his age, Buttigieg would be the first openly-gay president if he were elected. When he was in the middle of his re-election campaign for mayor, Buttigieg says he realized he needed to come out, but he admits that the idea worried him.

“In the end, I got re-elected with 80 percent of the vote, even in a socially conservative community like South Bend, Indiana,” he says. “So what that told me was that at least in that case, people were prepared to evaluate me and vote based on their judgment of the job that I was doing.”

Interview Highlights

On why his mayoral experience sets him apart from other candidates

“An executive, especially in a strong mayor system like the one that I've been governing in for going on eight years, that's a role where you were on the hook for everything. There is no one else to call. When you get something hitting your desk that could be anything from an economic development deal to an officer-involved shooting or an emergency operation center activation for a weather situation, you learn the urgency of public service and government work. And for what it's worth, I have more years of government experience under my belt than the president, and more years of executive experience than the vice president, and more years of military experience than I think anybody to reach that office since George H.W. Bush. So I get that I'm the youngest person in the conversation, but I think experience is one of the main reasons I hope to be taken seriously.”

"The next president is going to have a lot of work to do simply restoring American credibility around the world."

Pete Buttigieg

On President Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan

“Well, we're leaving Afghanistan. The only question is are we going to leave well or are we going to leave poorly? I think one thing that the left, increasingly the right here in America, not to mention the Taliban and the Afghan government, are all pretty much on the same page on is that the American presence has to find its way to an end. And you know, having served in that war for what I believed to be its tail end now five years ago — when I took a leave of absence from the mayor's office to deploy there — and now being at a point where you could be old enough to enlist and have not even been alive when 9/11 happened, we just can't go on with endless war. But if we do this in the wrong way, if for example we fail to get guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used as a terrorist base for terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland, if we conduct policy by the president issuing Twitter dicta that surprise his own generals and intelligence chiefs, if we pursue a pattern of dialogue with the Taliban that doesn't even include the elected Afghan government, then I think we do run the risk of leaving poorly.

“If the Taliban are serious about putting down their arms and coming to the table, then I think there has to be an engagement there. Now the reality is we're going to have to maintain some kind of intelligence and special operations capability as we do around the world in order to defend American lives. But I do think that it is in the Taliban's interest as well as ours for us to find a way out of this. I just don't think it's appropriate for us to do anything that would come as a surprise to the legitimately elected Afghan government.”

On the biggest mistake the U.S. is making on foreign policy

“Well, 'America First' has really come to mean ‘America alone.’ And the fundamental mistake of American policy is failing to realize that we can either resent the rest of the world or we can lead it, but we cannot do both. The next president is going to have a lot of work to do simply restoring American credibility around the world. We have to meet the challenges of a new century in a way that builds faith among our allies, that demonstrates that we believe American values and American interests are not only compatible but mutually reinforcing.

"And we've got to have a clear and frankly higher threshold for when we're going to threaten to use military force. I mean, the idea that [National Security Adviser John Bolton], one of the people who helped lead us into the Iraq war — I'm not even sure why he's in this role to begin with — but the idea that he would be using a conspicuously placed notepad to try to signal that we were contemplating military action to deal with Venezuela is exactly the wrong kind of attitude to take if we want to demonstrate that we're serious about the threshold for the commitment of American forces in the future.”

On the Trump administration’s trade policy towards China

“Well, we certainly need to hold China accountable for things from currency manipulation to intellectual property theft. At the same time, we can also very easily move into self-defeating territory if the rhetoric is not part of a strategy. Where I come from in the industrial Midwest, we have some companies that make steel, we have more companies that buy steel. They are less competitive in the environment of a trade war.

"So I'm not sure that there is really a strategy behind any of this, and we need to be cognizant not only that the way we handle our trade is going to have serious implications for workers in places like where I come from, we also need to recognize that China is competing with us not only in economic and not only in hard power but also in soft power. They are undertaking efforts to fund infrastructure development in developing countries around the world that in many ways represent the future. And if they're there and we are not, then we are going to be increasingly left behind in the 21st century.”

"What I learned very quickly in South Bend is that you can't look for a silver bullet, but also that economic development incentives do have their place."

Pete Buttigieg

On Amazon cancelling plans to build a second headquarters in New York City

“As soon as you take office as a mayor, you begin to feel this pressure basically to buy jobs. And there's a kind of an older model of economic development that we sometimes call 'smokestack chasing' based on the idea that if you can just get the big factory or the big office building, it'll solve all your problems, and so you will do anything and pay anything in order to land it.

"What I learned very quickly in South Bend is that you can't look for a silver bullet, but also that economic development incentives do have their place. We use them, but we set parameters and boundaries around them because what you want to be doing is perhaps, buying down some infrastructure hurdle or being a tiebreaker, not using the taxpayer to take what would be a bad business decision and turn it into a good one. If we wanted to make business sense for somebody to move to our community, then we'd better make sure their strong public education and quality infrastructure and safe neighborhoods and good parks, all of the things people are looking for because companies are made of people.

"So economic development incentives have their place, but that doesn't mean that you can — and actually I think the example that's most vividly showing this now is what's happening in Wisconsin with Foxconn. Even when you do land a company also often you're landing one if they're that sensitive to incentives that may not be that sticky and may respond to somebody else's incentives in a few short years.

“I mean, I would have liked to see [New York City] come to terms [with Amazon] that perhaps were a little bit less on the backs of the taxpayer but could still bring those jobs in, and I'm not attuned to all of the finer points of what was negotiated other than that I notice that not as many parties were talking to each other that should have. So more dialogue would have served them well, and I think they probably could have worked out something that was mutually beneficial. But I am skeptical of the deal as it was being set up.”

On his view that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam should resign

“I think that at the end of the day whether you should continue to hold office is based on your ability to lead. And I think he lost so much confidence not only with this horrifying racist imagery that was associated with his yearbook page, but also his handling of a press conference that left people, I think, less confident of him at the end than at the beginning. Ultimately, it's for Virginians to weigh in on more than somebody like me, but that's certainly how it looks from where I'm sitting.”

On if he’s faced any challenges due to his sexual orientation

“There's always some ugliness online, but the truth is most people seem to send me one of two signals, either that they recognize the potential historic nature of a candidacy like mine that I would be the first out elected official ever even seeking this office. And that has in some way moved them or inspired them, especially if they're in the same boat. And another number of people, probably a larger number of people, who have in some way made it clear to me that they don't care. And that's historic too in its own way and very welcome.”


Jill Ryan produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on February 19, 2019.

Jeremy Hobson Twitter Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.

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