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Why Progressive Millennials Can’t Stand Pete Buttigieg

The Iowa meltdown has honed Gen Y distaste for the candidate in their own age bracket

The chaotic aftermath of the Iowa caucuses this week gave Bernie Sanders supporters a lot of reasons to hate Pete Buttigieg. Despite Bernie’s strong showing, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, made the cynical move of declaring victory before any results had been released, then did it again the following day, still with only partial figures available. In one precinct, he won a delegate away from Sanders on what some regarded as a suspicious coin flip. Also, a senior strategist for Buttigieg’s campaign is married to the founder and CEO of ACRONYM, the nonprofit owner of Shadow Inc., a tech startup run by folks who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, which is taking heat for their app designed to tally caucus results — since its failure botched the entire voting process. (The Buttigieg camp has paid thousands for Shadow software, too.) 

But the truth is, the youthful, progressive left has long despised the man that TikTok teens ridicule as “Mayo Pete.” And while Gen Z has made a social media sport of seizing his bland centrism for meme fodder, the millennials closest in age to the 38-year-old presidential hopeful are wracked by a more visceral contempt, informed by both their experience of American adulthood and the memory of growing up with peers who embody Pete’s brand of white-collar smarm. He’s the ruthless climber who wants a promotion at any cost, the rat who will sell you out the second you stop being useful to him. He’s the guy with opinions that shift according to the room he’s in. He did well in debate club, because he had the knack for disingenuous rhetoric. For some reason, he prefers to rip up a cinnamon roll and gnaw on the pieces. What the fuck is his deal?     

This ire doesn’t come from an abstract place, either; it’s rooted in Pete’s meticulously crafted résumé, at once his crucial advantage and greatest liability. While his base touts his fancy degrees and facility with multiple languages, the left sees an agent of white privilege likely to uphold the status quo that produced him. He boasts of his veteran status — having forsaken his antiwar stance to join the Naval Reserve a few months before his first political campaign, and eventually deploying to Afghanistan to take part in the military debacle he had condemned. Then there’s his time as management consultant with McKinsey & Co. The shadowy firm has had a hand in everything from the Enron scandal and the opioid crisis to the activities of ICE and crackdowns on dissidents living under authoritarian regimes worldwide.

Buttigieg now calls McKinsey “amoral” — the question for his fellow millennials is how he failed to see what it was before working there. He was at McKinsey, moreover, in the years of a financial crisis they helped to bring about.

Politically, and notwithstanding his disavowals, Pete continues to live out the McKinsey playbook, siding with the ultra-wealthy and corporate interests wherever possible. A former Goldman Sachs VP is now his national policy director; he has attacked Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax as “extreme.” Where it comes to educating Americans and keeping them healthy, he hedges with toothless bullshit like “Medicare For All Who Want It,” or sidesteps the issue, as when he dismisses free college by insisting that children of rich parents don’t deserve it.

There’s a reason his millionaire-packed wine-cave fundraiser was a watershed moment in this primary: It showed us whose behalf he was running on. Not the kind of people he was elected to lead as mayor — the South Bend residents saying he enabled the systemic racism of local law enforcement, for example — but the slimy oligarchs of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, eager to invest in a future that holds no threat to their profits. The ruling elite that have locked so many millennials in massive debt, meager housing and unstable employment. Our sworn enemies, in other words.

Past all that rotten history, what Pete uses his platform to say is… nothing. The soundbites have been focus-grouped till they sound like taglines for a bank commercial. Most of this stuff is microwaved mush, the same old pleas for civility and the platitudes that aim to inspire the common citizen without offending the corrupt and powerful. And so, for a despairing youth (or the under-45 set, anyway), he’s little more than a class and generational traitor, a vulture capitalist, an empty suit promising change in terms vague enough that he’ll never be accountable to them.

What would a Buttigieg presidency look like?

He doesn’t seem to know, or care. Winning is the point for this guy, as his naive fantasies of “turning the page” on polarization in Washington attest — somehow he, rather than anything he would do, is the solution. The paranoia over what went wrong in Iowa, and the allegations of scheming with the party establishment to weaken Bernie — that’s basically window dressing. You don’t have to view Pete as a CIA asset to oppose him. Sometimes your enemy is just another fucking consultant.