Tag Archives: Mayor Pete

About The Fall Of Rome….

Pundits increasingly compare America in the 21st Century with Rome–as in “the fall of Rome.” The comparison isn’t usually a happy one, but a few days ago, I came across an article suggesting that although we may be experiencing a decline much like that of the Roman Empire, we should take heart from the fact that Rome’s various parts didn’t do all that badly in the aftermath.

James Fallows has been traveling the U.S. for The Atlantic and writing stories about cities and towns with innovative programs and civically-engaged populations. In this article, he revisits what we know about the period following Rome’s fall, and wants us to be more upbeat about what comes after “empires” disintegrate.

It’s time to think about the Roman empire again. But not the part of its history that usually commands attention in the United States: the long, sad path of Decline and Fall. It’s what happened later that deserves our curiosity.

 As a reminder, in 476 a.d., a barbarian general named Odoacer overthrew the legitimate emperor of the Western empire, Romulus Augustulus, who thus became the last of the emperors to rule from Italy.

 The Eastern empire, ruled from Constantinople, chugged along for many more centuries. But the Roman progression—from republic to empire to ruin—has played an outsize role in tragic imagination about the United States. If a civilization could descend from Cicero and Cato to Caligula and Nero in scarcely a century, how long could the brave experiment launched by Madison, Jefferson, and company hope to endure?

The era that began with Rome’s collapse—“late antiquity,” as scholars call it—holds a hazier place in America’s imagination and makes only rare cameo appearances in speeches or essays about the national prospect. Before, we have the familiar characters in togas; sometime after, knights in armor. But in between? And specifically: How did the diverse terrain that had been the Roman empire in the West respond when central authority gave way? When the last emperor was gone, how did that register in Hispania and Gaul? How did people manage without the imperial system that had built roads and aqueducts, and brought its laws and language to so much of the world?

It turns out, Fallows tells us, people actually did quite well.  The breakup of Rome’s empire gave birth to what became modern countries, and generated a good deal of what we now consider modern and valuable in contemporary culture–from new artistic and literary forms to self-governing civic associations.

A recent book, Escape from Rome, argues that removal of centralized control ushered in “a sustained era of creativity at the duchy-by-duchy and monastery-by-monastery level” and eventually led to broad cultural advancement and prosperity.

Here is where Fallows’ trips around the country provide him with a degree of optimism. He acknowledges that our federal government is broken, paralyzed by partisanship and unable to accomplish much of anything. But he points out that our counterparts to the post-Rome duchies and monasteries—our state and local governments—are still mainly functional.

You need to click through and read his whole analysis, but because I’m reluctant to see the Decline and Fall thesis tested,  I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

Five years ago, after writing about a “can do” attitude in local governments in Maine and South Carolina, I got an email from a mayor in the Midwest. He said that he thought the underreported story of the moment was how people frustrated with national-level politics were shifting their enthusiasm and their careers to the state and local levels, where they could make a difference. (That mayor’s name was Pete Buttigieg, then in his first term in South Bend, Indiana.) When I spoke with him at the time, he suggested the situation was like people fleeing the world of Veep—bleak humor on top of genuine bleakness—for a non-preposterous version of Parks and Recreation.

Fallows quotes a former member of the George W. Bush administration for the proposition that national-level politics has become an exercise in cultural signaling—“who you like, who you hate, which side you’re on”—rather than about actual governance.

Meanwhile, the modern reserves of American practical-mindedness are mainly at the local level, “where people have no choice but to solve problems week by week.”

If we are going to make one more effort to fix our national government, rather than crossing our fingers and hoping to emulate the duchies left after Rome collapsed, maybe we should elect someone like Mayor Pete, who has a track record of problem solving and who has demonstrated a commitment to–and talent for– actual governance.

It’s a long shot, I know–but a girl can hope…..

Mayor Pete

I have never voted for a candidate with whom I agreed 100% on specific policies.

Instead, I think I do what most people do; we vote for candidates who share our values, candidates we feel we can trust, who possess personal characteristics we deem admirable. If the Trump presidency has taught us anything, it is the supreme importance of those characteristics–sound judgment, integrity, intellect, diligence, respect for the institutions of government and the rule of law, and a genuine desire to work for the common good. A little humility helps a lot.

Trump possesses none of those qualities– I doubt he is even able to recognize them.

Character does count, and it counts far more than this or that specific policy prescription. (Which is  why Democrats’ predictable “circular firing squads” and insistence on total purity drives me nuts.)

There are a lot of talented people running for the Democratic Presidential nomination. I like several of them, dislike others, and worry that still others would not be as competitive as necessary. That said, I will obviously vote for anyone who emerges as the party’s choice. (Hell, I’d probably vote for Beelzebub if he was running against Trump and his cabal.)

But my top choice so far is Mayor Pete, for a number of reasons.

As I have previously written, I am convinced that it is time for younger leadership. Mayor Pete’s performance thus far–and his rise from obscurity to third place in national polls in a matter of months–bodes well for a general election. His obvious intellect, extensive knowledge and thoughtful demeanor are all reassuring and would be a welcome change from the embarrassing ignorance bloviating daily from Trump’s White House.

Above all, I appreciate his authenticity; everything I’ve seen or read, and everyone from South Bend I’ve talked with, says this guy is the “real deal.”

I think a recent article by Ezra Klein at Vox best captures why Pete’s message so attracts me. 

Some excerpts:

There was a word missing from the speech Pete Buttigieg gave in South Bend, Indiana, announcing his presidential campaign. It’s a word you heard twice in Bernie Sanders’s and Beto O’Rourke’s announcement speeches, nine times in Cory Booker’s, 21 times in Kirsten Gillibrand’s, 23 times in Kamala Harris’s, and 25 times in Elizabeth Warren’s.

That word? “Fight.”

Instead, Buttigieg returned to a word those speeches shied away from, a word whose relative absence from the Democratic primary is all the stranger given its potency in past Democratic campaigns.

That word? “Hope,” which Buttigieg said eight times, Gillibrand said three times, O’Rourke uttered once, and Sanders, Harris, Warren, and Booker avoided entirely.

Klein cites to 70 years of research confirming that fear motivates conservatives and hope motivates liberals.

At the core of this worldview divide is hope, in its most basic, literal form. Are you hopeful about new things, new people, new places? Does change excite you? Does difference? If it does, you are more likely to be liberal. If you look at the new, the different, and feel a spike of fear, you’re more likely to be a conservative….

Obama and Trump, in their respective campaigns, took this subtext of American politics and made it into bumper stickers. A black man with a strange name won the presidency tying together the words “change” and “hope.” He was succeeded by a white man who won the presidency promising to turn back the clock, who built a campaign around the word “again.”…

A lot of liberals, temperamentally and psychologically, don’t want a fight. They don’t want politics to be an endless war; they believe that mutual understanding is possible, that the country will respond to someone willing to believe and call forth the best of it. That’s not just their view of politics; it’s their view of life. It’s the view that Obama spoke to in the speech that made him a star:

Even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.

Klein compared aspects of Buttigieg’s announcement speech to Obama’s messaging, and then quoted Pete saying :“It’s time to walk away from the politics of the past and toward something totally different.”

I don’t know about other people, but I am so ready for something totally different. I am so ready to hope again.

There’s an old political maxim to the effect that Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall in love. I think I’m in love.

 

 

 

Mayor Pete And The Long Shot

My husband keeps telling me he’s not falling in love with any of the Democratic candidates for President until the field is narrowed. I know he’s right–and I also know that no matter who emerges at the top of the Democratic ticket, I’m going to work my you-know-what off to get that candidate elected.

I’d vote for my cat if it was running against Donald Trump–and I don’t have a cat.

That said, I’ve been blown away by Indiana’s own Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I was first impressed by him several years ago, when I attended a South Bend hearing on the addition of sexual orientation to the city’s human rights ordinance, and heard his eloquent, off-the-cuff testimony. I’ve been even more impressed by his recent performances on CNN and in various interviews.

And I just finished his book: Shortest Way Home. 

Most books by politically ambitious politicians are predictable “PR” efforts. Here’s why you should vote for me; here’s why I’m a good guy/gal. Here are my somewhat-fudged-in-order-not-to-piss-people-off policy positions. See my somewhat forced smile on the book’s cover?

Mayor Pete’s book isn’t like that. (For one thing, it’s readable and enjoyable–I finished it in less than two days.)

Not only is the book extremely well-written (wouldn’t it be nice to have a President who actually is familiar with the English language? the other seven languages Mayor Pete speaks are just icing on that cake), but it avoids both the typical “look at me” approach of such books, as well as the equally common phony modesty. It is basically the story of a learning curve, as he recounts lessons learned through his academic life, business and military experience, and personal tests.

Because I once was part of a city administration, I particularly liked the discussions of the challenges and rewards of his years as South Bend’s mayor, and the growth in his understanding of both the technical, data-driven aspects of the job and the  symbolic value of appearances that he had initially viewed as time-wasters. In large part, the book is the story of his success revitalizing a city that had been left behind by previous economic trends, with plenty of examples that other struggling urban areas might adopt. (Smart sewers, anyone?)

In fact, the book is a chronological story through which Mayor Pete shares life lessons–including forthright acknowledgments of what he learned from mistakes made and losses experienced.

If the book was written with his current Presidential campaign in mind, it doesn’t show.

I know that Mayor Pete is the longest of long shots for the nomination. But I’m so hungry for authenticity, for intellect, for someone who is smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, and human enough to demonstrate compassion and self-awareness. It helps that I agree with every forthright (non-fudged) policy position I’ve heard him take. It helps that he understands the issues of urban governance and the conservative Midwest. It helps that he so clearly understands the complexities of policy. It helps that his book reflects a thoughtfulness, emotional maturity and value structure that is so obviously missing, not just from Trump, but from most members of the current political class.

I know my husband is right–that it is too early to fall in love with a candidate. But I’ve certainly fallen in passionate like with this one….