I’ve got a major crush on Mayor Pete.
Many LGBTQ voters of my generation — and plenty of other Americans as well — seem smitten by this boy-next-door from South Bend, Ind., with the unusual last name of (he pronounces it boot-edge-edge) and what he calls the “more than a little bold” goal of becoming the youngest and first openly gay person elected president of the United States.
Buttigieg’s fresh but not-too-handsome face and formidable yet unintimidating intelligence belie the audacious ambition essential for an (until recently) relatively obscure two-term mayor of a rust belt city in the Midwest to seek the White House.
On Sunday, the married, multilingual, millennial Rhodes scholar and military veteran launched his campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination. He did so during an amiably lo-fi hometown event and with a smart, if subdued, speech short on exciting takeaway lines but perhaps most memorable for its affecting treatment of matters personal.
Buttigieg’s plainspoken openness about his evolution from closeted teen to 37-year-old openly gay presidential hopeful, as well as his frequent shout-outs to and onstage smooch with his social-media celebrity husband, Chasten, generated more energetic applause than his handful of deft jabs at President Trump. His elegant rhetorical thread about broadening the meanings of freedom hit home when he said:
(T)ake it from Chasten and me, you are certainly not free if a county clerk gets to tell you who you ought to marry based on their political beliefs.
The chance to live a life of your choosing, in keeping with your values: that is freedom in its richest sense.
LGBTQ people know that Buttigieg knows what he’s talking about. For us, he’s like a gay version of American mythology’s favorite character: The plucky individual of humble beginnings and modest means who overcomes obstacles and succeeds on behalf of his fellow citizens. The outlier turned insider, in other words.
That such a transition is likely to be far less … complicated for a cis-gendered white male than for many others among us is obvious. But it need not be a deal-breaker, any more than the fact that Buttigieg’s spouse is a man ought to be too much for a majority of straight people to handle.
In that regard, some signs are encouraging: A recent NBC News/WSJ poll found that about 70 percent of Americans are accepting of the notion of a gay presidential candidate.
What people tell pollsters and what they do in the voting booth can differ, of course. And the impending ferocity of attacks on Buttigieg is suggested by, among others, the right-wing media figure Bryan Fisher, already busy excoriating him as a “defiant homosexual” fascist whose presidency would be “the biggest threat to religious liberty in history.”
Even less feverish forces — opposition researchers working for other Democratic hopefuls come to mind — surely are scouring Buttigieg’s personal, academic, military, political, and digital history for gotcha moments. The candidate himself seems adept at preemptive disarmament, telling an interviewer that he met Chasten online “on this app called Hinge,” which appears to be a far tamer venue than famous hookup sites such as Grindr.
And should Buttigieg manage to best his many capable rivals and win the nomination, he will face what is likely to be fusillade of abuse from Camp Trump. This may prove a manageable price to pay for the prospect of witnessing a knowledgeable, youthful, and stable challenger who served his country in uniform during wartime square off against an ostentatiously flag-hugging incumbent whose dubious podiatric condition enabled him to avoid the Vietnam-era draft.
Those of us enjoying our collective crush on a candidate New York magazine refers to as “Wonder Boy” should keep in mind that heady feelings like these tend to fade over time. Novelty wears off, warts show, and wonders cease.