Loading...
BYH ECU Trustees. Of course you were not told about the lawsuit against Vidant. Harry Smith and Bill Roper control it...

Mayor Pete understands the power of stories

Steve and Cokie Roberts

Cokie and Steve Roberts

Loading…

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, the highly improbable candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, made this insightful comment to The New York Times: "The story that we tell, not just about government but about ourselves, and the story we tell people about themselves and how they fit in, really grounds our politics."

Mayor Pete remains the longest of shots. If he wins, he'd be 39 when he takes office, four years younger than our youngest elected president, John F. Kennedy. He'd be the first openly gay president. And he's never run anything bigger than Indiana's fourth-largest city, with barely 100,000 people.

Yet he's clearly on to something. Buttigieg has raised $7 million, more than four sitting senators. He's surged into third place in the latest polls from Iowa and New Hampshire, behind only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who are twice his age and profit from widespread name recognition. And he's getting rave reviews from media analysts like Vanity Fair, which writes that his "authenticity is an immeasurable asset."

A major reason for that impact: He clearly understands a basic truth about presidential politics — that the best way to connect with voters is through stories, not policies; deep values, not detailed programs. "I think all politics is local, especially national politics," he told the podcast Pod Save America. "But more than that, all politics is personal."

"He knows how to talk plainly," George Lakoff, a noted linguist at the University of California told the Times. "Usually Democrats are saying: 'What are your 10 most important policy areas?' And he doesn't do that."

Personal connections are more vital and enduring than policy agreements, but they have a second virtue as well: They sidestep doctrinal battles that alienate some voters while attracting others. Barack Obama appealed to liberals and moderates alike because his personal narrative transcended — and avoided — the ideological squabbles that often divide Democrats. No wonder Mayor Pete says "I've actually drawn a lot of lessons" from Obama's campaign.

To work well, stories have to be authentic and believable; they have to connect with the myths and legends we Americans tell about ourselves. Buttigieg weaves together a number of those narratives, starting with epochal change. He talks often about representing "a new generation of leadership," meaning the millenials, and his website promises "A Fresh Start for America."

His words echo Kennedy in 1960, who proclaimed "a torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans" — the veterans who fought World War II. And they reflect the strategy of Bill Clinton as well, who ran in 1992 as the first Baby Boomer president.

Buttigieg's story is rooted outside of Washington, in his hometown, a place he proudly calls "flyover country." He announced for president in an old factory there that once made Studebakers. And while he does have a degree from Harvard, he denounced on Pod Save America the "abandonment of the middle of the country by our party" and the "condescension" many fellow Democrats feel toward the Midwesterners who helped elect President Trump.

In any effective myth, a hero has to overcome adversity — George Bush 41 was shot down over the Pacific during World War II; Clinton's father died before he was born — and Buttigieg talks about serving as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan and making "119 trips ... outside the wire" into hostile territory.

He also emphasizes overcoming the economic adversity that afflicted South Bend after the Studebaker plant closed down, and converting the old factory into a high-tech center. "This city's story is a big part of why I am doing this," he said during his presidential announcement.

Two other threads of Mayor Pete's personal story might seem contradictory, but they appeal to different groups. As an openly gay man, he's accepted and even celebrated by his contemporaries. But he's also married, talks about wanting children, and stresses his Episcopalian faith — all gestures toward more traditional values embraced by older voters.

Democrats have long suffered from the reputation that they are the secular party, while Republicans are the religionists. David Axelrod, Obama's close adviser, made an important point in New York magazine: Buttigieg's "fluency on faith and his willingness to speak about it is a real asset," he said. "Carter, Clinton and Obama — they all shared that quality. It was one of the cues that opened the door to voters."

We do know that Mayor Pete understands the power of stories. What we don't know is how his personal odyssey finally ends.

Steve and Cokie Roberts are veteran political commentators.

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

May 25, 2019

President Trump lost a preliminary round Monday in his court battle with House Democrats when a federal judge ruled his accounting firm must obey a subpoena to provide his financial records to Congress.

Trump called the 41-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta "crazy" and said he planned…

lambro2

May 25, 2019

 

A group of health care stakeholders met in Raleigh last week for a first-ever “listen and learn” session focused on two questions: How much should we spend on health care and how should these dollars be advocated?

Dr. Bobby DuBois, chief science officer and executive vice…

Tom Campbell.jpg

May 23, 2019

Joe Biden is aiming his campaign pitch directly at the sensible center of American politics. "Compromise itself is not a dirty word," he asserted during his announcement speech in Philadelphia. "Consensus is not a weakness. It's how our founders down the road thought we would govern."

As a…

Steve and Cokie Roberts

May 23, 2019

From now on, the Trump-Russia affair — the investigation that dominated the first years of Donald Trump's presidency — will be divided into two parts: before and after the release of Robert Mueller's report. Before the special counsel's findings were made public last month, the…

Byron York.jpg

May 22, 2019

Presidential contenders are in a battle to out give one another. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes a whopping $50,000 per student college loan forgiveness. Sen. Bernie Sanders proposes free health care for all Americans plus illegal aliens. Most Democratic presidential candidates promise free stuff…

Walter Williams

May 21, 2019

Last week, North Carolina became the first state to file a lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc., maker of a top-selling electronic cigarette, contending that it targets underage youths with its products. Others may follow.

The last decade has seen a rise in the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs,…

May 21, 2019

Not that long ago, North Carolina Democrats had the "big tent" party — an eclectic group that shared common values but disagreed on many individual issues.

Moderate — sometimes even conservative — rural Democrats in the legislature worked alongside big city liberals. The moderates…

Colin Campbell

May 21, 2019

Later this week, North Carolina will renew its partnership with a little-known country that's been bringing out the best in our state's people for more than two decades.

North Carolina's National Guard has been helping the country's defense forces throughout this time. Librarians from Wilmington…

David Jarmul

May 20, 2019

North Carolina appropriates less taxpayer money to state colleges and universities in real terms than it did before the onset of the Great Recession. Tuition has risen markedly and now accounts for a larger share of total revenue. But our state remains one of the most generous in the country when…

john hood.jpg

May 20, 2019

How many people have the ability to manipulate the stock market? One, and this isn’t a trick question. We’re watching how President Trump’s statements about slapping tariffs on China one day, or the great headway he’s making on a China trade deal the next day can tank the…

eleanorclift.jpg.jpg
249 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 25
        Next Page»   Last Page»