One night during final exams at Harvard College, I complained to a friend over dinner that I had a fifteen-page paper due the next day and hadn’t started writing it yet. “Just bullshit,” he advised. “It’s the Harvard way.”
That advice came to mind as I tried to make sense of what South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — a fellow Harvard graduate — told an interviewer recently about whether he would be willing to send troops to Mexico.
It seemed to me that he answered the question by saying everything — and also nothing. Classic Harvard bullshit:
Q: Mr. Mayor, after a number of Americans were murdered in Northern Mexico, President Trump suggested sending U.S. troops to help Mexico deal with the cartels. With your military experience, is there a way to deal with the cartels that doesn’t violate Mexico’s sovereignty?
Buttigieg: Well, one of the biggest things I learned during my time deployed abroad is the importance of our alliances, our friendships. And this president, needless to say, has destroyed just about every relationship he can find. That makes America less safe. Whether it is turning our back on Kurdish allies, who put their lives on the line to help us fight ISIS, or right here in our own hemisphere, alienating those very countries that we need to have a better partnership with. Remember, it is in the interest of both the United States and Mexico for Mexico to prosper with greater economic success and security then they have right now. So, if it is in the context of a security partnership, then I would welcome ways to make sure that America is doing what we can to ensure that our neighbor to the south is secure. But doing it in a way that calls into question Mexican sovereignty completely misses how we got here. By the way, a lot of this is a question of the demand side on the United States. Part of what we do is make drug trafficking less profitable by walking away from the failed war on drugs here in the United States. That is a policy that we know through experience hasn’t worked. We have got to do our part here at home, and partner with countries abroad.
Q: But Mayor, specifically — do you see a time when troops can go into Mexico, if Mexico welcomed it, for instance?
Buttigieg: There is a scenario where we could have security cooperation — as we do with countries around the world. Now, I would only order American troops into conflict if there were no other choice, if American lives were on the line, and if this were necessary for us to uphold our treaty obligations. But we could absolutely be in some partnership role if, and only if, it is welcomed by our partner south of the border.
To summarize: he would only send troops in if American lives were at stake. But as a matter of fact, American lives are at stake, which is exactly what the interviewer said in her question. He sounded smart, but actually said nothing.
It was so confusing that when Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) attacked him at the Democrat debate on Wednesday night in Atlanta, Georgia, for what he said about Mexico, Buttigieg fired back that he was talking about “cooperation,” not invasion. They were both right: his answer covered every option.
When he was asked if he would keep farm subsidies in place, Buttigieg said that the trade war with China “shouldn’t have been started in the first place.” Then he started a riff about climate change, and something he called a “carbon negative farm.”
It’s not clear how to fight climate change without confronting China, the world’s dirtiest economy. Regardless, Moderator Rachel Maddow noticed that Buttigieg hadn’t answered the question, and asked it again: “Would you continue those subsidies or not?”
His answer: “Yes, but we won’t need them because we’re going to fix the trade war.” So — all of those words, and in the end he agreed with Trump’s current policy, anyway.
When he was asked about his struggle to reach African-Americans, he agreed — and then went on to say … something (via NBC):
My response is, I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t yet know me.
And before I share what’s in my plans, let me talk about what’s in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low income, for eight years, I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built-up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.
I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized, and cast aside and oppressed in society.
And I care about this because, while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here. Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn’t have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.
In other words: I am struggling to connect to black voters, but also I am gay, which is not black but sort of like it.
It was a non-response. He showcased his erudition but said nothing about how he would address the problem. (His solution seems to involve sucking up to Al Sharpton, despite his history of racism, antisemitism, and homophobia.)
Outside the debate, I interviewed some of Buttigieg’s supporters, who formed the single largest contingent of any campaign in Atlanta. I asked them each the same simple question: what has Mayor Pete actually achieved?
None of them could answer. That is because there is no answer. He has a great résumé — and no achievements.
James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal wondered aloud why Buttigieg’s rivals weren’t making more of the fact that his record as mayor in South Bend isn’t much of a record at all:
Mr. Buttigieg will depart the mayor’s office in January at the conclusion of his second four-year term. He’s set to leave South Bend a dangerous place with an extremely high murder rate for a city its size.
Good intensions are nice. But Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) isn’t the only one wondering how far Mr. Buttigieg can go without delivering much in the way of positive results.
Regardless, Buttigieg now leads in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, even though he trails badly nationwide. He is modeling his strategy after that of Obama, who used an early win in Iowa to shock the field and win the nomination.
But the country is still wondering whether it was worth electing a politician who had never really run anything before, and whose main qualification for office was his oratorical skill. Trump is a bullshitter — the very best bullshitter ever! — but at least he had a reputation for success.
For now, Buttigieg just offers more Harvard bullshit.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.