Editorial

Pete Buttigieg has the liberal bona fides, but what can we expect from him in the arts?

Poised for success, Pete Buttigieg makes his case for a new generation of leadership.

Mayor Pete has experience as an executor on the smallest scale of the American stage. Every interview in which he appears, across the spectrum of radio, podcast, and television forums is marked by his uncommonly intellectual and in-depth analyses. But will this progressive penchant lead to a tangible benefit for the American performing arts community? The answer lies in the small observations of his character and lifestyle, as much as the larger policies of his mayoral administration.

Though mayor Pete is an unconventional candidate by virtue of age, sexual orientation, and amount of political clout/experience, he enjoys many of the same hallmarks of a conventional political candidate.

He has pedigrees in the United States Navy, as a former intelligence officer; as a Rhodes scholar, having studied at Oxford and Harvard; and as someone who is politically ambitious, having contributed to (and run in) several campaigns for office.

At a first glance, it appears as though he seems to be rather closer to the beginnings of his political journey. He is someone who hasn’t enjoyed many of the relationships and posturing that can help orient a potential presidential hopeful into the national conversation. But there are a few things that set him apart, and those things are also reasons to believe that he may be a candidate to look for in the general election.

A man, set apart…

Mayor Pete has a lot of uncommon characteristics, that I think can serve as clues to uncover the kind of attitude his prospective administration would have toward the arts.

The obvious signal, is that he is a musician in his own right! A 2015 video of him playing the piano with Ben Folds Orchestra has been circulating the internet. On top of being a pianist, he is reported to be quite proficient at the guitar. Both of these skills are listed in his official biography, no less; speaking to the fact that, at a fairly significant level, he values artistic expression and the patronage of the arts.

He is a polyglot, which means that he speaks multiple languages.

It’s not uncommon for candidates to speak one or more foreign languages; Kristen Gillibrand reportedly speaks Mandarin, and Jeb Bush routinely incorporated his Spanish in the 2016 elections. For Buttigieg, how this aspect of his personality relates to the arts is hidden in the details of his motivations. Apparently, in an effort to better connect to his favorite novelist, he was driven to learn Norwegian; at a conversational level. The decision was informed by the fact that of the novels written by Erlend Loe, only a few were readily available to be read in English.

The distinction is an important one. Though Buttigieg was a consultant with the McKinsey Group, and continues to be well regarded within the business community, there wasn’t any other practical or business-related reason for him to have learned this language. It was totally informed by his need to connect the enjoyment of art and literature.  He is said to be proficient in at least five other foreign languages, too; including Italian, Spanish, French, Dari and Arabic. This linguistic imperative probably stemmed from his work as a Naval Intelligence officer, but these skills wouldn’t be out of place as a stage actor or an opera singer — so if this president thing doesn’t work out…

Buttigieg is also set apart from his colleagues because of his sexual orientation. He has the distinction of being the only openly gay candidate on the roster. Needless to say, his monumental rise to popularity speaks volumes about the journey our country has gone through, in the past two decades. Even in the late 90’s and early 00’s, it was considered unthinkable to elect a candidate who supported equal marriage rights for same-sex couples…even Hillary Clinton was marked as having been against the notion as late as 2008.

Obviously this is a windfall for the gay community, and Buttigieg enjoys almost unilateral support from that core constituency; one that is undoubtedly quite liberal.

While it certainly isn’t a monolith, there is no question that the LGTBQ community is purported to have a reputation for enjoying the theater from time-to-time. The performing arts industry is one with the unusual distinction of having been professionally headed up by open members of this community — long before it was palatable for them to be represented in such positions of power in other industries, on a wider national scale.

In a world that is/was hostile to someone who identifies as homosexual, the arts provided a means of upward mobility; without necessarily the same level of sacrifice of their personal identity. That’s meaningful to people, and, if Buttigieg is smart, he will recognize that on the national stage. Hopefully by pumping a little bit more of that sweet, sweet government money into endowments for the arts and humanities.

The motif of Buttigieg’s personality that cinches all of these other considerations together, is the fact that he is a practical candidate. He’s electable because people like him. When he has occasion to speak in public, he speaks plainly and without pretense. His words seem to come from a heartfelt place, and this tempers that extraordinary intellect upon which he is able to draw.

He is a man who has succeed in the highest levels of the business community, working for elite consultancies. That fact makes him a believable authority from a managerial perspective.

As a mayor of a smaller college town, he has exhibited success in an executorial capacity. A trait that he shares with candidates from prior generations, such a Bernie Sanders.

These aspects of his electability are what’s going to bring the diverse wings of Democratic and Independent politics to the table with mayor Pete. Without them, he wouldn’t have even garnered the level of national recognition that he has, thus far — sailing to a 9% favorability rating for prospective Iowa caucus goers; ahead of Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

The takeaway

Mayor Pete could be a viable contender, and, as such, it’s time the arts community start thinking about what this can mean for the advancement of our interests. It’s not usually in the nature of the community to function as a vessel for direct political action (with the exception of the movie industry, read how Georgia’s film industry has put pressure on the conservative government to help change social issues). Our collective lives are usually centered around the realization of the visions of composers, writers, filmmakers, and directors. It can be uncomfortable to delve into maters that are specifically geared toward ensuring that we help get something that will benefit ourselves. After all, we are mostly constructed of not-for-profit institutions.

But the cost of the dereliction of our duty to make life better for individual artists, is that the powers that be will inevitably endeavor to make it worse. The art-forms, themselves, will suffer and wither along with us.

Other outside interests are making damn sure that they are getting their voices heard. Maybe it’s time we ratchet it up a bit.

Did you enjoy this post? Have another art-related issue that you would like me to help bring to light? Let me know in the Contact portion of the blog!

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