Elites sneered when Norman Vincent Peale said similar stuff.
In fact, during his 1956 presidential campaign, Adlai Stevenson, who fancied himself an intellectual and didn’t mind if others did too, snarked that “Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing, and the apostle Peale appalling.” Clever line. Advanced thinkers of the time laughed. (These are always with us.)
I hold no brief for Peale, who did tend to simplify life a bit. And certainly not for Stevenson, who was a faux intellectual and a snob, which at least partly explains how he managed to carry dozens of precincts in 1952 and 1956 when he ran for president. The bigger reason for his anemic results, of course, was that most Americanos loved Ike, for good reason, and weren’t about to throw over such an accomplished man for a self-satisfied and puffed-up poseur like Adlai. At his death, the only book at Stevenson’s bedside was The Social Register. The sometimes tongue-tied Ike was a bigger reader.
Ike biographers have speculated that most of Ike’s incomprehensible moments were, like those of Casey Stengel, put on intentionally because he didn’t want to deal with reporters’ questions. I don’t doubt this. Anyone who could keep the motley of contentious though ultimately victorious allies together during WWII could not have been that inarticulate.
Contemporary politicians, when campaigning (and when are they not?), are even more prone to vague, gaseous statements of uplift. And they use these with even less precision than old Norm did. One of the chief offenders in this doleful habit is Pete Buttigieg, a small-town mayor with delusions of presidential adequacy.
In last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Barton Swaim, an editorial writer at that august publication, commits a public service by sharing some of “Mayor Pete’s” more unctuous and slippery pronunciamientos. Here are just a few. See what kind of meaning you can tease out of the following:
Pete seems to want to change the entire purpose of the presidency, getting away from all that Mustache Pete stuff about being commander and chief, protecting the nation from foreign enemies, or keeping the economy clicking along so Americans can have jobs. No, Pete says, “The purpose of the presidency is not to glorify the president. [Whoever said it was?] It’s to unify and empower the American people.” America needs, Pete instructs us, a president “who will leave us more unified than before — that will galvanize the American people.” A president who will “use the powers of the presidency to answer the crisis of belonging in this country.” With no recognition that this is meaning-free bosh, he bangs on with, “We have to build a sense of belonging that reassures everybody that they are at the heart of the American project.” Swaim does not mention if Pete had his hand over his heart and his eyes turned to Heaven when he said these things.
A very therapeutic approach our Pete takes. Is it too late for Dr. Phil to join the Democrat pack? Perhaps Phil could even get Pocahontas and crazy Uncle Bernie to shake hands, though I wouldn’t try to put them both on the same couch. And even without a psycho-therapeutic president, perhaps young Americans would have more of a feeling of belonging if they would just pull their heads up out of their smartphones and take their earbuds out long enough to talk with the people around them. We seem to have an entire generation of Americanos with their heads up their apps. Installing Mayor Pete at 1600 would do nothing about this.
When not blowing happy-talk smoke, contemporary Democrat candidates are bad for painting gloomy pictures of America that the even halfway observant among us know do not in any way describe the land of the free and the home of the brave. Take this mendacious riff by Pete (please):
“So many people are being made to feel they don’t belong, in so many different ways — because of your race or religion, the language you speak at home, or disability, or who you love, or where you come from.… People are being told, ‘There’s not a place for you.’ ” (Perhaps there’s a book in this. The Power of Negative Thinking.)
Wow. I’ll wait here while you catch your breath. When people say plainly false stuff like this the only question to answer is are they (1) cynical or (2) stupid. I don’t see a third possibility. And I don’t see Pete as stupid.
You can listen a very long time to Democrat candidates before you hear the word “freedom,” not that long ago a very important American value. And when you do hear it, it’s very selective forms of freedom. Pete cautions us that, “Freedom means getting government out of the business of telling people who they ought to marry.”
Hard to know what our Pete feels we need to get away from here. I’ve been married twice — got it right the second time — and on neither occasion did I hear a word from the Federal Department of Authorized Spouses. The federals were content to allow me to make these important decisions without their input. I guess Pete is alluding to the issue of gay marriage, which the Supreme Court settled in 2015, making same-sex marriages legal across the republic. I’m surprised Pete isn’t aware of this. It was in all the papers. On top of that, Pete married another man himself in 2017 and is yet to be arrested by the marriage police.
Pete takes a kind of sideways swipe at the country’s current acute polarization, saying, “You can’t love the country if you hate half the people in it.” He doesn’t say which half and who’s doing the hating, but it’s not hard to work out.
In talking with attendees at Mayor Pete’s campaign events, people praise young Pete using words that are as uplifting and nearly as vague as Pete’s. A man told Swaim, “He’s the adult in the room.” What a room, eh? A young woman in New Hampshire told Swaim that when Mayor Pete speaks, “you don’t have to worry.” Maybe not. But you’re certainly entitled to wonder.
Who knows whom the Democrats will finally put up against the Donald in November. If it turns out not to be Pete, and both Fate and the Lord desert America and the Democrat wins, Pete could be in line for appointment to a new cabinet post designed just for him: Secretary of the Federal Department of Vacuous Happy Talk. He would be perfect.
A tip of the hat to Barton Swaim for presenting this picture of Pete Buttigieg in full. PB is a fellow one might misapprehend as sensible if he’s only seen in brief television clips. The reality, as Swaim’s portrait shows, is quite different.