Monday, December 21, 2020

What Can You Do With a Boy Like Pete?

When President-elect Biden announced his first batch of staff and cabinet nominees, there was a great surge of celebration among liberal Democrats online.  So wonderful! they exulted. He's appointing competent, qualified adults! and so on. I had the feeling something was wrong, but concentrated more on what the reporters I trust were saying about the appointees.

As time went on and more nominees were put on display, a reasonable amount of skepticism about some of them emerged.  Biden-Harris loyalists angrily rejected discussion, which didn't keep it from continuing, but basically they were trolling: Who cares, they're all better than Trump's people, I'm just so glad I don't have to think about what he's doing! I suppose you wish Trump had won the election, you dirty Bernie Bro!

This came to a head with speculation about what role Pete Buttigieg would play in the Biden administration.  Word was that Buttigieg insisted on a cabinet post and wouldn't settle for less. Excited Mayor Pete fans tossed out possibilities.  An ambassadorship?  China, maybe?  He speaks so many languages, he could pick up Mandarin in no time!  Or how about the United Nations?  He's so smart, he's qualified for anything and everything!  He's got this youthful energy!  He went on Fox News and shut them down!

Now, most of these recommendations didn't amount to much, certainly not as qualifications.  I noted that Buttigieg's polyglot brilliance was exaggerated; the two languages he speaks that I know (without calling myself fluent in either Spanish or French), he doesn't speak very well.  The United Nations has a corps of interpreters so that ambassadors don't need to try to master dozens of languages.  Even if Buttigieg were as fluent in seven languages as his fans believe, it's not a qualification for a prominent government post.  Nor are most of the qualities his fans gushed about.

I haven't watched his appearance on Fox News, but I do remember that when he was asked a pointed question by a New York Times reporter, he got flustered and tried to cuss and lie his way out of it, without success.  In general he doesn't seem to deal well with disagreement or criticism; his blundering encounter with angry black voters in South Bend, for example. I see no reason to suppose that he's cut out to be a diplomat, even on the rather soft level of an ambassador.  He's simply too inexperienced for any important post on the level of China.

His inexperience is the sticking point for a cabinet post too.  Two terms as mayor of a small city -- I was going to call his tenure undistinguished, but even that might be too kind -- are not enough to let him lay claim to any national office.  Buttigieg's a fairly adroit and mostly lucky self-promoter, but most of the image he projected when he began running for President crumbled under press scrutiny.  It was widely held, this past week or two, that he thought he'd earned a place in the cabinet simply by quitting the primaries to clear the way for Joe Biden; I began to wonder if he might be hurting himself by his entitlement.  Importunate troublemakers with little to offer tend not to get what they want.

But no, Biden tapped Buttigieg for Secretary of Transportation.  Stress was laid on his homosexuality, on what a historic first it will be for an openly gay man to head DoT.  It is that, but homosexuality is not a qualification for a cabinet post.  Biden's been touting the diversity of his cabinet choices, and I bet he's going to try to distract attention from the inadequacy of several of them by pointing to it.  Certainly his toadies and trolls will do it, as Obama's and Hillary Clinton's did for them.  I don't think it will work too well, but what else has he got right now?

I've been arguing about this with a lot of people on social media, and it's fascinating (as well as dispiriting) to see how quickly Democrats have abandoned any concern that the Biden administration should be competent or qualified.  It's all the more remarkable when you recall how exercised they were by the inadequacy of Trump and his people, right up to the present.  That's one of their rebuttals in fact: Who cares, he's better than the trash Trump put into those positions!  Which may be true, but it sets the bar absurdly low.  Someone actually argued seriously that Buttigieg would lower the average age of Biden's cabinet.  So it would, but you could say the same about Ivanka or Jared.  (Most defenses of Biden, as with Clinton or Obama, could be made as fairly of Trump.)  As someone pointed out, "The defense of the centrist establishment of how Pete Buttigieg is qualified to be Transportation Secretary is pretty funny to watch & akin to Trump saying how Dr. Atlas was qualified."

Ryan Grim and David Sirota, who are among the left journalists I rely on these days, have made cases that some of Biden's nominees are pretty good, just as some are very bad.  They're still being attacked by Biden-Harris trolls for their lack of obedience and submission, but the trolls have no real arguments and are getting a lot of good pushback.  On the other hand, I just had a depressing exchange over Buttigieg with my old friend the ambivalent Obama supporter, who at first defended Buttigieg as smart enough to learn to do the job -- quite a weak defense.  When I leaned on him a bit, he conceded that Buttigieg wasn't a good choice, but Biden could have done worse.  That's not even a defense; it's capitulation to the Dark Side.  Of course Biden could have done worse, but this country may not survive four more years of "could have done worse."

I've seen several statements (including long threads) like this:

The doublethink is impressive; these people are dedicated servants of Big Brother.  I'm beginning to realize that they don't know what qualifications are, and they don't care.  They want to forget that the Trump years ever happened, though as with George W. Bush, it's difficult at times to figure out precisely what they objected to about him.  Policies that liberals claimed to hate from Dubya became virtuous when Obama took them up, and I expect we'll see the same pattern with Biden.  I also expect that Biden won't get the same indulgence that many progressives extended to Obama, which hindered resistance to his worst policies. It may even be that liberals' expressed intention to shut off their brains for the next four years while Uncle Joe takes care of them will keep them out of the way to some extent.  Not many people are genuinely excited about Biden, as they were about Obama, so he may have fewer defenders.

"Even if our country goes off the rails," a DJ on the community radio station just said a moment ago, "we have a heritage of music that delights and inspires."  That doesn't make me feel even a little better; Trump Derangement Syndrome is a hell of a thing.  Fasten your seatbelts, liberals: we're all in for a bumpy ride.