TRANSCRIPT: Pete Buttigieg 5/16/2019

Hi party people,

Some news was made at Pete Buttigieg’s event this afternoon in Chicago, and he also used a ton of new material. If you want to skip to the newsy parts, search for:

  • “Iran”

  • “Alabama”

  • “our party”

The following is a transcript of Pete Buttigieg’s speech in Chicago on 5/16/2019.


Thank you very much. Please. Thank you. Thank you very much, thank you for the kind introduction, the kind invitation, thank you Jay Doherty for hosting us, I want to acknowledge Frank Paul for cooking up the idea and bringing me here and persuading somebody else to go along with it, so thank you to Frank.

It’s a real pleasure to be back in Chicago, when I was a consultant, I lived at Wabash & State, I worked at -- between Clark and Dearborn and Monroe. I guess I was between Wabash and State on Monroe, so I had a one-block commute, which I have not been able to replicate and we’re really here in spectacular weather by what amounts to midwestern standards. As you know, I’m from South Bend, Indiana, you get on Lake Shore -- [inaudible] that’s more than [inaudible].

One thing I find myself doing is as mayor, is explaining South Bend a little bit to people who don’t know our city, to people [inaudible]. Our magnificent University of Notre Dame which sits technically outside city limits but we’re very happy to claim. And yet because of that, people sometimes assume that we must be a tidy, wealthy, homogenous college town, which is of course, not our story. Our story is that of a company town that had to figure out -- for the balance of my lifetime -- what to do when you lose your company.

And in that sense, we are typical of so many communities in the industrial Midwest that were left wondering what their future was going to look like. The Studebaker Car Company stopped making cars 20 years before I was born.

And yet 30 years after that, when I was running for mayor, some people were still talking about it, as if -- if we could only get some version of Studebaker back making cars again, our city would be all right.

That was how profound the blow of losing some of those jobs had been for us.

And what we had to face was that the future wasn't going to look like the past. That the way out of the abandoned factories and the collapsing homes and the population loss and the reduced income wasn't to try to dredge greatness out of some impossible again, but rather to make sure that the future look different from the past.

And that's what we've been able to achieve as a city in the last 10 years. I'm so proud of it. I won't subject you to a full accounting of all of the things we're pleased with, from the parks and recreation upgrades to being able to double down on our boast of having the smartest wastewater system in the world.

But what I will do is let you know that we're growing, that our population is growing, that our economy is growing, that we are seeing people lifted out of poverty. We're not there yet. We’ve got a long way to go in our city. We're celebrating the fact that our per capita personal income has finally gone back above $20,000 in our community, but we're also seeing that our neighborhoods have become cleaner and safer.

We're seeing a downtown come back to life. In the same way that downtowns in the biggest cities have come back to life. There wasn’t much to do after hours when I made that choice to live in the Loop in 2007. Miller's would -- would give you a spinach pie and that that was about it.

Now I come back, and I find that even though the heart of the commercial business district of this city feels like a neighborhood in some ways, and we've seen that that smaller cities can experience that growth too, but only if we properly balance what's happening in our neighborhoods and our lowest income areas, with the tremendous potential of the return to our downtowns.

What really made it work in South Bend was recognizing that we couldn't just make South Bend great again, that, that we couldn't rewind, that we had to accept that the future was going to be different than the past. Be honest about it. Be honest that certain things were not coming back. But we were, and then talk about how.

That's why I think there's no such thing as an honest politics built around the word again.

But I do believe that there can be a very optimistic politics for the industrial Midwest. And it's so important at a time when we were being characterized by the White House and caricatured sometimes -- by the commentators -- as a place where the only way to our heart is through nostalgia, and through resentment.

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we are living through a moment of tectonic change, change so profound that even in this moment, we may well be underreacting. I think that we have the good and bad fortune of living in a moment that will be as memorable as the beginning of the New Deal, or the beginning of the Reagan era.

In other words, what will happen in the next three or four years could set the tone for what will happen in the next 30 or 40. And it's one of the things that motivated me to make the admittedly improbable choice of stepping up as a late 30s Midwestern mayor, to run for President of the United States, not admittedly an obvious career move. And I get that.

We were not sure just how many people would take us seriously when I proposed the exploratory committee publicly at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington in January.

And yet what we’ve seen since then, is that our message is resonating… that the people welcome and embrace the idea of a different kind of leadership. Yes, it is traditional to be marinated in Washington for a few more years before you step up for the presidency.

We're actually living in a moment that's kind of a season for local leadership. It's a season for local leadership because that's where things get done.

Consider this. Our national government shut down over a policy disagreement. Can you imagine if that happened to a city government? How long would the mayor be able to physically remain in city limits after the city stop delivering water, which you need to live? It's unthinkable. Not that our politics aren't ferocious and intense… I am, after all, addressing a Chicago audience.

And yet, even in our most ferociously contested moments, you don't talk about a city government shutting down, we just have to get it done.

And it's one of the reasons I believe our task is to start to get Washington to look a little more like our best run cities and towns before the reverse starts to happen. Because I fear that that is exactly the trajectory we might be on.

Also know that our part of the country isn't known for producing a lot of Democrats, certainly a lot of progressives, [inaudible] is precisely for that reason, that I want the country to hear voices from Midwestern states like ours, from conservative states like mine. And it's why I think there needs to be a new generation stepping up too. You know, my generation -- currently, is on track to be the first in American history to earn less than our parents, if we don't do something to change the trajectory.

If you were born when my mother was born, 1945, you had a 90% shot of coming out ahead of your parents, you could more or less assume that that would happen. And for us, it's a coin flip. Some parts of the country not far from where we're gathered, it's less than 50/50.

And so we've got to make sure that that generation is putting forward leaders too. After all, but also the generation that produced the bulk of the troops after 9/11. We're the generation that -- we're not the ones who invented the internet, we figured out some pretty interesting things to do with it.

Many of them beneficial.


Some of them not.

[more laughter]

All the more reason why it's of tremendous importance that the people in the policy world in charge of figuring out the left and right boundaries for that have a sense of what it is they're regulating. Not that you have to be from a new generation to do it. Again. It's an older generation that actually invented this stuff, but that we have to pay attention to and it can't hurt to have some digital natives entering that conversation, not just in the business and philanthropy world, but in the policy world too.

So having that different background, that background of a millennial Midwestern mayor, I think has equipped me to offer maybe a different vocabulary for what my party stands for. And I do not seek to shift the center of gravity morally of where my party is. But I do think it would make sense for us to find new ways to talk about it. And it's the main thing I want to discuss with you before we go to questions.

There's a lot of hand-wringing over whether Democrats are capable of expressing themselves in bumper sticker language. We are given to long and elaborate policy discussion sometimes. That's that's not a demerit. We're policy people. We ought to be. Policies are how we do good in this world.

But sometimes I fear, we have neglected to vindicate the values that motivate our policies. Something that I think the right -- for at least as long as I've been alive -- has been highly effective at doing.

So part of what I'm trying to do is reintroduce the values that help to explain why we believe what we believe, so that even people who maybe have different values or have different conclusions on policy, understand that we came by our views honestly. And it's why I think that this campaign, largely, must be about freedom.

Now, when you think of freedom, when you think of liberty, and you think of whose lips you would expect it to be on in the political world today, you're mostly going to think of people from the right. You're going to think of our conservative friends, who are preoccupied with making sure that the government does not restrain our freedom too much.

And often that leads to positions on taxes, positions on regulation, that suppose that if government is the opposite of freedom, then less government means more freedom.

Although it turns out that there are some -- some exceptions to this rule. Some of which we’re observing in the American South today. Now, I come from Indiana, as a Democrat. There are people I love people I trust people who support me politically, who view this issue differently than I do. But I must say that I don't think that you are free in this country if your reproductive health can be criminalized by government.

This is not an easy choice for anybody to face. And I would be loath to tell anybody facing that situation. What the right thing to do is but that's exactly the point. I'm a government official. I don't view myself as belonging in that conversation, and to see an Alabama that if someone is raped and she seeks an abortion, the doctor who treats her will be penalized with a longer prison term than her rapist, makes me question whether the discussion about freedom in this country has gone off the rails.

Let me though suggests that there is more to freedom on the left or on the right than just getting government out of the way.

One of the reasons we invented government as a species is because there are certain freedoms we don't enjoy unless we have policies that tear down the obstacles to us living the life of our choosing. Even the most unglamorous things that mayors work on, day in and day out, wastewater and water, I believe are things that enhance our freedom. Because we have municipal authorities worrying about that sort of thing, so we don't have to.

But it's also why you're not free. As we learned in Flint, if you have to wonder whether a glass of water that comes out of the tap is going to poison you and your family.

It's providing basic services. And it's providing some measure of assurance that the rights that you have in this country and in this life will be secured. It’s why I think health care is freedom. I think you're not free if the United States has failed to ensure, that you might, for example, be able to start a small business, leaving your old job and starting a new one without fearing that that means you'll lose your healthcare.

I think that you're not free as a consumer. If a financial institution is caught ripping you off, and you don't have any recourse because you've been forced into arbitration.

I certainly think that freedom in this country for people of color has been constrained both by policies and by institutional racism in ways that will not get better just by saying we're going to get government out of the way. If we don't figure out how to lift the veil of mistrust, for example, between communities of color, and the law enforcement officers sworn to keep them safe, how can we really say that we're enjoying freedom?

And, of course, on a more personal note, I don't think that you can really say that you're free if a county clerk is to tell you who you ought to marry based on their view of their own religion.

So let's talk about freedom in its richest sense, and recognize that good government can help make you free. Just as much as bad government can help make you unfree. And that how big or small it is, is only the beginning of the conversation.

I want to talk about security because that's another thing that I think has been maybe monopolized by our friends on the right, as though security or the flag or patriotism belong to one political party.

I think that's all the more reason people in my party ought to be talking about security. First of all, traditional security issues have not gone away.

We see what's going on in the vicinity of Iran right now. To give just one example, we've got to ask ourselves whether this administration is capable of stating what the bar is before you even talk about sending U.S. troops into a conflict. And I say that as somebody who went into a war zone on the orders of the U.S. President, and by the way, was willing to do that.

Because that's part of the promise you make when you raise your right hand, you don't know who the President's going to be in a few years, let alone what their policies will be. But when I left Afghanistan in 2014, I thought I was turning out the lights. I thought I was one of the last to go. It's five years later, we're still there. You could be old enough to enlist and not have been alive on 9/11.

And the next presidents got to be ready in the name of U.S. security to put an end to endless war.

Day before yesterday we did -- we did an event with young men and women signing their commitment letters to go into the military. Some go into the academy, some are enlisting right away, some are joining the guard. And on one sense it’s very happy occasion. It makes me understand in the way that somebody who has served inevitably and sometimes unbearably gets around young people starting to serve.

And I was very proud of them and their parents were there. And the school principals were there it’s a great event.

But then there's this other voice in the back of my head actually not so different than the voice that was in my back the back of my head when I saw high school students from the same high schools in our city, gathering together in the March For Our Lives to demand better action on gun safety and the voice in the back of my -- said, “Yeah--” And the voice in the back of my head saying, “Do not let these kids down. Do not play games with their lives. This is not a game. It is not a show.”

And we better make sure that the security decisions made by the President are based not on domestic politics, but on what is the right thing for this nation and particularly those who have agreed to defend it with their lives.

And that's just the traditional stuff we talk about when we think about security. This is the 21st century. That means security means cybersecurity. And one thing that will not help on cybersecurity is putting up a wall from sea to shining sea doesn't -- doesn't keep out the bits and bytes.

There's a human factor as well as the technical side to cybersecurity. And we've got to be on top. We got to worry about election security. Our elections are the thing that keep us safe. Our elections a lot more than a collection of rifles, for example, our elections are the thing that see to it that our government works for us, and not the other way around. And our elections for that very reason, have been attacked. So what are we doing to secure our elections?

And what are we doing to look after security in the face of a rising tide of violent white nationalism asserting itself at home and around the world? That's security too. That’s security in a really big way.

And we had better be talking about what may well be the biggest security imperative of our time, which is climate security. There's evidence that there's evidence that the Syrian civil war began partly because of forced migration patterns that happened as a result of drought and other issues connected to climate.

The same story is increasingly coming -- coming into focus when it comes to the rise of Boko Haram in Africa.

We probably would not have as many migrants at our borders from Central American countries. If it weren't for climate disruption.

I myself and the city of South Bend had to activate our Emergency Operations Center twice in less than two years. One of them was for the thousand year flood and the other was for the 500 year flood.

Now, I did not major in math but I do have an iPhone and I got a calculator app on it.

And if my math is right, and if it's wrong, somebody here will tell me I'm sure. But if it's right, the odds of that happening are 125,000 to one, unless, of course, something has changed in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, just like they warned us in the 70s in the 80s, and the 90s, just like they're warning us now.

And so I think if -- we need to start having the debate, not over whether but how to adapt, is the people debating whether we ought to do it are going to be left behind. That's a security imperative, adapting and preventing it from getting worse. So let's stop talking about freedom and security like they belong on one side of the aisle. And let's have an adult conversation about what it's going to take to do something about that in our century.

And in order for that to happen. It brings me to democracy. We like to think of ourselves as democracy. We'd like to think that democracy was one of the things that was on the line in some of our nation's finest moments from its very founding to the way that we played a role in beating back tyranny around the world during the time of World War II.

But are we really a democracy? needless to say, our democracy has always been imperfect. There have been patterns of exclusion in our democracy from the very beginning. But I think it would be fair to say on balance most of the time, if you zoom all the way out that most of us would be able to -- not all -- but most, most Americans over the years would be able to say that America became at least a little more democratic by the end of their lives than it was at the beginning.

And I'm very concerned that if you're my age, might not be able to say that.

We see a rollback of voting rights, largely motivated by people who seem to have included as a partisan matter, that they would be more likely to win if fewer people were likely to vote. And to me, that's an indication that your policies probably need a look.

But we've seen this happen systematically with voter ID laws with making it harder to open up. Closing polling places in certain areas, closing too early…

With all of the obstacles to voting, we are one of the toughest countries to vote in. In Indiana. When you go to the polling place -- did it last week -- we had our primary, start picking my successor in South Bend, there's a big poster in the window that says, stop. And then it tells you about all the terrible things will happen to you if you're voting with invalid ID or -- or so forth. Stop. Is that the message we want to send? About our democracy? Stop? You're on your way to vote and exercise your right people put their lives on the line to defend -- ? Stop. I don't think so.

By the way, there's some really basic structural things in addition to the obstruction that we've just tolerated because we're just used to it. Can anybody make a principled argument why fellow U.S. citizens living in Washington D.C., or for that matter, Puerto Rico have less political representation than we do? Doesn't make any sense.

Can anyone a principled argument why districts ought to be drawn so the politicians can choose their voters instead of the other way around. I can't think of any.

And for my dime, whether you live in a rather blue state or a rather red one, at risk of sounding simplistic, one thing that would be fitting for democracy, when it chooses its national leader, is to elect the President by just counting up all the votes and then giving it to whoever had the most.

That way everybody's vote counts the same. I don't know how you put a thumb on the scale one way or the other and say that it's fair. So let's just count everybody the same. Some of these incredibly simple things don't seem to get much traction in our current environment, which is precisely why our environment needs to change.

I would say we need to change the channel from the show that we've all been watching. And that's my response to this presidency. You notice I didn't talk about it much. It's not because I don't think about it rather often. It's -- it's that you don't even get a presidency like this unless something's wrong.

This, by the way, is one reason people in my party need to recognize that some smoking gun proof that the President's not a good guy will not change much.

A lot of people -- at least where I live -- voted with their eyes wide open for a guy they didn't much care for, in order to send a message that they wanted to burn the house down.

Which is also why any suggestion that our party's message ought to be, a promise to return to normal overlooks the extent to which normal hasn't been working for a lot of people. Now, what we've got now isn't working either.

But that's exactly why we've got to create a new normal. So we're not going to go on that show. We're not going to play that game. We're going to change the channel. And that's what my campaign is about.

Let me close just by mentioning a word that is falling out of fashion, but I think it's as important as ever. And that's hope.

Because you don't do this if you don't have some measure of hope. Running for office is an act of hope. In a certain sense, taking the time to watch somebody talk at you who's running for office is an act of hope.

And voting is and volunteering is. You don't do this unless you think there's some way to make the pulleys and levers of our system work better, and make people better off. And when you do that, when you get it right -- not that anybody's ever had it perfect -- but when you get it right, then I think the freedom, the security, and the democracy we live with will be greatly enhanced so that we will in fact, by 2054, when I'm entering my retirement and celebrating the fact that I've reached the current age of the current President, that I'll be able to look back at 2020. and say, “This is when things really started moving on to a good path for our country.”

And that's how you will know that we succeeded not just in an election, but in defining an era and that's why I'm doing this. So thanks for coming.