This week’s essay, simply entitled “It,” is the 756th hebdomadal (weekly) essay I’ve written and posted since February 5, 2005. Back then, the blog was entitled Beating the Bushes: Barack Obama was a virtually anonymous junior senator from Illinois, Pete Buttegieg had just graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, and was heading off to Oxford’s Pembroke College where had had just been named a Rhodes Scholar; real estate magnate Donald Trump was beginning the second season of The Apprentice, and the bestselling fiction novel was John Grisham’s The Broker. No one had yet heard of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, or the terms sexting, and ransomware; for weeks and months on end, one of the top news stories dealt with Terri Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman, whose epic life-or-death battle came to the forefront of America's conscience — and to the highest court in the land.
One of the biggest differences between writing essays in 2005 and today is that back then, one had at least a week’s worth of leisure to research, cogitate and prepare before coming up with – and committing to - a title . . . let alone determining what in the Hell one was going to be writing about. By comparison, today, each potential topic lasts about ten minutes before taking a backseat to some other breaking news of earth shattering importance. Take for an example this week: just as one was beginning research on an essay dealing with the 2nd round of Democratic debates, there was the presidential attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings, and the city of Baltimore with all its racist overtones; the Presidential son-in-law’s involvement in that city’s decline, and the horrific massacres in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio which have led to yet another debate about automatic weapons, gun safety laws, mental health and the relationship between the current administration and galloping white supremacy. This is not even to mention the Iranian seizure of additional oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, North Korea’s newest nuclear missile tests or the administration’s promise to impose new tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese consumer goods.
All-in-all, a vast smörgåsbord of temptations guaranteed to afflict one with acute weltschmerz combined with progressive intellectual dyspepsia. Oh how one longs for the days when screaming headlines were the exception, not the commonplace. What those of us who closely follow, write about - and are deeply invested in - politics on all levels, we cry out for change; for a reality in which class replaces crass; for a stable of political animals who place the broad weal of humanity above the narrow straitened path of partisanship. In short, we seek those who possess that ineffable quality called “It.” Being ineffable (too great to be spoken in words) “It” is nearly impossible to define; but one senses it when one sees it.
On the window shelf in my library, one finds several keepsakes which are, in my estimation, the symbols of my rather complex being. There, from right to left one finds a small statue of Moses grasping the Tablets of the Law, (representing my Jewish self); a magnificent wooden cigar box (my fascination with the inexplicable); a bust of Thomas Jefferson (symbolizing the ultimate Renaissance Man); a photo of my beloved father Henry in uniform, with the Taj Mahal looming in the background (the ultimate gentleman as warrior); a photo with Annie (the strongest, most resilient human being I know), and a truly rare photo of silent actress Clara Bow - the original “It” girl - my all-time favorite movie star.
I am happy to report that over the past several weeks I believe we have been in the presence of an “It” leader-on-the-rise: South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg, whose name is still so unpronounceable that most people refer to him as “Mayor Pete,” possesses “It.” He is a masterful articulator and very good at sidestepping controversy. Asked, as he stood next to Bernie Sanders onstage at the most recent Democratic debate, whether age was an important factor to consider in the upcoming election, Buttigieg gave a roundabout answer that stressed the importance of ideas and vision over age, while also explaining that looking to younger people was the important evolution needed for our country’s future. But probably most memorable was his directing a statement to sitting Republican congressmen: “And if you are watching this at home, and you are a Republican member of Congress, consider the fact that when the sun sets on your career, and they are writing your story—of all the good and bad things you did, the thing you will be remembered for is whether in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him or you continued to put party over country.”
As a serious practicing Christian (He was raised and educated Catholic as a child, and became an Anglican [Episcopalian] while studying at Oxford), Mayor Peter has had no problem calling out Republicans for what he sees as their sectarian hypocrisy: “For a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that … God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages,” Buttigieg said, “has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.” This is the kind of straight-shooting attack that many Americans have been waiting for. Possessing “It,” Mayor Pete has the ability to be animated without being antagonistic; didactic without being demeaning and plain-spoken without resorting to puerility.
At age 37, Mayor Pete may seem too young to be a serious contender for POTUS. Indeed, he is 36 years younger than ‘45, 40 years younger than Joe Biden, 41 years younger than Bernie Sanders and 33 years younger than Elizabeth Warren. Were he to be elected, this would represent the greatest age differential between a president and his successor; JFK was 27 years younger than Dwight Eisenhower. The one thing JFK and Mayor Pete have in common - besides a Harvard education - is that ineffable quality we began this essay with: IT.
(And by the way, for those whose primary interest in any candidate is where they stand vis--à-vis Israel, Mayor Pete is a strong - though not totally uncritical - supporter of the Jewish State . . . far more prominently so than most progressive Democrats.)
2020 may well not be Mayor Pete’s year, although, in my humble opinion, the time is ripe to - in the soaring words of JFK, to
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . .unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
458 days until the election.
Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone