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2020 Democratic primary: what Pete Buttigieg learned from Barack Obama

Pete Buttigieg gave a speech in South Bend, Indiana, announcing his presidential campaign. It's a word you've heard twice in Bernie Sanders's and Beto O'Rourke's announcement speeches, nine times in Cory Booker, 21 times in Kirsten Gillibrand, 23 times in Kamala Harris, and 25 times in Elizabeth Warren's.

That word? "Fight."

Instead, Buttigieg returned to a word those speeches shied away from, a word whose relative absence from the Democratic primary is all the stranger given its potency in the past Democratic campaigns.

That word? "Hope," which Buttigieg said eight times, Gillibrand said three times, O'Rourke uttered once, and Sanders, Harris, Warren, and Booker avoided completely.

Bill Clinton, famously, was "the man from Hope." Barack Obama ran "hope and change." But hope has become unfashionable in the Democratic primary. Partly, that's because the Democrats are trying to build a legacy distinct from Obama's and are looking for their own language. Partly that's because the lesson many Democrats took from Sanders's strong showing in 201

6 and Donald Trump's victory is that the angry country is looking for fighters – and no matter how many times Hillary Clinton played "Fight Song" at the rallies, the critical mass Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc. / Corbis via Getty Images

Buttigieg's rise has been unexpected and, to be honest, a bit weird. Young mayors of midsize cities do not typically spell out the talented presidential fields to poll third in Iowa and New Hampshire before they even officially announced their campaigns. "I do not even know all the reasons why this is going to be so good," Buttigieg told New York magazine.

But there is a reason, and it's bound in the psychology that attracts liberals to the word "hope "

Hopeful liberals, concerned conservatives

Liberals and conservatives have different ideologies, different philosophies, different policies, different parties.

In their book Open Versus Closed Christopher Frederico, Christopher Johnston, and Howard Lavine write that "Democrats and Republicans are now sharply distinguished by A similar argument, using slightly different data, can be found in Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler's . A similar argument, using slightly different data, can be found in Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler's Prius or Pickup :

Of the many factors that make up your worldview, one is more fundamental than any other in determining which side of the divide you gravitate toward: your perception of how dangerous the world is. Fear is perhaps our most primal instinct, after all, so it's only logical that people's level of fearfulness informs their outlook on life.

In Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and The Biology of Political Differences John Alford, John Hibbing, and Kevin Smith write:

Numerous studies have linked these personality dimensions to differences in the mix of tastes and preferences that seem to be reliably separate liberals and conservatives. People who score high are openness, for example, they tend to like envelope-pushing music and abstract art. People who score high conscientiousness are more likely to be organized, faithful, and loyal. One review of this great research literature finds these sorts of differences consistently cropping up over nearly 70 years of studies on personality research. The punch line, of course, is that this same literature also reports a consistent relationship between these dimensions of personality and political temperament. Jackson Pollock prints in disorganized bedrooms while listening to techno-pop reinterpretations of Bach by experimental jazz bands. They are also more likely to identify themselves as liberals.

These differences show up in surveys, in experiments, and in lifestyle choices. People in high openness are more likely to try new food, traveling to new places, living in diverse cities, keeping a messy desk. They're less sensitive to threatening photos and disgusting images, even when measuring physical indicators like skin connectivity, eye tracking, and seals.

At the core of this worldview divide is hope, in its most basic, literal form. Are you hopeful about new things, new people, new places? Does change excite you? Does difference? If it does, you are more likely to be liberal. If you look at the new, the different, and feel a spike of fear, you're more likely to be a conservative.

Not every liberal is high in this kind of openness, and not every conservative is low in it. But these associations are present and strong across many studies spanning dozens of countries. In one meta-analysis of the literature, John Jost, Chadly Stern, Nicholas Rule, and Joanna Sterling looked at 134 surveys in 16 countries and found "a significant association between subjective perceptions of threats and conservatism."

Supporters hold up their Make America Great Again hats as US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa on July 31, 2018.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Over the past 50 years, America's political parties have increasingly sorted themselves into ideologically and demographically distinct coalitions, and part of that sorting has been psychological. As the Democratic Party has diversified, it's becoming especially attractive to people who see difference as strength and who are excited by the idea of ​​a changing country. The Republican Party has experienced the same process in reverse.

Obama and Trump, in their respective campaigns, took this subtext of American politics and made it into bumper stickers. A black man with a strange name won the presidency tying together the words "change" and "hope." He was succeeded by a white man who won the presidency, promising to turn the clock, who built a campaign around the word "again." "

All this has supercharged America's psychological sorting. Frederico, Johnston, and Lavine find that the more politically involved someone is now, the more intense they correlated their psihology and their voting behavior becomes. Hetherington and Weiler, who measure the related basket of traits they call "fixed" and "fluid," find that now "among the fixed, 84 percent of those who chose one of these two labels chose conservative" while "among the fluid , 80 percent of those who chose one of them chose liberal. "

Democrats miss Obama

Most of the Democrats running for president have tried their own ways to out-Trump Trump. They promise to be a populist fighter he just pretends to be.

But a lot of liberals, temperamentally and psychologically, do not want a fight. They do not want politics to be an endless war; They believe that mutual understanding is possible, that the country will respond to someone willing to believe and call the best of it. That's not just their view of politics; it's their view of life. It's the view that Obama spoke to him in the speech that made him a star:

Even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin master and the negative ad peddlers who embrace the policy of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's no liberal America and conservative America – there's the United States of America. There's no black America and white America and Latin America and Asian America; There's the United States of America.

And again in his 2008 campaign announcement speech:

You come here because you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a policy that shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe that we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that perfect union.

And even if Mitch McConnell has disabused many liberals of the notion that this style of politics will pass laws, it still describes the candidates and the messages they find themselves drawn to. Obama appealed to them because he represented them, because he was one of them, and if they could, they would put him back in office a third time. There are a lot of these Democrats, but there's no, at the moment, a lot of competition for them.

President Barack Obama presents his Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden.
Olivier Douliery-Pool / Getty Images

You can see the enduring Joe Biden's persistent lead in the polls. Biden's popularity frustrates lefties who think he is insufficiently progressive and liberals who see him as an out-of-touch white guy. But Biden knows that many of his supporters are not really supporting him. They're supporting Obama by supporting him. Joe Biden is finalizing the framework for a White House campaign that would cast him as an extension of Barack Obama's presidency and political movement. He's betting that the majority of Democratic voters are eager to return to the style and substance of that era – and that they will view him as the best option to lead the way back.

Biden's weakness is that temperamentally, demographically and stylistically, he's not that much like Obama. He was brought to Obama's ticket to add balance, to offer reassurance. If you looked at Obama and saw too much change too fast, you could look at Biden and see a familiar face.

As Rebecca Traister wrote, "Biden's role has been to comfort the lost, beloved and most fondly imagined Democratic voter, the one who's like him: that guy in the diner, that guy in Ohio, that guy who's White and so put off by the changed terms of gendered and racial power in this country that decades ago he fled for the party that was working to roll back the social advancements that robbed him of his easy hold on power. "

This is where Buttigieg has found an opening.

Pete Buttigieg's play for the "hope and change" vote

Buttigieg can not run as the heir of Obama's administration. But of the candidates, he's the one who uses his personal story and political message to most echo Obama's appeal.

Buttigieg began his announcement speech by doing exactly what Obama did in his early speeches: He framed the choice of America faces as embracing a moment of change with hope – or rejecting it out of fear.

"Change is coming, ready or not," Buttigieg said. "The question of our time is whether families and workers will be defeated by the changes under us or whether we will master them."

 South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is on his candidacy announcement

Mayor Pete announced his intention to run it to become President Pete
Scott Olson / Getty Images

As Obama did before him, Buttigieg turned his own life story – in which an alienated, close-knit watches his country change enough to not only accept him but embrace He's in the argument that America is a place worth being hopeful about:

If I could go back to the past, it would not be out of the desire to live there. No, if I went into the past, it would be just 20 years back, to find a teenage boy in the basement … [and] tell him he'll be all right. More than all right To tell him that one rainy April day, before he even turns 40, he will wake up to headlines about whether he's rising too quickly as he becomes a top-tier contender for the American presidency. And tell him that on that day he announces his campaign for president, he will do it with his husband looking on.

"How can you live that story and not believe that America deserves our optimism, deserves our courage, deserves our hope? "Buttigieg asked.

And in perhaps the most Obama-like flourish in the speech, Buttigieg used the jumble of his own identities – a midwest mayor, a married gay man, an Afghan veteran – to argue that our political divisions obscure the grandeur of our common humanity:

When I was abroad, every one of the 119 trips I took outside the wire driving or guarding a vehicle, we learned what it is to trust one another in our lives. The men and women who got in my vehicle did not care if I was a Democrat or a Republican. They cared about whether I had selected the route with the fewest IED threats, not whether my father was documented or undocumented when he immigrated here. They cared about whether my M-4 was locked and loaded, not whether I was going home to a girlfriend or a boyfriend.

It was a speech right at the Obama wing of the Democratic Party, down to the praise-like jokes about being a young kid with a funny last name. It was a speech aimed at voters who look to the future with excitement, who find themselves excited by the word change.

"It's time to walk away from the past of politics," Buttigieg said, "and towards something completely different . "

That Buttigieg trusted that the line to be received with the applause spoke volumes about his intended audience.

It's not 2008 anymore

Buttigieg, of course, is not running in the 2008 Democratic primary. He's running in the aftermath of Obama's presidency, in the questions raised by Trump's rise. And he's running in the aftermath of Clinton's 2016 loss and amid the #MeToo moment, both of which have sharpened the focus on why it is that the exciting, fresh new faces in presidential politics always seem to be men.

"Whether a young person is bright, brilliant and promising or inexperienced, off-putting and ruthlessly ambitious depends on whether the young thing in question is male or female," writes Jill Filipovic.

I was struck, looking at the prevalence of the word "fight" in the 2020 announcement speeches, that top-tier female candidates used it much more than men. Nor is that unique to these elections. In 2008, Clinton used the word so often that she was mocked for it. She's the "fightingest fighter in the fight," wrote Byron York. In 2016, people complained about her use of "Fight Song" as the campaign theme.

Hillary Clinton holds a pair of boxing gloves in 2007. She had to go to lengths that Buttigieg doesnt prove she was a fighter.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

Men are supposed to be fighters , which frees them up to build messaging around ideas like hope. Women have to overcome suspicions of weakness, which means they have to be much more explicit about their willingness to fight. But as Anne Helen Petersen points out the work women do so to prove themselves fighters often then gets them dismissed as aggressive or abrazive. Why can not they smile more?

As a result, some liberals resent Buttigieg for representing a status quo that frustrates them. To them, the rapturous reception he has received, especially as more qualified female candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand's struggle, shows not how much has changed, but just how much has stayed the same.

"Yes, Pete Buttigieg is a gay man, and that's a big deal!" wrote Filipovic. "But it's not a slur to say that he's a white man. Is he a white man in exactly the same mold as any other previous white male president? No. But the gay does not make him a non-white or non-male. "

Another challenge for Buttigieg is that Obama did not win just by impressing openness-minded liberals. He won by building a coalition between them and black voters. As of yet, there's little evidence of buttigies breaking through among non-withe voters – and, notably, non-withe voters are not sorted by the openness dimension between parties, so the messages that work for white liberals in New Hampshire often fall flat with black Churchgoers in South Carolina.

Still, Buttigieg's rapid rise carries a lesson for the rest of the Democratic field. Democratic elites have given up hope and change because Washington is a place that dashes hopes and repulses change. To them, Obama's messaging now seems quaint, even naive. At the same time, the Democrats have been obsessed with reverse engineering, how Trump dominated his primary and won the elections, forgetting that the electorate, who propelled him to the victory want different things – in personality as well as in politics – from the electorate that propel Democrats to victory

But this is still the Democratic Party that elected Barack Obama twice and that adore him today. A lot of liberals still want a candidate who sees the world the way Obama did, because that's how they see the world too.

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