Just caught up with the issue of Wired magazine that carries an interview with our wonderboy secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg. And here’s the long introduction to the Q & A portion, and by god this should be read aloud at cocktail parties for the rest of the year as it is comedy gold:
THE CURIOUS MIND of Pete Buttigieg holds much of its functionality in reserve. Even as he discusses railroads and airlines, down to the pointillist data that is his current stock-in-trade, the US secretary of transportation comes off like a Mensa black card holder who might have a secret Go habit or a three-second Rubik’s Cube solution or a knack for supplying, off the top of his head, the day of the week for a random date in 1404, along with a non-condescending history of the Julian and Gregorian calendars.
As Secretary Buttigieg and I talked in his underfurnished corner office one afternoon in early spring, I slowly became aware that his cabinet job requires only a modest portion of his cognitive powers. Other mental facilities, no kidding, are apportioned to the Iliad, Puritan historiography, and Knausgaard’s Spring—though not in the original Norwegian (slacker). Fortunately, he was willing to devote yet another apse in his cathedral mind to making his ideas about three mighty themes—neoliberalism, masculinity, and Christianity—intelligible to me.
Because Buttigieg, at 41, is an old millennial; because as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford he got a first in PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics), the trademark degree for Labour-party elites of the Tony Blair era; because he worked optimizing grocery-store pricing at McKinsey; because he joined the Navy in hopes of promoting democracy in Afghanistan; because he got gay-married to his partner Chasten in 2018; and because, as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he agitated to bring hipster entrepreneurism and “high-tech investment” to his rust-belt hometown, I had to ask him about neoliberalism, the happy idea that consumer markets and liberal democracy will always expand, and will always expand together. I was also fascinated by the way that Buttigieg, who has long described himself as obsessed with technology and data, has responded to the gendering of tech, and especially green tech, by fearsome culture warriors, including Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Buttigieg, whose father was a renowned Marxist scholar, was himself a devotee of Senator Bernie Sanders as a young man. He now recognizes that the persistence of far-right ideology, with its masculinist and antidemocratic preoccupations, is part of the reason that neoliberalism has come undone. Not everyone, it seems, even wants a rising standard of living if it means they have to accept the greater enfranchisement of undesirables, including, of course, women, poor people, Black people, and the usual demons in the sights of the world’s Ted Cruzes and Tucker Carlsons.
He also talked about his faith. Lefties these days are said to be less religious than right-wing evangelicals, but between Buttigieg, whose Episcopalianism grounds his decisionmaking, and his boss, President Joe Biden, whose robust Catholicism drives his sincere effort to revive America’s soul, perhaps a religious left is rising again.
Hard to single out the most preposterous line in this suckup, but I’ll go with “whose Episcopalianism grounds his decisionmaking.” Would that be Rite I or Rite II? Enquiring minds want to know. Makes a difference. Also not hard to guess that his favorite Eucharistic collect on Sunday is the infamous “Star Trek” prayer on page 370 of the BCP:
God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of glory and praise. At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
You will need to resist the obvious temptation to freelance your own images of the posture of the writer to Buttigieg as the interview was conducted.
Reminder from TWiP: