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BOOK REVIEW: Pete Buttigieg’s ‘Shortest Way Home’

The autobiographical prelude to a groundbreaking presidential campaign.

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Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is better known as Mayor Pete, released a book entitled Shortest Way Home in February of this year. One month before, he had announced the formation of an exploratory committee to determine whether he should enter the 2020 presidential race. On April 14, Buttigieg answered that question when he formally announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination. That the book dropped when it did seems more like good planning than coincidence. Buttigieg has his act together.

People who are looking for an outline of Buttigieg’s policy statements will not find them in this book. What they will find are some fascinating insights into Buttigieg’s instincts, values, and life experiences. This is a man who didn’t use a ghostwriter, choosing instead to pen his own autobiography.        

Buttigieg has a quick wit and a fondness for irony. He is perceptive, grounded, curious, and totally committed to the concept that government’s purpose should be to help each person in America. As mayor of South Bend, Indiana, his job is to make sure people have water, electricity, sewers, roads, education, healthcare, and all the other things that people often take for granted.

In a time of national disillusionment among progressives, Buttigieg is a warm dose of decency and intellect that seems to have vanished since President Trump took office in 2017. Buttigieg is the real deal. For him, the presidency is not about financial gain. Neither is it about his ego. He believes that his presidential run is the best way to put his values into action.

Reading the book will make you feel like you grew up with Buttigieg. He reveals that he wore thick glasses until he switched to contact lenses during his freshman year of high school. As a kid, Buttigieg played tag football, but admits that anything beyond that is just not in his skill set. That doesn’t mean he isn’t fit—after returning from a tour in Afghanistan, he had to have surgery for a hernia he created while lifting weights during his free time at the air base.

He’s not a morning person, but he still manages to roll out of bed as early as 5 a.m. Three days a week, he meets two friends at 6 a.m. to run between three and nine miles. On other days, he appears on local morning television shows in standard slots, talking about South Bend from a mayor’s perspective.

Buttigieg is an experienced campaigner, having run for Indiana state treasurer in 2010. He learned the game from the ground up, crisscrossing the state and campaigning in every county. He is familiar with the state’s ethnic diversity, and knows what kinds of food to expect at campaign stops—be it boiled cabbage, fried fish, or chicken. One of his biggest campaign surprises was a stop where he christened a canoe filled with fried chicken, beating a world record.

If you look at Buttigieg and see glimpses of a young John F. Kennedy, you aren’t imagining it. JFK is his favorite political hero, and he admires the Kennedy family. Buttigieg has been honored by the Kennedys twice. In 2000, he won his high school’s Profiles in Courage essay contest and traveled to Boston to receive the award from Caroline Kennedy. In 2015, U.S. representative Joe Kennedy III presented Buttigieg with a New Frontier Award for his effectiveness in turning around the dying city of South Bend.

Buttigieg seems to combine the relaxed poise and affability of John F. Kennedy with the rolled-up-sleeves passion of Robert Kennedy. He listens to questions and answers them intelligently and thoroughly. His mother and father both taught at Notre Dame University in South Bend. Buttigieg left home to attend Harvard University’s JFK School of Government. Following graduation, he studied at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship.

Data-driven management fascinates Buttigieg. He initiated a 311 city-services call center in South Bend after becoming mayor in 2012 at the age of 29. Not only has it improved satisfaction among residents, but Buttigieg also ended up with a data gold mine that revealed which City services were most needed and what issues were preventing those services from being delivered.

Buttigieg has a natural sense of humility. When he deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 as a Navy Reserve lieutenant, he told others simply that he “worked for the City of South Bend.”

Mike Pence became governor of Indiana after Buttigieg became mayor, and Buttigieg invited the new governor to South Bend in order to work on issues such as industry and trade. Buttigieg was stunned in 2015 when Pence became a high-profile advocate for a so-called “religious freedom” bill in the state legislature. After a national eruption of disdain and economic boycotts, Pence eventually softened the bill (although it still legalized LGBTQ discrimination in Indiana). 

In June of 2015, Buttigieg felt it was finally time to come out of his self-imposed closet. The year before, he decided that he needed to create a personal life for himself after returning from military service. He was now alone in his early 30s and realized he had never fallen in love. His closest friends helped him prepare profiles and personal photos to post on various dating apps. Buttigieg admits that it seemed odd to be capable of running a city but not having a clue about how to date.

Buttigieg met Chasten Glezman through the Hinge dating app. He liked Glezman’s profile, his quick wit, and his deep passion for social change. Glezman lived in Chicago, where he was working on an advanced degree in education. The two soon went out on a date that ended up at a South Bend basketball game. Before the game ended, they slipped out to walk along the beautifully lit St. Joseph River. At one point their fingers touched, and each reached for the other’s hand.

Buttigieg was in the full bloom of love. The two saw each other more and more often, and finally decided they were a couple. Buttigieg knew he wanted to live with Glezman for the rest of his life. In June 2018, the two were married at the mayor’s Episcopal church in South Bend.

The book does not go into detail about Buttigieg’s political passions, but we know that they include universal healthcare, income equality, the environment, gun control, the Equality Act, and the DREAM Act. He also wants to end gerrymandering and abolish the Electoral College.

Buttigieg’s book goes into detail about the problem he has had in gaining the trust and support of the African-American community. After taking office, it became known that South Bend’s African-American police chief had been recording telephone calls in a way that violated federal wiretap laws. Buttigieg demoted the chief, who then sued the city and settled out of court. Several members of South Bend’s black community felt that Buttigieg’s actions were racist, especially since the previous white police chief had also illegally taped conversations. Buttigieg had inherited the problem, he now owns it, and he takes responsibility for his actions.

The book ends in late 2018, just before Buttigieg began to gain recognition as a viable presidential candidate. Already a favorite among young urban voters and in early-voting states where he has spent considerable time, Buttigieg usually polls among the top six candidates. He has set his sights on Iowa, and already has a campaign staff of 40 at work to win the Iowa caucuses on February 3. In early June, he announced that he had raised nearly $25 million in the second quarter of 2019.

James Joyce is one of Buttigieg’s favorite authors, and he shares one of his favorite Joyce quotes in Shortest Way Home: “Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.” In January 2021, when the future becomes the now, the world could witness the inauguration of America’s first openly gay president. But no matter the outcome, we can be sure that Pete Buttigieg will continue to be an influential voice in American politics.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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