A layman's guide to the 2020 clown car (Vol. 3)

The afterthoughts/dark horses 


I’m halfway home on my mission to explain every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate with an oversimplified three-paragraph hot take, and we’re now entering deep-cut territory. Rest assured that as more and more long shot no-names enter the race, the work will continue. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!


Mayor Pete Buttigieg- In any other election year, the mayor of a city that’s smaller than Cedar Rapids and best known as the home of the most insufferable Catholic institution in America deciding to run for president would be laughed off as a bizarre, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” stunt. On the other hand, Trump changed everything. Why not?


Mayor Pete (Indecipherable attempt to pronounce last name) is a young, gay veteran who rarely misses an opportunity to tout his affinity for James Joyce’s Ulysses, a 700-page novel published almost a century ago dedicated to a single day in the life of a middle class Dubliner as he attends a funeral, drinks, insults the Brits, drinks some more and—plot twist—arrives at home only to catch his wife having an affair. Like Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in the story, Mayor Pete can’t ever stop talking about himself, and his candidacy thus far feels much more focused on promoting his own brand than helping anyone else with their problems.


Thanks to his sunny demeanor and boyish charm, the 37-year-old is “having a moment,” rising to third place in some polls behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. The comparisons to Beto are inevitable, and Buttigieg—on paper, at least—puts the former Texas congressman and fellow bookworm to shame with his military service, Harvard degree, Rhodes scholarship and private sector consultancy background at McKinsey and Company.


But therein lies the problem. No matter how hard he tries, Mayor Pete will never be an everyday American: he’s a son of college professors who brown-nosed and butt-kissed his way to jobs that the average person could never dream of while mostly advocating for the same variations on stale neoliberal policies that have rendered the Democratic Party such a lifeless vessel in flyover country. And despite his status as a high profile gay man with a massive platform, he’s still wishy washy about forcefully condemning cut and dry homophobes for fear of losing a few votes he wasn’t going to get anyway.


In literary terms, he’s a Jonathan Franzen character come to life.


Strengths- Indiana nice, eloquent speaker, intellectual, impeccable credentials.


Weaknesses- Unpronounceable name, probably never had fun as a teen, lost resoundingly in a statewide race, worked at a consulting firm famous for producing psychotic CEOs and partnering with corrupt authoritarian governments.


Will he run? Yes, and if the whole campaign deal doesn’t work out, he can always start a book club.


Andrew Yang- The tech billionaire, anti-circumcision activist (?) and fearless leader of the #YangGang has a position on pretty much every issue you could possibly imagine, but none has drawn more attention than the so-called “Freedom Dividend”—an offshoot of the Universal Basic Income concept.


It’s pretty simple in theory: everybody in America between the ages of 18 and 64, regardless of income or employment status, gets $1,000 a month from the government as a means of offsetting the negative effects of automation and providing more flexibility for people who live paycheck to paycheck. The details on how it’s paid for and how such a radical proposal would ever make it through Congress, however, are a whole lot murkier.


Yang, who’s only 44 years old, has already spent a ton of time in Iowa, and his hyperactive squad of online supporters (insert gamer/mom’s basement jokes here) have undoubtedly succeeded in making him “a thing.” But will Democrats with a pathological hatred for the man in the White House give an entrepreneur who’s never held office a fair shake? Somehow, I doubt it.


Strengths- No voting record for detractors to use against him, #YangGang, legitimate concern for workers left behind in an increasingly tech-based economy.


Weaknesses- Weird circumcision controversy, anti-rich sentiment in Democratic Party, probably at least four years away from actual contender status.


Will he run? Yes. By all accounts, he’s in, and he’ll make a strong play for millennial votes. How long will it take for UBI to become an official platform plank? I give it less than a decade. 


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