After reading Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future I’m not sure South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg should be the 46th U.S. president. I learned something different from his book.
My cohort, the baby boomer generation, should let go the reins of power, stop clutching our torches of freedom and snub them out.
As next generations take up leadership in our country — something that’s already going on, like it or not — we may fear younger citizens will become excessively tattooed vaping addicts. It’s not about us and that’s the hardest part of letting go.
The famous American torch speech was made Jan. 20, 1961 by John F. Kennedy.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. 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–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage–and 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.
Mayor Pete is no Kennedy, even as he was a summer intern for Senator Ted Kennedy in Washington, D.C. while attending Harvard. If there is a torch, or a race at all, the relay broke down and the transition became anything but smooth or noble. America today seems less committed to the vision JFK elegantly espoused in his inaugural address. We are getting to the point in our history where young people don’t remember the politics of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Buttigieg’s book is well written, the narrative easily understandable. Shortest Way Home is a story to which almost anyone can relate. While reading I thought of Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. I wrote about Obama’s book,
What surprised me was the clarity with which Obama depicted a life on the South Side of Chicago and how it influenced her both while coming up and once she had means to be on her own. The first two sections of the book are by far the strongest. That’s partly because as First Lady events in the third part got plenty of previous play in the media creating a background noise that interfered somewhat with her meticulous and thoughtful narrative.
What makes Buttigieg’s book different is Iowans saw little public history of his work in South Bend, even those of us who spent time there before he came up. Unlike Michelle Obama, about whom we know a lot from her time as First Lady, what you see is what you get with Pete Buttigieg. I don’t doubt the veracity of the facts in his memoir. What worries me about picking him as our next president is there is nothing else there.
There are few things Americans can come together to support any more. We are increasingly on our own as regions, as communities, and as individuals, concerned with making our way as best we can. All the inter-generational torch-passing seems so 1960s.
My advice about Shortest Way Home is read it. Not because Buttigieg should be president but because he illuminates the example of South Bend and what’s possible in creating a more sustainable life in urban centers. If we are to build a new vision of what life here could be, stories of places like South Bend represent something positive. At the same time Buttigieg holds up a torch in his memoir, it is not bright enough to lead us out of the darkness of the post-Obama era by itself.