Is Mayor Pete the Answer?

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Is Pete Buttigieg the best Democratic candidate to take on Trump? This week on “The Argument,” the columnists size up the South Bend mayor’s rise in Iowa and a new Times poll terrifying those who fear Trump’s re-election. A McKinsey-trained, small-town mayor without much purchase among black voters is an unlikely heir to Barack Obama’s winning political coalition, Michelle Goldberg argues. Ross Douthat thinks Joe Biden’s shakiness coupled with Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’s avowed leftism has left an opening for a more moderate candidate. And David Leonhardt is disappointed that the plausible alternatives to Biden like Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris have all failed to make a convincing case for their candidacies.

Then: California is besieged by catastrophic wildfires, growing income inequality and a decrease in overall livability. Are the state’s woes a leading indicator of America’s bleak future?

And finally, Michelle recommends visiting an optimistic capital city whose country has been caught in a continuing political tug of war.

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Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Background Reading:


I’ve been an Op-Ed columnist since 2009, and I write about politics, religion, pop culture, sociology and the places where they all intersect. I’m a Catholic and a conservative, in that order, which means that I’m against abortion and critical of the sexual revolution, but I tend to agree with liberals that the Republican Party is too friendly to the rich. I was against Donald Trump in 2016 for reasons specific to Donald Trump, but in general I think the populist movements in Europe and America have legitimate grievances and I often prefer the populists to the “reasonable” elites. I’ve written books about Harvard, the G.O.P., American Christianity and Pope Francis; I’m working on one about decadence. Benedict XVI was my favorite pope. I review movies for National Review and have strong opinions about many prestige television shows. I have three small children, two girls and a boy, and I live in New Haven with my wife.

I’ve been an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times since 2017, writing mainly about politics, ideology and gender. These days people on the right and the left both use “liberal” as an epithet, but that’s basically what I am, though the nightmare of Donald Trump’s presidency has radicalized me and pushed me leftward. I’ve written three books, including one, in 2006, about the danger of right-wing populism in its religious fundamentalist guise. (My other two were about the global battle over reproductive rights and, in a brief detour from politics, about an adventurous Russian émigré who helped bring yoga to the West.) I love to travel; a long time ago, after my husband and I eloped, we spent a year backpacking through Asia. Now we live in Brooklyn with our son and daughter.

I’ve worked at The Times since 1999 and have been an Op-Ed columnist since 2016. I caught the journalism bug a very long time ago — first as a little kid in the late 1970s who loved reading the Boston Globe sports section and later as a teenager working on my high school and college newspapers. I discovered that when my classmates and I put a complaint in print, for everyone to see, school administrators actually paid attention. I’ve since worked as a metro reporter at The Washington Post and a writer at Businessweek magazine. At The Times, I started as a reporter in the business section and have also been a Times Magazine staff writer, the Washington bureau chief and the founding editor of The Upshot.

My politics are left of center. But I’m also to the right of many Times readers. I think education reform has accomplished a lot. I think two-parent families are good for society. I think progressives should be realistic about the cultural conservatism that dominates much of this country. Most of all, however, I worry deeply about today’s Republican Party, which has become dangerously extreme. This country faces some huge challenges — inequality, climate change, the rise of China — and they’ll be very hard to solve without having both parties committed to the basic functioning of American democracy.


Tune in on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts. Tell us what you think at argument@nytimes.com. Follow Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn), Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) and David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) on Twitter.

This week’s show was produced by Kristin Schwab for Transmitter Media and edited by Sara Nics. Our executive producer is Gretta Cohn. We had help from Tyson Evans, Phoebe Lett, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Francis Ying. Our theme is composed by Allison Leyton-Brown.