That is not going to satisfy all voters, but for those who can be persuaded that qualities other than age and experience matter more, there is nothing like Obama alumni to vouch for you. CNN reports, “Obama’s former special assistant and personal aide Reggie Love is endorsing Buttigieg, the campaign said. ... The endorsement is a boost for Buttigieg from a high profile African American official from Obama’s orbit at a time when the South Bend mayor is working to build support with black voters.” He also got endorsements from Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Linda Douglass, the former director of communications for his Office of Health Reform.
These endorsements follow former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s entrance into the race. He reportedly had the backing of another subset of Obama alumni, including Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and former Obama strategist David Axelrod. Here, too, one sees a bit of a generational divide. (Axelrod and Jarrett are in their 60s; Love is under 40, and Goolsbee is 50.)
Ironically, the Buttigieg endorsements come on the same day a peer of former vice president Joe Biden’s, former senator and secretary of state John Kerry, endorsed Biden. (Kerry is two years younger than Biden.) Kerry sure doesn’t think Biden is too old; he has just been around a while, one could say.
Buttigieg, a political moderate, faces an older, establishment figure in Biden, just as Obama ran against Hillary Clinton in 2008. There is a parallelism in that Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, was certainly riskier than Clinton and lacked her years of experience. To her supporters, it at times must have been galling to see this confident young man take on a candidate as well qualified as Clinton. There’s a little bit of that “Who’s this kid?” resentment in this year’s race as well.
Those of us who think presidents must have substantial public experience and think longevity in office is a good thing seem to have lost the argument somewhere between Obama and President Trump. Whether you think that is a disagreeable development, it is hard to deny that experience has been downgraded as a qualification for millions of voters. They want the man or woman who reaches them on a gut level and, most important, can clobber Trump. Should Buttigieg’s head-to-head numbers against Trump start going up (as they surely would if he wins an early primary), he might level the playing field with Biden, who has the biggest lead against Trump in these polls.
We therefore have the quintessential match-up between youth/vision and age/experience, highlighted by Biden’s well-received ad. “We need a leader the world respects,” is the tag line with images of Biden alongside world leaders, speaking overseas and representing the United States at international events. The ad is not just a dig at Trump, but also an argument about stature and experience. Biden in many ways is the antithesis of Buttigieg, although their policies are virtually indistinguishable. (His performances in one-on-one interviews are significantly stronger than in debates, by the way.)
Democrats want the most electable candidate, but in truth no one really knows whether someone of Trump’s generation (but with integrity, working-class credentials and knowledge of government) or someone nearly half his age (and with brains, military service and verbal quickness) would have the edge. In the end, I suspect, voters will go with the candidate they feel most comfortable with and conclude other people will feel the same way. And in this case, either one would have infinitely more knowledge of the world and more character than the incumbent.
UPDATE: Axelrod says that Deval Patrick is “is a friend and former client I admire,” but he is not “backing” any candidate.