How to Follow and Lead – Simultaneously!

It’s a trick difficult to pull off. Very difficult. Not many can do it. Only a few even try. Only a few even try to follow and to lead simultaneously because not only is it difficult, it’s distasteful. Dreadfully distasteful.

Most people who want to lead want only to lead. Nothing else – as they see it, nothing less – will do. They do not want to follow, have no intention of following, not even for a moment, especially when that moment is hard on the heels of them trying hard, desperately hard, to be a leader not a follower.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, is, then, an exception in more ways than one.

  • In the 2020 presidential campaign he was relatively young while most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination were relatively old.
  • In the 2020 presidential campaign he was from the Midwest while most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination were from the East.
  • In the 2020 presidential campaign his political experience was limited and at the local level while most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination had extensive experience at the national level.
  • In the 2020 presidential campaign his background was relatively broad – he was, for example, a Rhodes Scholar and Navy Officer – while the backgrounds of most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination were relatively narrow.    
  • In the 2020 presidential campaign he at every turn had a first-class temperament while most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination clearly thought they had to scream to be heard.
  •  In the 2020 presidential campaign he was demonstrably a man of faith while most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination eschewed all displays of faith.   
  • In the 2020 presidential campaign he was an openly gay man, happily married to another gay man while most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination were presumed to be straight. In fact, in this Pete Buttigieg deviated from every other presidential contender ever. He is gay and proud of it.
  • In the 2020 presidential campaign he was able to act in his own self-interest and in the national interest simultaneously, while most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination were reduced to seeming narcissists.
  • In the 2020 presidential campaign Buttigieg got that in order to lead he had to follow. He had to follow – to all appearances Joe Biden who in the wake of his blowout win in South Carolina emerged the only viable alternative for the Democratic nomination for president to Bernie Sanders.

Buttigieg claimed that all he did was the math. That he calculated that after his loss in South Carolina there was no path to his becoming president. That’s true. But if math were the only calculus the rest of the field would also drop out – now. So, obviously, this is about much more than math. Obviously, folks like Bloomberg and Klobuchar and Warren still feel driven to lead not because they do not know that two plus two equals four.* But because they cannot bear the idea of being a follower. They cannot bear the idea of following one or the other party leader until they are forced by circumstance into compliance.

Mayor Pete on the other hand – by proving it’s possible to follow and to lead simultaneously – has positioned himself supremely well for his political future. Whether sooner or later the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination for president – that is, those other than Biden and Sanders – will follow his lead and drop out. Whether sooner or later Buttigieg, still only in his thirties, will leave them all in the proverbial dust.    

*Technically Tulsi Gabbard also remains still in the race.

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