President Pete? – I (Experience and Expertise)

This is the first of a series of three short posts on “Mayor Pete.” On Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who yesterday formally declared his candidacy for president of the United States.

On page one of my most recent book, Professionalizing Leadership, I wrote that one of the peculiarities of Donald Trump’s ascendency to the presidency was his being elected “without any political, military, or government experience or expertise whatsoever.” In fact, the book is about how critically important it is to conceive of leadership as a profession. As a profession for which any candidate for any leadership role should have been reasonably rigorously educated, trained, and developed.

Which raises this question about Buttigieg: Is he qualified? Given his young years (he is 37), and his relatively limited experience as mayor of a medium sized city, does he match up? The comparison to Trump is easy – that’s how low was his bar. But is Mayor Pete good enough in his own right? Expert enough, experienced enough for serious voters to take him seriously as candidate for the American presidency?

Buttigieg’s relative youth raises the question of what should be the professional qualifications for president of the United States? In keeping with my earlier quote, I’ll stick with “experience” and “expertise” – presidential candidates should be in some ways demonstrably experienced, and in some ways demonstrably expert. Bottom line in this case? Buttigieg measures up.

  • He has been supremely well educated, not only at home but abroad.
  • He has served in the American military, as a Naval Intelligence officer, including a tour in Afghanistan.
  • He has had exposure to and experience in the private sector, having worked for three years for McKinsey, the famed management consulting firm.
  • And he is in his second term as mayor, having been first elected in 2011 and reelected in 2015.

One could reasonably argue that Buttigieg has packed into a relatively few years a string of experiences and accomplishments that most of us will never attain. If you throw into the mix the narrative of a man who passed the personal and political litmus test of marrying another man, you have a presidential candidate whose professional qualifications cannot legitimately be thrown into question.

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