Damnit. Now I want to move to South Bend, Indiana—well, maybe only a bit. I love my “mid-sized” Boston and “quaint” Cambridge, liberal East Coast elitist state a bit too much, to really consider it. I reached out to the publisher for a copy of this book after Mayor Pete announced his exploratory run for U.S. President.*
As the first openly gay (married, veteran) person considering a run for this office, of course I wanted to read it. I wanted to know why he felt he could go from being the mayor of small Midwest city to running the United States; I wanted to know his coming out story (it’s what binds us gays [broadly LGBTQ+] together); and I wanted to see what his vision was for the future. Did I get all of this? Not quite. Was it worth reading? Definitely.
Mayor Pete (let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to pronounce than Buttigieg) weaves a wonderful story from South Bend to Harvard to Oxford, Canada, Afghanistan, and back to South Bend. He shares insight on his experience as a Harvard undergraduate, as a consultant for one of the top consulting firms in the world, as a navy professional in an active war zone, as a politician, and as the mayor of a once-almost-forgotten industrial town in Indiana. And he does so with a charm and candor that I can only imagine Obama’s early memoirs/biographies had.
The two things that I really honed in on were his personal experience coming out and his thoughts on the future of the Democratic party in America.
I’m not going to lie, I was incredibly impatient for him to get to his coming out story and the story of how he met his husband. I wanted more and sooner (you have to wait 2/3 of the way through the book). I understand that it’s not the defining characteristic of his life, but as can be seen in the news clip at the end and on any interview he has done/will do he will be asked about it. And people will judge him on his sexuality. I appreciated the downplaying of it in the book for the non-LGBT+/ally audience, but I wonder if it was downplayed too much. There were few-if-any recollections in the early part of the memoir about coming to terms with his sexuality, one-to-two vague references at most, and instead he referred solely to the man he would be come or his future husband. This downplaying his personal experience (and maybe he was avoiding the archetype) seemed to be an abandonment of the LGBTQ+ community to not potenitally offend anyone else, really bothered me. Then again, he may have just not ever questioned it or had the self-doubt, self-hatred, questioning, confusing, torn feelings that so many do, so can I fault him for this?
“It is easier to be cruel, or unfair, to people in groups and in the abstract; harder to do so toward a specific person in your midst, especially if you know them already. Gays have the benefit of being a minority whose membership is not necessarily obvious when you meet one (or love one). Common decency can kick in before there is time for prejudice to intervene. Of course, humans can be cruel to people we know too, but not as often—and we’re rarely as proud of it.” (273)
“Today, being in a committed relationship with Chasten just might be the most normal thing about my life. I no longer have to extrapolate or use imagination to understand what colleagues are describing when it comes to their wives or husbands. Our world at home is full of the blessings of domestic life—and the frustrations, too, from my irritation that it’s hard to get him to fold the laundry as I do, to his bemusement at my stubborn indifference to expiration dates on items in the cupboard.” (297-8)
Even though the story of how they met, their dates, and the wedding photo were beyond awe inducing, this second quote is potentially problematic in that it normalizes LGBTQ+ relationships (which isn’t bad), but often times neglects/abandons non traditional relationships or those who live outside the binary of coupled/not coupled, male/female, married/not married, sexual/asexual. I know Mayor Pete can’t be everything for everyone, but unfortunately because of who he is and the stage he is attempting to stand on, he does have to keep that in mind. [And I also know that of anyone, I’m the most represented by him and many of the LGBTQ+ organizations who claim to fight for everyone.]
All of this being said, he did have humor and grace when talking about starting to date and finally coming out to his family and more of those around him. This quote was golden:
“But when it came to South Bend, it wasn’t even clear where to look. I thought of the countless local doctors and business leaders of my parents’ generation who seemed intent over the years on fixing me up with their bright and lovely daughters. Where were these would-be matchmakers now, and how was it that not one of them had a son or nephew they wanted me to meet? My city had never felt so small.” (285)
The other part that really struck me about this work, was Mayor Pete’s vision for South Bend and ultimately America. He’s acknowledging that he is a small time player approaching a big stage. He nods to the fact that even if he doesn’t win or even get on the stage, he’s shifting the conversation (hello, Bernie-Bros – or maybe f*ck you Bernie-Bros) to include rural America and the rust belt, part of the country that’s been long overlooked and discounted by us snooty coastal elite. And he’s bringing a(n elder) millenial perspective into the Democratic party and on a national level.
“…the moment also demonstrated how much had changed from a few years ago, when it would have taken weeks, not hours, to stage simultaneous demonstrations at dozens of locations in cities across America. To be relevant and useful to those who shared our values, the party would have to figure out a way to be part of a new flying formation.” (317)
And as the quote above shows, he’s acknowledging that the process/the party/the nation has changed or needs to change to keep up with society.
Recommendation: Read it. I honestly do not know if he has viability as a national candidate, but I know he has a story to tell. If he can make me in any way, shape, or form even remotely consider moving to a small city not on a coat or even remotely similar to the one I grew up in, he’s clearly got some persuasive arguments. And he adds something to the conversations around politics, demographics, and the future of the United States that we don’t get to hear about all too often.
*I received a copy of Shortest Way Home from the publisher return for my honest opinion. No money or goods were exchanged.
Opening Line: “Dawn comes late here along the western limit of the Eastern Time Zone, so far from the coast that our first sunrise of the year arrives after eight in the morning.”
Closing Line: “At last there is now enough light to see that the meaning I sought was to be found very close to where I had begun, on a path that proved in my case to be the shortest way home.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)
Additional Quotes from Shortest Way Home
“I know now that, by the standards of major global cities, Boston is mid-sized. Cambridge itself might be considered quaint. But to an eighteen-year-old freshman out of northern Indiana, navigating a subway unsupervised seemed nothing less than an initiation into the ways of the metropolis.” (35)
“You might wonder how such partisanship could possibly play into a job as technical and non-ideological as state treasure, whose main role is to manage the state’s pension funds for government employees and teachers. But someone with a deep enough ideological worldview, coupled with strong ambitions to run for something bigger, can always find a way to use an office—any office—to make a name for himself.” (85)
“Only in America in 2015 could a small-town pizza provider profess prejudice in the name of Christianity before a local TV crew, be mocked around the country on late night television, and then be made rich beyond belief, all in a matter of days. “Indiana pizza better be good f****** pizza, that’s all I can say,” Jon Stewart opined in disbelief.” (215)