George Packer: Buttigieg looks to Truman, not Obama, on foreign policy
If Warren plays the brilliant professor, Buttigieg plays the brilliant student. Among the people who introduced him when he announced for president was a former teacher who began her remarks by describing how he had wowed the judges at a high-school economics competition sponsored by the Federal Reserve. Type Pete Buttigieg into Google, and one of the prompts you get is “languages.” News reports often mention that he speaks seven, and this spring a video of him speaking Norwegian went viral. In April, he filmed a video in French offering his condolences for the fire at Notre-Dame.
It’s not unusual for Democratic presidential candidates to have impressive resumes. Bill Clinton is a Rhodes Scholar; Barack Obama was the president of the Harvard Law Review. Cory Booker and Julián Castro attended Stanford; Amy Klobuchar went to Yale. In fact, every president since Ronald Reagan has been a product of the Ivy League.
What’s new is that Warren and Buttigieg are leaning into their credentialed intellectualism rather than worrying that it will make them appear elitist. That’s exactly what Clinton’s advisers feared in the summer of 1992, when the Arkansas governor was trailing both George H. W. Bush and the businessman Ross Perot, who boasted that he was assembling a team of “Road Scholars in Washington—that’s r-o-a-d scholars, the people who are street smart and have common sense.” Clinton’s advisers responded with a biographical video, titled “The Man From Hope,” which emphasized his small-town roots and avoided mentioning that he had attended Georgetown University and Oxford. In the film’s only reference to Yale Law School, Hillary Clinton notes that Bill didn’t want to serve on the school’s law review, because he was more interested in returning to Arkansas to be a “country lawyer.”
Peter Beinart: Elizabeth Warren had charisma, and then she ran for president
Bill Clinton’s anxiety about appearing smarter than thou seemed borne out when George W. Bush used Al Gore’s academic affectations against him in 2000. After a widely discussed New Yorker essay in which Gore confessed his fondness for Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s book Phenomenology of Perception, Talk magazine asked Bush to admit a weakness. He answered slyly, “Sitting down and reading a 500-page book on public policy or philosophy or something.”
A similar dynamic played out in 2004. Like Buttigieg, John Kerry speaks French. But Kerry didn’t showcase that ability while running for president. To the contrary, Republicans used his linguistic skills to undermine his Americanness. Then–House Majority Leader Tom DeLay delighted GOP audiences by beginning speeches by saying “Hello, or as John Kerry might say, ‘Bonjour.’”
Bush’s and DeLay’s attacks reflected a shift in the culture of the GOP. As late as 1994, according to the Pew Research Center, voters who had graduated from college were 15 points more likely to identify as Republicans than Democrats, and voters with graduate degrees were almost evenly split between the two parties. By 2017, college graduates’ partisan leanings had flipped: They now favored Democrats by 15 points. Among Americans with graduate degrees, the shift has been even starker. The Democratic advantage, which stood at two points in 1994, had grown to 32 points by 2017.