Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET on December 18, 2020.
Not for the first time, people are having strong feelings about Pete Buttigieg.
President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he’d nominate the former Democratic presidential rival and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to become transportation secretary, and the reactions were predictably polarized. Buttigieg’s fans heralded it as a great job for a young leader and a stride for LGBTQ representation. His detractors complained that it was a political favor for an unqualified rookie—though just a few months ago he was a semi-serious contender for an even more demanding job.
Buttigieg’s résumé heretofore certainly didn’t point toward the Transportation Department, though, true to form, he had a bullet-pointed list of unusual travel-related experiences at the ready. (Long Amtrak trips? You bet. Spring break on a freighter? Naturally. A marriage proposal at O’Hare? Somehow, yes.)
Deeming Buttigieg unqualified requires a standard for what makes a good transportation secretary. Quick: Name the best secretary in the department’s history. Hell, name the current secretary. Or her predecessor. (If you can, either you work in transportation or journalism, or you’re a huge asset to your pub-trivia team.) Is the most important qualification for this job subject-matter expertise? That’s useful, but often DOT is headed by politicians with only some preexisting transportation-related background (Anthony Foxx, Ray LaHood, Norman Mineta). If nothing else, Buttigieg clearly has the brainpower to master new material.