Recently Amazon premiered a documentary titled “Mayor Pete” which followed the now Transportation Secretary on the campaign trail and ended with his reception of his new position in the administration. The documentary itself is pretty bland and uninteresting as is the candidate. But viewed as a piece of political performance art, like a campaign trail book tour, it’s deeply revealing of Pete Buttigieg’s ambition and the support he’s found with a certain segment of media liberals.
The documentary framed Buttigieg’s campaign as an unlikely success story, culminating seemingly in the Iowa Caucus victory and the three following primaries, where for a second the discussion was seriously focused on who would win between Mayor Pete and Bernie Sanders. The movie reshapes the night of the Iowa Caucus to make it appear as though Bernie Sanders spoke first and Pete Buttigieg was simply following the crowd, instead of the reality of his early victory call in the face of technical difficulties that made knowing the winner impossible in that moment. There was a rewriting of history there to make Pete Buttigieg seem like an unlikely winner and not an opportunistic weasel.
A similar rewriting occurs with the fabled Obama phone call that ultimately convinced Buttigieg to drop out and throw his support behind Joe Biden before Super Tuesday. They showed a later different call from Obama that is a very plain congratulations, good job, you did well, post-primary sort of call. The real discussion of whether or not to drop out and why was left out of the movie because when Mayor Pete says they ran the numbers and had no way forward, what they mean to say is they felt that staying in the race made it far too likely that Bernie Sanders might win. Whether or not the actual Obama phone call was laid out in such clear terms remains unknown as it wasn’t in the documentary. But what is clear, the Democratic Party was scared of Bernie Sanders winning, and their politicians acted accordingly.
There are other narratives in the movie worth highlighting. For example, the movie highlights a heated town hall in South Bend where black residents are yelling at Pete Buttigieg because there was a black man killed by a police officer and they rightfully wanted answers as to what his office would do about it. The documentary focuses on the conflict this causes for Pete Buttigieg, mostly vis-a-vis the campaign trail. There’s a brief town hall where Buttigieg side steps broader issues of police reform and instead sticks to platitudes like “I hope I can win your trust.” There is also no discussion of other controversies in Buttigieg’s administration, like when he fired a black police chief for blowing the whistle on racism within the department. Issues abound and it’s clear that this documentary is not looking to paint a full picture of Pete Buttigieg as a person, mayor, or candidate, but instead serves as a PR piece and advertisement for his presidential campaign.
It’s All About Mayor Pete’s Political Future
That much is obvious from the very beginning of the movie so that’s not some profound revelation. It is though an interesting jumping off point for the future of the Democratic Party and an indication that the whispers in the White House that Buttigieg could replace Joe Biden if he doesn’t run in 2024 (instead of Kamala Harris) might have a home outside the halls of the White House and in the broader power structure of the Democratic Party. There are polls that indicate that Democratic Party voters still really like Buttigieg and in many ways this “documentary” was a long advertisement for Buttigieg’s political future to those voters that still view him favorably.
Pete Buttigieg’s campaign was almost entirely a product of positive media narratives and a decades long box checking effort by Pete Buttigieg to fit the resume a certain class of Democratic Party voter has come to expect from their presidential candidates. His political future will also largely depend on positive media attention and a positive reception within the party, and this documentary was an attempt to secure both. If you didn’t like Mayor Pete you won’t like him after and if you liked him already it’s probably a good reminder of all the reasons you did. That’s the point, to remind you that he could have been president, and it just wants to plant that seed that maybe if things had turned out a little differently he would be president, and with enough support he could be in the future.
This is manufacturing consent for Mayor Pete the same way countless CNN and MSNBC hits did during the primary. Those same news clips shape the documentary and the ups and downs of the campaign. Mayor Pete successfully curated a media image and that continues with this documentary. And part of what sells about Mayor Pete is that he is not controversial and he sells Obama-era pablum to voters who so desperately miss that era. It’s a knock off version of Obama at best and that style of politics should be left in the past. However, this documentary makes it clear that’s not everybody’s wish.
Much like Mayor Pete it’s pretty empty and won’t win anyone over who wasn’t already. But maybe that’s enough and maybe Mayor Pete can milk the nostalgia of the Obama years to create a presidency of his own. Only time will tell but one thing is clear, we’re all going to get the opportunity to watch him try. And he’ll have support from all the media executives and ghouls who made it possible the first time.