Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke at the Institute of Politics (IOP) on Friday about his plans to structurally change American politics, the economy, and wider society. The conversation was moderated by IOP Director David Axelrod.
Buttigieg was elected the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana in 2011 at the age of 29. In April 2019, he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election. He has since risen ahead of several candidates who began the race with broader national recognition.
The event opened with a discussion on the importance of structural change to American politics and society in light of the 2016 election.
“We have to have bold change. The failure of our political and economic systems up to now is what got us here. A guy like Donald Trump should not have been able to come within cheating distance of the Oval Office,” Buttigieg said.
A central plank of Buttigieg’s plan for structural change is healthcare reform. Buttigieg has promoted an alternative to the single-payer healthcare plans—known as Medicare for All—suggested by fellow Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which he calls Medicare-for-all-who-want-it.
Under Buttigieg’s plan, uninsured individuals will be automatically enrolled in Medicare. Those who are not automatically enrolled will choose between remaining on their private or employer-sponsored plans or enrolling in a Medicare public option.
Buttigieg compared his plan to Medicare for All, claiming that his policy would be easier to finance because it does not eliminate private health insurance. If private insurance is eliminated, “everyone on private plans loses them and there is a big hole in how it is supposed to be paid for,” he said.
Buttigieg added that a benefit of his plan is that “you can do this without tax increases on the middle class.”
When asked about how he was going to pay for his healthcare reform, Buttigieg said that the money will come from rolling back tax cuts enacted under President Trump and closing loopholes on corporate taxes.
Questions about Buttigieg’s ability to mobilize Black voters have dogged his campaign, especially in light of his demotion of South Bend’s first Black police chief in 2011, and a recent police shooting of a young Black man in South Bend.
Buttigieg was asked about his ties to Steve Patton, a former City of Chicago attorney who fought against the release of the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014. Patton donated $5,600 to Buttigieg’s campaign and had been scheduled to cohost a fundraiser with the candidate. After media outlets noted the connection, his campaign returned Patton’s donation and removed him from the fundraiser.
“I believe that transparency and justice for Laquan McDonald is a lot more important than a campaign contribution,” Buttigieg said at the IOP, adding that he learned of the connection on Friday morning.
In response to questions raised about race relations, Buttigieg highlighted his Douglass Plan, named after the abolitionist and activist Fredrick Douglass, which includes proposals that focus on inequities in the justice system, unequal access to credit, and voter suppression.
Buttigieg, a veteran, also spoke on the ramifications of President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria.
“We have very little indications of what the long-term implications would be when it comes to the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds and when it comes to potential resurgence of ISIS,” Buttigieg told the audience.
According to Buttigieg, the removal of U.S. troops from Syria could have a debilitating effect on the future of U.S. foreign policy.
“There is permanent damage to American credibility,” Buttigieg said. “There will be allies who could be doing things precisely so that we don’t have to send troops in somewhere who won’t even want to talk to us now.”
Buttigieg concluded the event by stressing the importance of this upcoming election. “This will go down as one of the most important times in the history of the republic and it is exactly why we need some imagination and a spirit of boldness coupled with unity,” Buttigieg said.