Current Secretary of Transportation and former Democratic Party presidential nomination candidate Pete Buttigieg. Compared to that of cabinet members of yesteryear, such as the laudable George Schulz, Buttigieg’s qualifications and competence are significantly lacking – and, unfortunately, Americans are notable worse off for it. Photo credit: Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker
The trials and travails of Pete Buttigieg, the belaboured Secretary of Transportation in the Biden Administration, bring to mind the late George P. Schulz, who died in 2021 at age 100.
Schulz served in three cabinet positions for Presidents Nixon and Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s. He emanated competence, projected confidence, and brought gravitas to every role he filled. In every way that Schulz managed his portfolios, Buttigieg appears to reflect the opposite while receiving the lightest of scrutiny from a press far too approving of his ideology and therefore bearing no capacity to report his shortcomings with much veracity.
In the 2020s, almost a half-century after Schulz strode the world stage, those who follow American politics are asked to take Joe Biden’s Transportation Secretary as a serious player in the highest levels of American government. The contrast could not be more significant, the image of the two as heads of federal departments stark.
Buttigieg became a darling of the press during his unlikely run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. His lone political experience included a mixed record as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. His 2020 campaign surprised and impressed Joe Biden, and since Buttigieg checks off the box as intersectional, the new president decided to promote him to his cabinet.
Exactly what qualified Buttigieg to be Transportation Secretary for the United States government remains unclear. Biden’s team needed some youth and making Buttigieg the first openly gay Presidential Cabinet Secretary probably paid off a few dues to the LGBT community. Unfortunately, after these glossy announcements work must be done. No one would question Buttigieg’s intelligence, having been a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Harvard College. Nonetheless, faced with a number of crises during his tenure, Buttigieg often seems over his head and out of his league.
The latest trouble Buttigieg faced took place early in the new year and brought to light his tendency to deflect from problems rather than advance solutions. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), which Buttigieg’s Transportation Department oversees, uses a Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system. As the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial board reported, “Notam gives alerts to pilots before they take off, for example, if taxiways are closed for maintenance.”
As thousands of airline passengers found out on January 11, when there’s a problem with NOTAM, flights are shut down, regardless of the problem being with the system and not the planes. Buttigieg never explained why 1,300 flights had to be canceled and 9,700 delayed, except to misdirect the issue to safety concerns, saying, “Our responsibility is to make sure that everybody is safe, and we’re always going to err on the side of safety. When there’s an issue in FAA, we’re going to own it, we’re going to understand it, and we’re going to make very clear what’s needed in order to fix it.”
Without a doubt, flight safety deserves priority. But using it as a cover for outdated systems, inefficient operations, and department delay speaks to Buttigieg’s inexperience and laxity.
The Transportation Department also came under scrutiny recently because of an employee scheduling system meltdown at Southwest Airlines and last year’s labour troubles with the rail workers threatened supply lines and economic well-being. The Secretary offers no tangible solutions but advances progressive administration policy to offer responses to the problems for trains, planes, cars, or other means of transportation.
A long-term policy brief deserves consideration, but these challenges, arising at present, require leadership at the moment and immediate decisiveness. Instead, Buttigieg works hard to avoid legislation and impose the administration’s climate agenda as a panacea for all problems. He wants to oversee the reduction and eventual end of gas-powered vehicles. Whether this makes good sense or good policy belies the fact that the transportation system of the United States exists to ensure the movement of goods, people, and the vessels in which they travel. Throwing out platitudes about a green future provides a political narrative and certainly sets to flutter the hearts of the environmental left. It fails, however, to practically manage the real-time difficulties facing commuters, passengers, truckers, or those who move cargo.
Contrast this with Mr. Schultz, who oversaw the Department of Labour and Department of Treasury in the Nixon Administration and had an admirable second act as the Reagan Administration’s point-man at the Department of State, taking over for Alexander Haig in 1982, serving through the remainder of Reagan’s first term and all of the second term.
When faced with memorable struggles, Schultz possessed a wealth of experience from academia, the business world, and government service. Like Schultz, Buttigieg lacks little in terms of education or privilege while also having served in defense of the nation. The roads diverge, however, when one examines the approach to government service and the application of the government’s role to the everyday lives of citizens. Buttigieg, an activist, seeks to transform the current practices to conform to an agenda that changes behaviour, educates the citizen, and determines an outcome pleasing to government managers.
Buttigieg, like many of his ilk, makes much of their goals sound attractive, reasonable, and inevitable. His well-prepared and calm manner often sounds instructive but can become condescending and grating, especially when the full implications of the policy he seeks interferes with daily life unnecessarily and significantly. Urban dwellers like Buttigieg may find mass transit easier, or the idea of electric vehicles interesting.
Unfortunately for those in rural settings, which includes millions of people in the United States, these policies seem burdensome. Schultz, a man of high ideals, with a massive intellect, instinctively understood the government’s limits and its legitimate exercise. He would employ its resources to solve problems, such as the Philadelphia Plan which helped modify policy to encourage contractors in Philly to hire minority workers at a time when systemic racism existed in full force. Schultz understood government as a service, not a command centre for change.
Buttigieg aligns with people attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, a gathering designed to create positive change. On its website, the Forum says:
We believe that potential for positive global change exists at the intersection of these three challenges (Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Solving the Problems of the Global Common, and Addressing Global Security Issues) and that progress will come through bringing together leaders from all walks of life to forge common understanding, purpose and, where appropriate, action.
As Ida Auken, a member of the Danish parliament, wrote for the Forum as far back as 2003 under the headline, Welcome to 2030: I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better, “I don’t own anything. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a house. I don’t own any appliances or any clothes. Everything you considered a product, has now become a service. We have access to transportation, accommodation, food and all the things we need in our daily lives. One by one all these things became free, so it ended up not making sense for us to own much”.
This utopian socialist bromide may sound swell and send tingles down the legs of those who seek to impose their interpretation of economic theory to the world. It lacks, however, the reality of consequences. Transforming the lives of millions, perhaps billions of people based on elite arrogance and political authority does not improve people’s lives and does not raise any tides and does not necessarily prevent nor delay climate catastrophe.
As Charles C. Cooke noted in National Review: “Nobody asked you to do this, global elites: The world has a giant pile of real problems, so why are you trying to save us from owning stuff? And hey, have you noticed that everybody who attends Davos owns a lot of stuff? I don’t see any Davos attendees giving up their homes, luxury cars, or private jets, or swapping underwear.”
Men like Buttigieg fill the spaces men like Schultz once occupied. Unfortunately for Americans and the watching world, Buttigieg’s deportment pales in comparison, the shoes are too big, and he appears alarmingly unclad.
Dave Redekop is a retired elementary resource teacher who now works part-time at the St. Catharines Courthouse as a Registrar. He has worked on political campaigns since high school and attended university in South Carolina for five years, where he earned a Master’s in American History with a specialization in Civil Rights. Dave loves reading biographies.