December 5, 2019

Is Pete Buttigieg a Centrist?

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to guests during a campaign stop at Cronk’s restaurant on November 26, 2019 in Denison, Iowa. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“Buttigieg has sought to sidestep the left vs. center axis used to define the Democratic field.”

Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief


“Buttigieg has long been a student of political language: most of his old columns in the Harvard Crimson revolved around the need for Democrats to seize control of the words used to frame political debate. To that end, Buttigieg has sought to sidestep the left vs. center axis used to define the Democratic field, instead insisting on a political framework that is more about the future vs. the past. That’s caused many in the Democratic field to paint him as a centrist, an incrementalist, or a moderate, mostly in contrast to his rivals on the left. Buttigieg rejected each of those labels.”[1]

Buttigieg Policy Ratings rates Buttigieg as Extreme Left Wing overall with individual ratings of moderate to extreme to specific issues.[2]

Politco Comparison of Democratic Candidates Issues [3]

Progressive Policies

Abortion and Reproductive Rights

  • Pro-choice
  • Establish right to abortion into law
  • Repeal Hyde Amendment
  • Fund Planned Parenthood
  • Appoint justices and justices who believe in choice
  • Guarantee no-cost contraception
  • Prohibit states from interfering in private insurance coverage of abortion

Climate Change

  • Implement a carbon tax and refund it to consumers
  • Abolish subsidies for polluters
  • Ban new oil drilling leases on public land and water
  • Implement a Green New Deal
  • Return to Paris Agreement
  • Built climate resilient communities
  • Hold a Pittsburgh Summit of climate action mayors
  • Make climate change a “national project” akin to moon landing
  • Enlist and subsidize farmers to create “net zero carbon” farms
  • ‘Climate Corp” of paid national service job to build community resilience and respond to disasters

Consumer Protection

  • Strengthen Federal Arbitration Act
  • Restore Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enforcement authority
  • Right for consumers to sue credit card company
  • Regulate predatory lenders

Criminal Justice

  • Abolish death penalty
  • Eliminate private prisons
  • Legalization of marijuana and decriminalization all drug possession
  • Eliminate incarceration for drug possession
  • Expunge records for drug convictions
  • Restore voting rights to former felons
  • Reduce current federal incarceration by 50%
  • End cash bail
  • Eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing
  • Establish independent clemency commission outside of Dept of Justice
  • Nominate justices and federal prosecutors from underrepresented backgrounds


  • End sub-minimum wage
  • Eliminate “benefit cliff” for SS Disability
  • Establish new ADA standards and goals

Economy and taxes

  • Repeal Trump tax cuts to the wealthy
  • Raise tax rate for corporations
  • Expand Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Supports a Community Homestead Act to increase home ownership
  • Walker-Lewis Initiative to spur entrepreneurship and job creation


  • Support higher teacher pay
  • Increase federal resources to Title I schools
  • Affordable universal early education
  • Free early learning and childcare for low income families
  • Cost assistance for middle class family afterschool and summer care
  • Families earning less than $1000,000 free tuition
  • Families under $150,000 proportional reduction
  • Allow Pell grants to be used for housing, transportation, and educational expenses
  • Establish regional trade school/apprenticeships in every state
  • Student loan forgiveness progress for teachers


  • Abolition of Electoral College
  • Support National Popular Vote
  • Automatic voter registration at 18
  • Public funding of elections
  • Make Election Day a holiday
  • Allow online and same day registration
  • Allow early voting and vote by mail
  • Restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated
  • Neutralize restrictive voter ID laws
  • Protect birthright citizenship

Gender Equity

  • Appoint at least 50% women to Cabinet and judiciary
  • Support Equal Rights Amendment
  • Require gender pay transparency and hold employers accountable for discrimination
  • Support FAMILY Act for 12 weeks federal family and medical leave fund
  • Provide caregivers with Social Security credit
  • Support Paycheck Fairness Act
  • Comprehensive childcare plan
  • Increase access to capital for women entrepreneurs
  • Double funding for EEOC

Gun Violence

  • Universal background checks
  • Nationwide gun licensing
  • Enact extreme risk (red flag) laws
  • Repeal PLACC to hold gun manufacturers liable
  • Close “boyfriend”, Charlestown, and hate crime loopholes
  • Ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines

Health Care

  • Medicare for All Who Want It as a glide path to single payer universal healthcare
  • Negotiate Medicare drug prices
  • Cut out-of-pocket drug costs for Seniors on Medicare by 50%, cap at $200 per month
  • Cap drug costs at $250 per month for Medicare for All Who Want It plan
  • Co-pay $0 for low income public plan participants for generic drugs
  • Take patents away from drug companies who refuse to lower costs for essential drugs

Native Americans

  • Reinstate nation-to-nation relationships
  • Recognize tribal sovereignty
  • Respect treaty enshrined rights including rights to protect lands and natural resources
  • Restore federal protection to Bears Ears Natinal Monument and prevent energy development/mining on other sacred places
  • Recognize right of tribes to tax activities on their lands
  • Appoint a White House Senior Native American Advisor
  • Restore White House Tribal Nations Conference and White House Council on Native American Affairs,
  • Establish high-level Tribal Affairs appointments in every federal agency


  • Support and sign common sense immigration reform
  • Pathway to citizenship including DACA, DREAMERs, military veterans
  • End family separation
  • Prevent arbitrary targeting of immigrant communities

Judicial issues

  • Create bi-partisan Supreme Court reform commission


  • Will sign Equality Act
  • Ban conversion therapy
  • Reverse federal order allowing homeless shelters to refuse transgender youth access
  • Insure incarcerated transgender individuals access to hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery
  • Reverse transgender military ban
  • Prohibit discrimination in adoption and foster for LGBTQ individuals
  • Ensure PrEP access regardless of ability to pay
  • Re-evaluate ban on blood donations

Military and Veterans

  • End Trans-gender military ban
  • Support Trans-gender medical needs
  • Restore honorable discharges over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
  • Upgrade dishonorable discharges for mental health issues
  • Use of Force declarations have 5-year window
  • Allow veterans use of medical marijuana

Racial Equality

  • Douglass Plan

Rural Economy

  • Establish Regional Innovation Clusters to support innovative rural business
  • Create local Community Renewal Visas
  • Internet for All Initiative
  • Empower rural economies to fight climate change

Social Issues


  • Statehood for District of Columbia
  • Support for Puerto Rican statehood if desired by residents


Worker’s Rights

  • End Right to Work laws
  • Establish federal contract preference for unionized labor
  • Raise minimum wage to $15
  • Guarantee gig workers labor rights including unionization
  • Right to multi-employer bargaining
  • Expand federal protections to farm and domestic workers
  • Support FAMILY Act for national paid sick and family leave
  • Support Raise the Wage Act, PRO Act, Schedules That Work Act, Healthy Families Act, Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, Paycheck Fairness Act, Pregnant Workers Act, EMPOWER Act, BE HEARD Act, Domestic Workers Bill of Rights ACT

In His Own Words

Buttigieg on Rejecting the Left-Right Spectrum in Politics

“Because it’s outlived its usefulness. Look, I led the field in proposing Democratic reforms that, to this day, some candidates supposedly on my left haven’t embraced. I also am a candidate who believes that Medicare for All is not as attractive as Medicare for All Who Want It, which gives people the choice. So one of those, you might say, puts me on the center. Another one puts me further out. There’s a position on criminal-justice reform that not only I and fellow-Democrats hold but some conservatives and libertarians are starting to embrace. And so we’re living through a real scrambling of some of these ideological labels. And I think that’s a healthy thing.”[4]

“I just think that the pressure to align yourself on a fixed ideological line has a tendency to play into a construction that’s mostly there for the benefit of conservative politicians. And I think it’s less and less relevant right now. A lot of positions that used to be embraced strictly by progressives are being embraced by libertarians and conservatives on things like criminal justice reform. The idea of higher wages, or for that matter background checks on guns, is now a centrist position — if you measure the center based on where the American people are rather than where the commentariat thinks the left-right spectrum goes. So I’m deliberately resistant to some of these spectrum analyses, because I think they’re more useful to political creatures than they are to voters or to people like me trying to make a case for certain ideas. And part of how I think of it also is just how non-ideologically voters behave. You think about the number of voters who narrowed down their answers either to Sanders or to Trump. Or the number of voters in my county who must have voted for Obama and Trump and [former Indiana Gov.] Mike Pence and me. It becomes clear quickly that the labels to more to arouse certain tribal loyalties than to explain what your ideas are.”[5]

On Various Ideological labels

“The one I find the most problematic, actually, is centrist,” said of descriptions that have been applied to him. “It says you’re about being in the middle, and there are ideological centrists in this race. I don’t view myself as part of that ideological framing. Pragmatic, on the other hand,” Buttigieg added, “I would embrace.”

He also took exception to being tagged as an incrementalist, though his approach to health care policy — not Medicare for All, but a public option — is similar to Biden’s. “Incrementalism sounds wrong,” Buttigieg said.

Moderate? “I think moderate is largely about tone,” he allowed. “I’m definitely tonally a moderate.”

Populist? “I think that’s maybe the most slippery term of all,” he said. “I think anyone who wants to win an election is trying to be popular. I guess my anxiety with populism is … I think it misstates the balance between following the people and leading the people.”

“The label I’m most comfortable wearing,” he concluded, “is Democrat.” [6]

Diminishing Relevance of an Ideological Spectrum

“I think everyone wants to fit you on an ideological spectrum which I think has never been less relevant,” Buttigieg said, when asked about the ideological sweep of the Democratic field, from centrists like Beto O’Rourke to leftwing progressives such as Bernie Sanders. “More and more people want to know what your ideas are and whether they make any sense.”

Buttigieg believes he has succeeded in South Bend by governing in accordance with progressive values but earning support from Republicans and independents through not “trying to manage exactly where I was on the left-right spectrum but by trying to do the right thing. I view myself as a progressive but these labels are becoming less and less useful.”[7]

Liberal or Progressive

“So I consider myself a progressive. I suppose I also consider myself a liberal, if nothing else than in the classical sense of the term, because I think liberty is the greater share of what we should be working to achieve through good policy. Which by the way, can be delivered by good government tearing down obstacles just as much as it can be impinged on by bad government.”

“When I think about what it means to be liberal, I think about the etymology of the word, that it’s about liberty. Part of what I’ve been trying to build up is this sense of liberty that is not trapped in the thin conception of freedom that seems to dominate conservative and libertarian thinking, that really understands that good policy leads to freedom. The freedoms that have really mattered in my life are freedoms like the freedom to marry the person that I love, the freedom to be able to access healthcare for us. Now we’re worried about things like the economic freedom that we’ll be denied if we’re never able to refinance the student debt that is weighing down our household. These are kinds of freedoms that really matter to folks. So I think in that classical sense, liberalism is as salient today as ever. I guess when we think about being progressive, to me that evokes a sense of being concerned with the well being of people who don’t always have a voice. The great progressive tradition in America really begins in the 19th century right here in the heartland, because there were a lot of farmers as well as industrial workers who were being left behind in another era where there was a great concentration of wealth and where, as today, that concentration of wealth began to turn into a concentration of power and threaten our democracy.”

“So that progressive tradition, all of these labels I think wear differently for different people, because they get thrown around so casually. I’m in many ways a political theory guy, but I’m less concerned with the elegance of our theories, and I’m more concerned with what’s going to work. Again, this may be a mayor’s eye view, and maybe this even makes me a big P pragmatist like the pragmatist school of philosophy, but I really believe that the test of an idea, the test of a policy, the test of a party, and certainly the test of a politician is whether what is being espoused stands to make our lives in the everyday better or worse. My biggest fear about the way that a political horror show has captivated Washington today, is that it takes our attention away from the everyday. Good politics, like a lot of good literature and film, really puts the everyday at the center. That’s our intuitive analysis. That’s what we care about. When I think about every day life, I think it’s been made better by policies for the most part that would be considered more progressive, or more liberal, or more leftward, or whatever you want to call it.” [8]


Q: The term “neoliberal” is very often used by people on the left. Your image is of somebody who’s closer to what is called the neoliberal consensus than Sanders or Warren, say. Do you reject that characterization? A: “Yes. I think those characterizations are only useful for people who try to align all of us on some left-right spectrum.”[9]

“I’d say neoliberalism is the political-economic consensus that has governed the last forty years of policy in the US and UK. Its failure helped to produce the Trump moment. Now we have to replace it with something better.” [10]

Appealing to Independents

“Appealing to independents, in particular, has never been more important. It has also never been less connected to ideological centrism, which was the formula in the 90s when we thought of everything ideologically. It seemed very natural that, if you want to appeal to independents, they must be in some middle — and if you’re on the left you just move to the right. Independents are often not so much committed centrists as they are unusual cocktails of right- and left-wing positions. Or they’re not that ideological at all and they want a feel for a kind of person who would step forward and be a leader. Either way, it does not point to there being some huge market for that kind of split-the-difference politics.”[11]


  1. Time Magazine: Four Days. One Candidate. Welcome Aboard the Buttigieg Bus
  2. Pete Buttigieg
  3. Politico: Here’s Where the Democratic Candidates Stand on the Biggest 2020 Issues
  4. The New Yorker: Pete Buttigieg Talks Impeachment, Health Care, and the Political Spectrum
  5. Vox: Pete Buttigieg Makes the Case for “Democratic Capitalism”
  6. Buzz Feed News: Pete Buttigieg Has Some Thoughts About Ideology — Even If He Rejects Your Labels
  7. The Guardian: Pete Buttigieg to Fox: ‘Ideological Spectrum Has Never Been Less Relevant’
  8. Stay Tuned with Preet: The Youngest Contender
  9. The New Yorker: Pete Buttigieg Talks Impeachment, Health Care, and the Political Spectrum
  10. Buttigeig, Pete: Tweet 3:31 PM – 23 Sep 2019
  11. Vox: Pete Buttigieg Makes the Case for “Democratic Capitalism”

Originally published by Wikipeteia under a Creative Commons license.