A chill, if careful, read by Mayor Pete

You may not be surprised to hear that Pete Buttigieg, who does everything precociously, has a well-written memoir, “Shortest Way Home.”

While the longer careers of other politicians have had to sustain multiple books and are padded with random constituent narratives, this young 2020 Democratic hopeful can stick to his personal story. The 37-year-old has an eye for detail and drama. About commanding vehicles during his Afghanistan tour? “Quickly, I learned how to drive at war.” Upon returning home, he does not glorify his service but does note the discrepancies between military and civilian life, remembering the weight difference between the doors of heavy armored land cruisers and cars.

Some readers might roll their eyes at self-consciously perfect lines like “You can read the progress of the campaign calendar in the condition of the corn.” Buttigieg is smart, you know? He quotes James Joyce and “Hobsbawm’s historiography.” Every narrative twist and turn of Buttigieg’s life makes perfect sense. Consulting for global firm McKinsey & Co.? “I was in it for the education,” he writes. 

This is the kind of stuff that has infuriated reviewers who see every careful career choice and every complete and erudite sentence he writes or speaks as fake.

More charitably, what this 2019 book suggests is that the South Bend mayor is a throwback to President Barack Obama. He’s cool and accomplished. His personal stories of war and coming out as gay are told with solemnity, and a sense of the essential goodness of the American character.

He might speak progressive on the 2020 campaign trail but he reveals himself here to be generally uncomfortable with ideology, which he says was an obsession for his GOP opponent in a state treasurer race.

“Much of the confusion and complication of ideological battles might be washed away if we held our focus on the lives that will be [affected] by political decisions,” he writes.

An Obama-esque sense of destiny combined with a wry sense of humor is present in a line from his journal (of course he keeps a journal) on the eve of his loss in that state race. It applies just as well to his current endeavor, to see whether his brand of perfection works in an ideological age: “Are we walking into a buzz saw, or does a phenomenal surprise await?”

Mark Chiusano, an editorial writer for amNewYork, writes the column amExpress.

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