Young Pete Buttigieg’s Ode to Bernie Sanders

An amusing discovery.

Michael Gerson‘s WaPo column “By any measure, Buttigieg is Trump’s proven superior” is completely unremarkable and not worth the investment of your time. From it, however, I learned of a Buttigieg accomplishment that I had not previously logged: he won the JFK Library’s Profile in Courage Writing Contest as a high schooler in, gulp, 2000.

As political analysis goes, the essay isn’t all that insightful. But it’s pretty sharp for a high school kid.

What’s amusing—and I’m shocked that I have somehow not heard about this before—is that the essay is a veritable love letter to Bernie Sanders, now his opponent in the 2020 Democratic primaries.

Cynical candidates have developed an ability to outgrow their convictions in order to win power. Cynical citizens have given up on the election process, going to the polls at one of the lowest rates in the democratic world. Such an atmosphere inevitably distances our society from its leadership and is thus a fundamental threat to the principles of democracy. It also calls into question what motivates a run for office – in many cases, apparently, only the desire to occupy it. Fortunately for the political process, there remain a number of committed individuals who are steadfast enough in their beliefs to run for office to benefit their fellow Americans. Such people are willing to eschew political and personal comfort and convenience because they believe they can make a difference. One outstanding and inspiring example of such integrity is the country’s only Independent Congressman, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.

Sanders’ courage is evident in the first word he uses to describe himself: “Socialist”. In a country where Communism is still the dirtiest of ideological dirty words, in a climate where even liberalism is considered radical, and Socialism is immediately and perhaps willfully confused with Communism, a politician dares to call himself a socialist? He does indeed. Here is someone who has “looked into his own soul” and expressed an ideology, the endorsement of which, in today’s political atmosphere, is analogous to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Even though he has lived through a time in which an admitted socialist could not act in a film, let alone hold a Congressional seat, Sanders is not afraid to be candid about his political persuasion.  


Sanders has used his unique position as the lone Independent Congressman to help Democrats and Republicans force hearings on the internal structure of the International Monetary Fund, which he sees as excessively powerful and unaccountable. He also succeeded in quietly persuading reluctant Republicans and President Clinton to ban the import of products made by under-age workers. Sanders drew some criticism from the far left when he chose to grudgingly endorse President Clinton’s bids for election and re-election as President. Sanders explained that while he disagreed with many of Clinton’s centrist policies, he felt that he was the best option for America’s working class.

Sanders’ positions on many difficult issues are commendable, but his real impact has been as a reaction to the cynical climate which threatens the effectiveness of the democratic system. His energy, candor, conviction, and ability to bring people together stand against the current of opportunism, moral compromise, and partisanship which runs rampant on the American political scene. He and few others like him have the power to restore principle and leadership in Congress and to win back the faith of a voting public weary and wary of political opportunism. Above all, I commend Bernie Sanders for giving me an answer to those who say American young people see politics as a cesspool of corruption, beyond redemption. I have heard that no sensible young person today would want to give his or her life to public service. I can personally assure you this is untrue.

Obviously, Buttigieg is twenty years older now and, one would hope, wiser. He’s under no obligation to continue to hold the view of Sanders he did as a high-schooler. But I nonetheless find the endorsement amusing—especially since a key plank of Buttigieg’s argument against Sanders is that the courageous label “socialist” will turn off voters in November.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Democracy, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    Cult45 tried to make something of this a few days ago, but the effort didn’t get very far. You might say it petered out.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: Interesting. I just stumbled on it after reading Gerson’s column, which included it as a reference to how gosh darn smart Pete is. I’m not a Sanders fan but don’t hold it against a 38-year-old that he was as an 18-year-old.

  3. Joe says:

    I am again relieved that all of my juvenalia predates the Internet.

  4. Jen says:

    @Joe: Same here. I have that thought often.

  5. CSK says:

    @James Joyner: This was actually fairly widely reported: the first time last April 2 on Time did a piece on it, as did CNN, Newsweek, Fox, the Daily Caller, and a few other right wing sites. It clearly never got much traction.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:


    It’s a good example of how much very-online-people are following this stuff far more closely than the average person. Not only was this covered by multiple outlets, it was brought up in at least one debate. And yet even people like James, who follows politics very closely, miss it. It’s a good reminder that whatever Outrage of the Day may be trending on social media is likely completely irrelevant to the majority of voters.

  7. CSK says:

    Oh, my. Go here: and you can see a pic of 18-year-old Pete with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Yes, absolutely. I’ve only watched a smattering of the debates and there’s just so much coverage that it’s easy to miss stuff like this.

    @CSK: Ha. That’s the link I pointed to in the opener.

  9. Scott says:

    @CSK: I guess your “Oh my” is for how young he looks. Something he can look forward to as he gets older. When people tell me I look much younger than my 66, I tell them I’m making up for when I looked 14 at age 18.

  10. Gustopher says:

    Michael Gerson‘s WaPo column “By any measure, Buttigieg is Trump’s proven superior” is completely unremarkable and not worth the investment of your time.

    I wish this had been a separate post. Just one sentence, randomly calling out some column somewhere, with no context for why that particular column is being singled out.

    Anyway, this has been well known. I think the Buttigieg campaign proudly boasted of it early on.

  11. Mary says:

    Can’t take the time to find the Twitter post or speech, but I do think he’s expressed more than once that labels don’t matter (e. g., socialist). So I see consistency in admiring someone for having the conviction of their non-violent democratic socialist beliefs while not holding the belief personally. I fall in that category, myself. Admire the writings of Tony Judt, but pragmatically realize that America is not–may never be–ready to trust that government can provide certain services more efficiently than private enterprise.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    I took the time to read Gerson’s column. Well, slim it. Yes, unremarkable. Gerson’s error is not recognizing that pretty much any random name from the phone book is proven superior to Trump. And that a political pundit’s column is unremarkable is … unremarkable.

  13. Slugger says:

    Isn’t this like finding a picture of the 14 year old Mahomes wearing a Tom Brady jersey?

  14. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not a Sanders fan but don’t hold it against a 38-year-old that he was as an 18-year-old.


    I am again relieved that all of my juvenalia predates the Internet.

    -Both of these framings are a little unfair– Socialists consider Sanders and DSA to be small-s socialists.

    -Anarcho-Capitalism, which is the primary basis for American Libertarianism, isn’t any less utopian than Socialism.

    Not only that, An-Caps/libertarians have meaningful influence on the GOP, something that until 2016, no democratic socialist could claim. That has been the case for several decades.

    One of the main criticisms of Sanders–his inflexibility–illustrates how neutered ideologically the Dems have been since the 70s.

    Do I need to unpack the irony?

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: Fair. I have a penchant for shouting out what prompted me to discover something, even though it’s only tangentially relevant.

  16. Kurtz says:


    Excellent point. But I would argue the disparity in messaging skill between the two parties is part of the problem. As evidence, I would point to polling concerning progressive taxation and M4A variants. They tend to poll well until the s-word gets thrown around. Or of course funding it.

    One other issue may be the cold war hangover, and that most Americans seem to use communism and socialism interchangeably.

    However, all of this may be changing, Millenials and Gen Z seem to have different perceptions from the two previous generations.

  17. Gustopher says:

    I think Buttigieg’s high school essay is better than Gerson’s column. I will admit that I had to resort to skimming each of them, though.

    I have no ill-will for Mr. Gerson, and as a twice-weekly columnist he’s going to produce a few stinkers and a few utterly inessential pieces. I kind of want to congratulate him on meeting his word-count and getting paid for it. Well done, sir. Sometimes a job is just a job, and you have to do it anyway.

    As much as Buttigieg’s essay makes me glad that my youth was before everything was posted to the internet, Gerson’s column makes me glad that my current day-to-day work isn’t seen by an audience of tens of thousands.

  18. gVOR08 says:


    But I would argue the disparity in messaging skill between the two parties is part of the problem.

    I don’t see it as a disparity in skill so much as a disparity in resources and message. The D’s infrastructure has to compete with the Billionaire Boys Club generously funded wingnut welfare networks. But more important is that xenophobia and fear are easier to sell than hope and change. Ds have to make a case that M4A or something like it ‘will provide equal or better care for those already insured and that while taxes will go up, it’s just a label change on money already spent.’ Rs only have to sell ‘brown people will get free stuff’ and ‘higher taxes.’

    Of course the actual R program, do nothing about AGW and give rich people all your money, is impossible to sell. Which is why they sell xenophobia and fear instead.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @Guarneri: Thank you for reminding me of one of my favorite* Woody Guthrie songs.

    *: Not my favorite, and maybe not in the top 10, or even in the top 100, but definitely in the top 100%.

  20. Mister Bluster says:

    …negotiating genius…

    “I did try and fuck her,” Trump said. “She was married. I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. … I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there and she was married.”

  21. Kurtz says:


    By the way, I picked up an ebook recently that may interest you. I’ve been eyeing it for a while. I’m not sure how quickly I’m going to get through it, but let me know if you pick it up. Anyway, I think it may be a decent answer to a question you asked a while back.