Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg shakes hands with former Vice President Joe Biden after a Democratic debate in Ohio last year. (Photo: John Minchillo / AP)

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg shakes hands with former Vice President Joe Biden after a Democratic debate in Ohio last year. (Photo: John Minchillo / AP)

Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg Are Not to Be Trusted

It’s understandable that corporate-backed candidates don’t want to be cornered by questions that touch on realities of political and economic power.

Norman Solomon

In a recent New Yorker profile of Pete Buttigieg, one sentence stands out: “Watch Buttigieg long enough and you notice that he uses abstraction as an escape hatch.” Evasive platitudes are also routine for Joe Biden, the other major Democratic presidential candidate running in what mainstream journalists call “the center lane.”

Jim Hightower has observed that “there’s nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and dead armadillos.” Or, we might say, party lines and deadening politics.

Like other so-called “moderate” politicians, Buttigieg and Biden dodge key questions by plunging into foggy rhetoric. They’re incapable of giving a coherent and truthful account of power in the United States because they’re beholden to corporate-aligned donors. Those donors want to hear doubletalk that protects their interests, not clear talk that could threaten them.

“Forty billionaires and their spouses have donated to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, according to an analysis of federal election filings, making the South Bend, Indiana mayor a favorite among America’s richest people,” Forbes reported last month.

The magazine added: “More than one third of Buttigieg’s wealthy benefactors got rich in finance and investments. That group includes seven who built their fortunes from hedge funds, including Bill AckmanPhilippe Laffont and Seth Klarman.”

Mega-money manipulators are bullish on Buttigieg. “The financial sector, blamed by progressives for spawning the 2008 economic collapse, is lining up behind Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign,” the Associated Press explained in late December. He “has collected more campaign cash from donors and political action committees tied to the financial, insurance and real estate sector than any other White House hopeful, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.”

AP added: “One top Wall Street law firm could pose particular challenges for Buttigieg with progressives. He’s the top recipient of cash this cycle from Sullivan & Cromwell, which has worked on some of the biggest corporate mergers in recent history, including Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner and Bayer’s merger with Monsanto. The firm also represented some of the largest financial institutions that received federal bailout money.” 

Buttigieg is a very new darling of corporate America compared to his main centrist rival. Biden — who has a decades-long record of scarcely legal corruption while serving corporate interests in Washington — is also heavily reliant on wealthy donors and foggy abstractions.

But the basic contradiction — between serving enemies of working people and claiming to be a champion of working people — is an increasingly difficult circle to square. And a barrier to credibility with many voters.

“The mainstream Democratic storyline of victims without victimizers lacks both plausibility and passion,” said the report Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis, released in October 2017. “The idea that the Democrats can somehow convince Wall Street to work on behalf of Main Street through mild chiding, rather than acting as Main Street’s champion against the wealthy, no longer resonates.”

That report (written by a task force I was part of) anticipated that a continuing upsurge in populism “will be filled by some political force or other — either the cruel and demagogic forces of the far right and its billionaire backers, or a racially diverse and morally robust progressive vision that offers people a clear alternative to the ideological rot of Trumpism.”

Most of the Democrats running for president don’t want to acknowledge the actual power wielded by economic elites. Biden is the most experienced at blowing smoke to obscure those elite forces, as if no fundamental conflicts of interest exist between billionaires and the huge numbers of people badly harmed by extreme income inequality.

That was a subtext when Biden declared in May 2018: “I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble. . . The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.” (At last count, 44 billionaires and their spouses have donated to Biden’s campaign.)

Abstractions and evasions of the sort practiced daily by Buttigieg and Biden amount to papering over class conflicts. In sharp contrast, Elizabeth Warren and even more so Bernie Sanders (whom I actively support) are willing to name the names of corporations and billionaires growing even wealthier in ways that undermine the lives of most Americans.

It’s understandable that corporate-backed candidates don’t want to be cornered by questions that touch on realities of political and economic power. They’d much rather take evasive action than be candid. It’s not enticing to name victimizers when they’re funding your campaign.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'You Tell Me What We Should Cut': Sanders Not Budging on $3.5 Trillion

"Poll after poll tells me, and tells you, that what we are trying to do is enormously popular."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Set to Admit Even Fewer Refugees Than Trump's Record Low

The "paltry" number of those admitted so far would be well below the 62,500 ceiling President Joe Biden had set for the current fiscal year.

Andrea Germanos ·


In 'Landmark' Decision, EPA Finalizes Rule Cutting Use of Super-Pollutant HFCs

The regulation will drastically curb the use of "the most potent super-pollutants known to mankind at the moment," one climate campaigner said.

Julia Conley ·


Biden's Envoy to Haiti Resigns in Protest Over 'Inhumane' Deportations

The Biden administration's move to ramp up deportations at a time of overlapping crises will "add to Haiti's unacceptable misery," wrote Daniel Foote.

Kenny Stancil ·


Pfizer CEO—Biden's 'Good Friend'—Is Privately Working to Tank Drug Price Reforms

Pfizer's chief executive Albert Bourla is reportedly urging his employees to fight Democrats' plan to let Medicare directly negotiate drug prices.

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo