The first round of Democratic Presidential debates is, mercifully, over. Winners and losers will sort themselves out in due season, but in the meanwhile let’s consider one whom the media fawned over: Pete Buttigieg, South Bend’s mayor. He’s made quite a career doing something that none of his rivals have done to the extent that he has: taken shots at the “Religious Right.” starting with his own former governor, Mike Pence. In a party which has gone very secular, and this is the primary stage, it’s hard to know what’s to be gained from such other than publicity (and, of course, in politics the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.) None of his rivals have any use for the Religious Right, so what’s the big deal? What’s his game?
Personally, when I hear him go after conservative Christians, it sounds like it’s a 2019 version of the old “Episcopal Snob” going public with his grievances against these people. Buttigieg is an Episcopalian and it sounds like he’s repeating the stuff he hears at church, whether from the pulpit or in the legendary Anglican/Episcopal coffee.
It’s something people in the Anglican/Episcopal world don’t like to admit, but it’s true: the core appeal of the Episcopal Church to those outside looking in is one of snob appeal. The church has always attracted refugees from “fundamental” groups. People for whom the narrow way has lost its appeal are attracted to a religion which is aesthetically pleasing and, most of the time, not dogmatic, even if they don’t have a good grasp of what they’ve gotten themselves into. But coupled with that are the church’s elevated demographics: those who join it get to rub shoulders with people at the top of society.
As part of the “schtick” Episcopalians who have been at it for a long time are good at putting on the proper airs when confronted with those of religious persuasions they feel are beneath them. They tell you that they neither need nor want to do the things you feel they should do, and the impression they leave is that they’re superior for it. It can be intimidating; my wife and I have run into it when out and about on church-related errands until we mention we are good friends with certain of their fellow parishioners, at which point they beat a hasty retreat: they realize we know too much.
Buttigieg mixes this up with current shaming and virtue-signaling techniques, using the fact that he’s gay to amplify his point. His own schtick is that, if he “calls out” the spiritual and political failings of the unwashed, they’ll realize the error of their ways and come around to his idea. That’s straight out of the Episcopal snob appeal playbook, only in the past both positive and negative presentation of the point was more subtle and in better taste.
I don’t think that the “unwashed” are going to flock en masse to either his church or his campaign, let alone his political party. He might pick off a few careerist types but not many. And the barriers which have bedeviled his church will come back to do the same to his candidacy and his party. Nominating a snob might have worked in 2008 with Barack Obama, but this is an angrier country. Elizabeth Warren has a better shot at ginning up resentment, if she doesn’t get bogged down being the policy wonk. But then again, the last Scots-Irish President, Bill Clinton, was something of a policy wonk in his own right.