Dahleen Glanton: To get to the White House, millennial Pete Buttigieg has to knock down the boomers standing in his way

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The scrap between Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar on the debate stage Wednesday night sounded familiar. It was a generational spat between a 38-year-old millennial and a 59-year-old baby boomer.

Most of us have seen similar clashes in the workplace. Some youngsters are so eager for the old-timers to get out of the way that they are practically salivating. Many of them see nothing of value in the wealth of knowledge and experience someone who has been around six decades or more has to offer.

Millennials tend to feel like the world is champing at the bit for fresh ideas, new ways to reinvent the wheel because, in their opinion, the old wheels have been useless failures, unable to carry anyone into the future. And they, by nature of their youthfulness, have all the answers.

It is front and center in the Democratic campaigns, where Buttigieg is the only young person competing in a sea of boomers and candidates approaching their 80s. Bernie Sanders, however, is an exception. He has managed to convince young supporters that he is embracing their ideas rather than the other way around.

Buttigieg and Klobuchar have been going at it for a while. In a debate last month, Buttigieg said, “We cannot solve the problems before us by looking back. We have to be ready to turn the page and change our politics before it’s too late.”

Klobuchar fired back, “I’m a fresh face up here for a presidential debate. And I figure, Pete, that 59 — my age — is the new 38 up here.” She also has called him a “cool newcomer” and previously dismissed him as a “local official.”

The rivalry took on a more personal tone Wednesday.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., suggested that Klobuchar’s 14 years as a U.S. senator would be a detriment to the presidency. It was disturbing to watch this accomplished woman have to defend herself to a mayor of a medium-sized city with zero experience on state or national levels.

It was just as sad to watch fellow boomer Elizabeth Warren come rushing to her rescue as if they had made a pact to stick together.

In the world of politics, though, everything is political. Buttigieg obviously targeted Klobuchar because she is his weakest rival in the pursuit of the moderate Democrat vote.

Anyone on Wednesday’s debate stage would have been within his or her right to bring up Klobuchar’s blundering interview with Telemundo in ethnically diverse Nevada last week, when she was unable to name the president of Mexico or discuss his policies.

She later called her inability to identify President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as “momentary forgetfulness,” adding, “This isn’t ‘Jeopardy.’”

She should have been better prepared for the interview. Her responses made her appear disengaged in issues that are important to Latino voters and suggested that she might be taking their vote for granted.

Buttigieg got it right during his interview with Telemundo, and he did nothing wrong by trying to capitalize on it. But he took it too far by suggesting that Klobuchar supported Donald Trump’s border policies because she voted to confirm the president’s nominee to head Customs and Border Protection. He went on to question her knowledge of border issues in general.

“You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade. You’re literally in part of the committee that’s overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south,” he said.

“Are you … trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?” Klobuchar asked.

“He’s basically saying that I don’t have the experience to be president of the United States,” she continued. “I have passed over 100 bills as the lead Democrat since being in the U.S. Senate. I am the one, not you, that has won statewide in congressional district after congressional district,” she said to applause.

“This is a race for president,” Buttigieg responded. “If winning a race for Senate in Minnesota translated directly to becoming president, I would have grown up under the presidency of Walter Mondale.

“The reason I think we need to talk about Washington experience is that we should ask what that experience has led to,” he continued. “Experience and certainly tenure is not always the same thing as judgment.”

The verbal debate said a lot, but the unspoken debate said more. His message was that Klobuchar has been in Washington too long and is out of touch with the evolving, ethnically diverse America. In other words, she has outlived her usefulness.

Klobuchar seems to think that Buttigieg’s youthfulness is just as worthless. Both of them are wrong. Even if they were correct, it wouldn’t matter in this race against Trump.

Trump should be the main target of everyone on the debate stage. Rather than focusing their energy on tearing down one another, they should be exerting every bit of it toward defeating Trump. He’s the biggest barrier to the White House — not their age or level of experience.

In the end, the testy exchange might push Klobuchar closer to the edge of the cliff. But she’ll be holding Buttigieg’s hand if she falls off.



Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.


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