Getting mad at a politician for speaking in platitudes is like getting mad at a politician for breathing. It’s what they do; audiences rarely mind. Politicians who want to be elected or reelected want to please as many people as possible and offend as few people as possible, so a lot of their prepared remarks and memorized lines tend to sound like Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”: “I believe that children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
Platitudes also generally work. Think of Bill Clinton (“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America”), George W. Bush (“freedom is a gift of God and the wish of every human heart”), Barack Obama (“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, we are the change that we seek,” and Donald Trump (“No dream is too big. No challenge is too great. Nothing we want for our future is beyond our reach”).
That having been said, David Harsanyi is right: Pete Buttigieg really speaks in platitudes a lot. Last night brought, “[You’re] ready to vote for a politics defined by how many we call in, instead of by who we push out . . . So many of you chose to meet a new era of challenge with a new generation of leadership . . . A fresh outlook is what makes new beginnings possible. It is how we build a new majority . . . The answers, they lie in a vision that brings Americans together not only in the knowledge of what we must stand against, but in the confidence of knowing what we are for.”
This morning, someone sent me a link to the Pete Buttigieg Platitude Generator, which takes random words from the former mayor’s speeches and plugs them into formulas. The Mad-Libs style offerings keep switching from the hilarious to the unnervingly plausible: “When I’m president, we’re not going to compel the performance of everyday life by Trans rights. We’re going to compel it by the strength of the American heartland.” “If you’re ready to protect an American life defined by power, this is our debt.” “If we can’t unite on where to dismantle the line, I hope we can unite on who should dismantle the line. I think that should be billionaires.” “Terrorism is reflected in a society that doesn’t value Medicare for all who want it.”
“He speaks in platitudes” is a tough attack to make stick to a political rival. But maybe some of Buttigieg’s rivals might start pointing out that the whiz kid from Harvard, Oxford, and McKinsey keeps sounding like he’s reading from a stack of Hallmark cards.