Three miles from Pulse, with Parkland’s Mayor in the wings, and the sounds of gunshots of Dayton and El Paso still ringing in America’s ears, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg charged that gun violence is a “national security” problem Tuesday.
And in his first campaign appearance in Orlando, Buttigieg said the same of white nationalism, calling it out a 21st century threats to America’s security, along with cyber attacks, elections tampering, climate disruption, and more traditional national security concerns.
“These things cannot be dealt with by putting up a 17th century security solution like a big wall on the border,” Buttigieg said to a packed house at Orlando’s Plaza Live show venue, which has a capacity of about 1,250.
“America is under attack from, among other things, white nationalist violence. And we’ve got to call it out for what it is,” the mayor of South Bend, Ind., declared. “And we know that national security, if we have such weak policies on gun safety that the 2nd Amendment is allowed to be a death sentence for thousands of Americans every year. This is a security issue. This is a national security issue.”
Buttigieg went through his full list of issues, ranging from election and campaign finance reforms to climate change, and from ending wars to health care reform.
But in this setting, and given who he is and whom he has come to represent, three issues rose to the fore: new leadership, gun violence, and contrasting his character with that of President Donald Trump. He and warm-up speakers touched on them often and those issues drew the loudest roars of approval.
Buttigieg is young, 37, openly gay, and representing himself as the voice of a new generation demanding new ideas, new definitions of freedom, and new actions.
From that viewpoint, he took his only real shots at his Democratic rivals. Though veiled and never by name, the references clearly were his effort to contrast himself with the three elders in the race, who also are the poll leaders: former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
“We cannot solve the problems that we have today by recycling the same answers, the same debates, the same talking points, sometimes the same faces that have dominated Washington for as long as I’ve been alive,” Buttigieg said. “We have to do something completely different.”
Then there was Buttigieg the member of the generation that he has described as the first to grow up, since the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, when he was 17, under the daily fear of school shootings and other massacres.
That identity found a big following in this crowd, days after the Dayton and El Paso massacres, 18 months after the Parkland massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, three years after the Pulse massacre, which happened just a long walk from Plaza Live theater.
“It’s not lost on us that we’re down here at a tough time for our country that echoes some of the most painful times that this community, Parkland, and other communities here in Florida have been through,” Buttigieg said.
The crowd was peppered with “Moms Demand Action” and “March for Our Lives” T-shirts, and no doubt with numerous people deeply affected by the shootings at Pulse, Orlando’s popular gay nightclub, including survivors of that massacre, which killed 49 people and wounded 53.
Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky and Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, one of the heroes of post-Pulse healing and unity efforts in Orlando, gave rousing introductory speeches, largely talking about gun violence and guns.
“This madness must end,” Sheehan demanded. “It must end.”
Buttigieg, along with Sheehan and Hunschofsky, spared no criticisms of Trump, particularly accusing him of lacking character and values.
At one point, in answering a question about bullies during a question and answer session following his speech, Buttigieg responded with, “We’ve got one in the White House.”
But for Buttigieg, talking about Trump often was a stepping stone to talking about his belief that there is a bigger, longstanding problem in America that Trump only represents and exploits. That allowed him to refocus on himself as a candidate representing generational change.
“The urgency of the moment we’re in right now is even bigger than this presidency,” Buttigieg said.
“We gotta dig a little deeper and ask ourselves how we got here. A guy like Donald Trump does not get within cheating distance of the presidency unless America already is in crisis. We were already in trouble,” he continued. “And it’s issues that I don’t have to come and tell you about here in Florida. It’s the fact that our economy doesn’t work for most of us…. when gun violence has perpetuated… climate change has gone from something we were being warned about … to something that is accelerating before our eyes.
“We are at a moment that will decide how the future of America unfolds. We are lucky and unlucky enough to be living in one of those moments where the choices that we make now, the choices we make in 2020, aren’t going to just decide who is president for the next four years, but how America works for the next 40.”