With less than a year left until the general election, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg outlined his vision for the nation on Monday that included one bold proposal: doing away with the Electoral College in presidential elections and instead have each vote count as it does in every other election.
The move would make the nation more democratic, he said before an overflow crowd at a fundraiser in Palo Alto's Crescent Park neighborhood on Monday morning.
The coffee-and-light-breakfast event was held at the home of Flipboard CEO Mike McCue and his wife, Marci McCue, head of the tech company's marketing and communications, according to campaign staff. The morning gathering that cost $2,800 per ticket attracted 120 donors. The Palo Alto event is one of four fundraisers for Buttigieg this week in the Bay Area, where he was also scheduled to make stops in Napa Valley, Woodside and San Francisco. The South Bend, Indiana mayor last came through Silicon Valley in September.
By way of introducing Buttigieg, host Marci McCue told the crowd that the country cannot wait to address core issues such as climate change and press freedom — questions her children ask about all of the time.
"This is a time where we must take action," Marci McCue said.
Buttigieg, dressed in navy-blue dress slacks, a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a dark-blue, patterned tie, stood on a small raised platform in front of the fireplace, surrounded by red poinsettias. The crowd of attendees filled the living room and spilled out onto the outdoor deck. He spoke for roughly 37 minutes, which included a question-and-answer period, with a message that largely focused on how to bring a broken country together.
Despite having many Silicon Valley donors, he did not discuss technology policy. Instead, he stressed finding commonalities through issues that threaten the nation's security, such as climate change and gun violence. As president, he would help guide the nation to a new definition of patriotism and love of country that involves caring for each other rather than polarization, he said.
"Visualize, with as much detail as you can, what it's going to be like on a day that is fast approaching in this country — and it will come one way or the other — which is when the sun will come up over our country and Donald Trump will no longer be the president of the United States," Buttigieg said.
"It can't come soon enough, right? Just put the chaos behind us, put the tweets behind us. ... This is not only about bringing an end to the Trump presidency; this is about launching the era that begins on that day. And if you think about what America will need, if you think about what America will require of its president on that day, we will be a nation that will be even more divided than we are now. The sun will be coming up over a polarized country that's exhausted from fighting and is very much in need of being brought together," he said.
The country also needs urgent action on major issues, which aren't taking a vacation during the impeachment process, he said.
"The sun will be coming up in a climate that science tells us is a few years away from a point of no return. It will be coming up over a country where kids are learning active-shooter drills before they are old enough to learn how to read. And so, what that means is that the next president has to be ready to act boldly and swiftly to deal with those issues," he said.
Climate change, which he called "the greatest security challenge of our time," poses a grave threat to national security, he said. Fighting it requires the nation to come together and to lead the world.
Bringing the country together and meeting its many challenges is a tall order, he admitted. There's a road map, however, that guides the values that bring Americans together, such as love for the country, he said.
"When I think of patriotism, I am not talking about the chest-thumping militarism of a president who throws out military justice to pardon war criminals," Buttigieg, an Afghan War veteran, said. "Certainly, (I'm) not talking about the cheap nationalism of a president who hugs the flag — literally — as though that makes you more pro-American. I'm talking about a sense of love of country that has a different foundation — the foundation being that our country is made of people, and you can't love a country if you hate half the people," he said.
Instead, Buttigieg said, he would strive to imbue values that build on an understanding that protecting the country is based on protecting each other. Such protections include gun control. The Second Amendment "would no longer be twisted into an excuse to do nothing at all when it comes to saving thousands of lives from gun violence," he said.
The nation can tap into faith and morality to help it heal and move progressively.
"People of any moral tradition in this country have a choice right now, and we have a different choice than what's on display in this White House. I'm here for a vision of democracy as a value — not just democracy as a system — but democracy as a value with moral weight," he said.
To that end, he stressed the dangers the nation faces by an uneven electoral system that grows increasingly fragile through precinct redistricting and voter suppression that favor political parties and not the people. Voting is a common value; the country cannot tolerate voter suppression, particularly racial voter suppression that changes election outcomes, he said.
"It's why Stacey Abrams is not the governor of Georgia, and (it) harms everybody in the process," he said in reference to the 2018 gubernatorial candidate.
Buttigieg also pushed back on "the thin idea of freedom" delivered by cutting every tax and program in sight. He proposed that government should get "out of the way of the business of dictating to women what their reproductive health care choices are," he said.
But he said the government also plays a role in securing freedom.
"Often, securing freedom requires that the public sector step up. We already understand this at the local level. We expect it of our mayors to enhance our freedom by making sure that a road is without any holes in it to get us to where we're going and that we have safe drinking water coming out of the tap. We expect it of our schools," he said.
The public sector should also step up to ensure that people have the choice of having health care "because you are not free if you don't have it," he said. His proposal for "Medicare for All for all who want it" respects American freedom by creating a public plan that people can join if they want to, he said.
Buttigieg also called on progressives to not reject "those who have not always been on our side."
By seeking to join around core issues and to find common ground, "We're not going to allow fighting to be all that we've got.
Buttigieg said he thinks an American experience is defined not by exclusion but by belonging. If we can build up that sense of belonging then everything else gets better in this country," he said.
Buttigieg said he would create a million-person, paid volunteer program to bring people together. He urged people to be serious about the problems facing the nation and the world.
"We can't wait 10 years; we can't wait four years to deal with these issues that are upon us. We can't wait four years or a minute longer to deal with the climate; we can't wait to act to dismantle structures of white supremacy that are threatening the entire future of the republic — and always has — but I think in our lifetime we will see what wins," he said.
Buttigieg challenged the notion that he isn't experienced enough to be president since he has only been a mayor and is not experienced in federal governance. He said being a mayor means he has had to deal with many of the same problems faced by a president and manage many more people than U.S. senators do. He holds himself accountable to the answers he gives on television when faced by his constituents in the grocery store, he said. He also noted that being a mayor in a Midwestern city and from the Rust Belt means he understands the challenges facing people in the middle of the country and the working class.
One of the greatest challenges he sees is breaking down the silos people have constructed that don't allow them to relate to others, particularly around race.
"We have to break through this idea that either you care about auto workers or you care about the plight of African American single mothers. Where I come from, that auto worker just might be an African American single mother," he said.
He views his military experience as a strength in responding to Trump's claims on how to utilize armed forces. Serving in Afghanistan has informed much of his understanding of how people can come together. While in the military, he worked alongside many people who were of different races, ethnicity and faiths.
"We had nothing in common but the flag on our shoulder, quite honestly," he said. In war, trust and support was crucial to survival, he said.
Buttigieg said that although younger voters appear to be gravitating to other Democratic presidential candidates such as U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, he would offer the most progressive presidency if elected. Besides his young age — 37 — he would bring a different vision for the country.
"In the last 50 years, every single time my party's won the White House, certain things have been true about the nominee — always. It's been somebody who's been new on the national scene and had not run for president before; it's been somebody that's been calling the country to its highest values; it's been somebody who was not perceived as a creature of Washington ... and it's been somebody who has opened the door to a new type of leadership," he said.
"We need the right kind of leadership. We need to build it out in a way that can draw as many people as possible. And we need to spread a sense of hope," he said.
The act of running for office is its own kind of hope, he noted.
"It's why we're called presidential hopefuls," he joked. He added that it's the hope and will to take hold of the rudder and steer the country in a progressive direction — that is why a candidate runs for office.
In a nation that has become increasingly cynical, Buttigieg said that he's aware there are some who have just about given up hope. It's that group he asked the Palo Alto crowd to help reach out to and galvanize.
"The presidency has a purpose. The purpose of the presidency is not to glorify the president. It is to unify and empower the American people, and that's why I'm running for president," he said.
Buttigieg is one of a number of presidential candidates who have come through Silicon Valley in recent weeks. Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker attended separate fundraising events in Palo Alto over the past week and Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was at Stanford University for a speaking engagement on Dec. 5.