DANIEL VAUGHAN: Pete Buttigieg: the Empty-Suit Consultant

 December 30, 2022

As a rule, some cabinet positions in a presidential administration should be seen but not heard. If Americans know a cabinet official's name because of their job performance, it's probably a bad sign. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but the rule sticks if we're talking about a low-profile position like Secretary of Transportation.

If pressed, I wonder if many Americans could name a single person who previously held the top post in the Department of Transportation (DOT). Everyone in America knows that Pete Buttigieg is the head of that department. He's had a role in the supply chain crisis at the ports, the trucking crisis, forcing rail union workers to accept a poor deal, and now the meltdown at Southwest Airlines in airports across the country.

Being Secretary of Transportation is a little like being an offensive lineman or a referee in the NFL. You're in trouble if everyone knows your name. I've watched the Tennessee Titans collapse spectacularly so far this season. I could likely tell you which offensive lineman gave up the sack without seeing the play. Likewise, when I learn a particular referee is on a game I'm watching, I know what to expect.

Mr. Consultant goes to Washington.

Similarly, you know who is involved when something goes wrong with America's transportation system. Outside the President himself, Buttigieg might be the least capable member of the White House cabinet.

Pete Buttigieg is so bad as Transportation Secretary that I have no doubt he worked at McKinsey. It would take a person who proudly shows off a big consulting firm's record as their prior experience to mess up this badly. That's not to say he's the driving cause of Southwest Airlines' imploding after a winter blast swept the nation. But when even Democrats are lobbing criticism his way, you know it's getting bad.

Democrats pile on.

Nina Turner, the national co-chair of Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign, blasted Buttigieg: "What's happening with the railroads, airlines & the supply chain is a result of a small city mayor being made the Secretary of Transportation as a means to pad his resume for President ... Secretary Buttigieg is a prime example of failing up."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) added to the fire by pointing out that Democrats had warned Buttigieg of these issues months ago. "Nearly six months ago Bernie Sanders and I called for Buttigieg to implement fines & penalties on airlines for cancelling flights. Why were these recommendations not followed? ... This mess with Southwest could have been avoided. We need bold action."

Republicans are close behind.

Other Democrats joined in the chorus too. Republicans, long critical of Buttigieg, reiterated those criticisms. Nancy Mace (R-SC) noted, "It took four days and thousands and thousands of cancelations for DOT to finally speak up; same thing, it took four days for the CEO of Southwest to finally speak up."

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) observed Buttigieg's frequent use of "taxpayer-funded private jets." He said, "If [the US DOT] is serious about addressing Southwest's recent implosion, it should prohibit its leader [Secretary Pete Buttigieg] from flying private ... Why wasn't he aware of these challenges beforehand? Late to the game and out of touch."

It's easy to pile on, which is the point. Buttigieg has yet to hit two years on the job, and he's one of the worst performers in the government.

During his bizarre trek through late-night comedy shows, Buttigieg promised long-standing airport issues would get solved. He vowed things would be good in time for the holidays. That was in September of this year. At the same time, the Attorney Generals of 38 states were petitioning Congress to step in and act because the Department of Transportation was a "vacuum of oversight."

Buttigieg is the empty suit of leaders.

Buttigieg is the kind of leader who shows up and tells everyone they're welcome for his work. Everyone is left asking, "what is it exactly that you do here?"

Buttigieg's solutions aren't helping matters, either. Now that Buttigieg has decided to act, he's issued several proposals. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board panned those ideas as "shooting the wounded." They point out that his main idea would likely exacerbate matters, making airfare worse.

That's McKinsey consultant Pete Buttigieg - arrive late to the problem, promise to fix it, pitch an idea that causes everyone to roll their eyes, then demand thanks like you've solved world hunger. The only thing we're missing from Buttigieg is a bill full of exorbitant fees for writing a proposal. There was a similar mystery around his first Presidential bid - what does this guy offer as a candidate? No one had an answer.

It turns out he doesn't have any answers as Transportation Secretary. If you can't run an agency that all your predecessors did without much notice, what hope do you have for the Presidency? It takes more than McKinsey proposals to run the free world. Mayor Pete can't even get the planes and trains to run on time.

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