Pete Buttigieg fails the Woody Allen test
He’s been called the future of the Democratic Party, and the smartest man in the swamp. Pete Buttigieg serves as transportation secretary in the Biden Administration. And one could argue that, outside of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, there isn’t anyone in the administration who has performed as poorly as the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.
This perspective comes after Buttigieg was once again several days late and many dollars short in his response to a 50-car train derailment on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, that resulted in four kinds of cancer-causing chemicals being released into the area’s air and water. Fish and poultry have died as a result, while frightened residents are complaining of nausea, headaches and respiratory issues.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have tested the water and claim everything is safe, but many residents say otherwise.
“Why are people getting sick if there’s nothing in the air or water?” an East Palestine woman shouted at a recent town hall meeting.
There seem to be more questions than answers right now. One of the most pressing is why it took Buttigieg 10 days to make a public statement on the matter. And why, when he did, it was only to express his concern on Twitter.
During any catastrophe, leaders must get out of their offices and travel to the disaster site to assess the damage, weigh what resources can be utilized and show solidarity with the affected people.
Buttigieg has done no such thing, perhaps taking his cues from President Biden, who also has avoided any public acknowledgment of the situation. It’s a head-in-the-sand approach that has many Ohio residents angry.
“Where’s Pete Buttigieg? Where’s he at?” one resident asked East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway.
“I don’t know. Your guess is as good as [mine],” Conaway replied. “[Tuesday] was the first time I heard anything from the White House.”
Now on the defensive, Buttigieg has resorted to blaming (you guessed it) former President Trump for what is happening in Ohio.
“We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation (like the braking rule withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018 because of a law passed by Congress in 2015), but we are using the powers we do have to keep people safe,” Buttigieg tweeted. “And of course, I’m always ready to work with Congress on furthering (or in some cases, restoring) our capacity to address rail safety issues.”
So, despite Democrats having controlled the House, Senate and White House for two years, Buttigieg claims his hands are tied because of the administration that has been gone for 25months.
And the concern isn’t limited to East Palestine or Ohio. The EPA is testing water as far away as Pittsburgh, Pa., but not every area is seeing their water, air or soil get tested.
“A lot about us outside the initial mile (of the derailment), we are not getting our water, our soil, our air sampled,” resident Alicia Robbins said at a packed town hall on Wednesday night. “That’s still scary for me.”
Robbins noted that her kids are staying with family out of town because she and her husband do not feel the area around their home is safe.
The situation in East Palestine isn’t Buttigieg’s only problem. He took two months of paternity leave at the start of his tenure and didn’t inform the public. During the pandemic induced supply chain crisis, Buttigieg didn’t visit a U.S. port until many months after the crisis began.
And then there was the meltdown of commercial aviation in the summer of 2022, which Buttigieg kept assuring us would improve but never did. In fact, things got worse over the holidays, with millions of travelers stranded and some even spending Christmas Eve sleeping on the floor of airports across the country.
Buttigieg again promised accountability, but the words proved to be empty. In January, a Federal Aviation Administration outage forced all departures to be ceased across the country for 90 minutes, setting off more chaos and finger-pointing.
“Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation has been hesitant to hold the airlines accountable,” National Consumers League Vice President John Breyault told the New York Times. “While Secretary Buttigieg has talked a tough talk, particularly over the past few months, we have yet to see that really translate into action.”
A supply chain crisis; baby formula shortages; a U.S. commercial airline industry in chaos. And now evacuations, a federal investigation and a cancer-causing chemical scare that continues to stress residents in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Woody Allen said that 90 percent of success in life is just showing up. On that front, Pete Buttigieg continues to fail.
If he wants to be president one day, Buttigieg must show more effort, urgency and competency than what the country has witnessed so far.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.
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