Shortest Way Home

by Pete Buttigieg

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 603

Pete Buttigieg has (since 2012) been the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where he grew up. In early 2019 he declared his candidacy for president of the United States. Shortest Way Home is both a memoir and an assessment of the issues he believes are important for the United States today and in the near future. Although he includes some key issues that concern him, much of the book is memoir, and his political philosophy appears in accessible language:

Much of the confusion and complication of ideological battles might be washed away if we held our focus on the lives that will be made better, or worse, by political decisions, rather than on the theoretical elegance of the policies or the character of the politicians themselves.

In the first autobiographical chapter, he connects the significance of his childhood experiences in South Bend to the attitudes of his parents. His mother was originally from Indiana, but his father had emigrated from Malta. Buttigieg talks about how the declined, post-industrial situation of the city seemed normal while he was a child in the early 1980s. He mentions the connection between larger forces and the condition of that and similar cities:

Today . . . we see how often war and terrorism are driven by the dynamics of globalization, the distribution of wealth, and the consequences of technology. Like the forces of physics, these forces were animating our affairs all along—which should have been no surprise to people from a place like South Bend, a city wrestling such forces long before economists and newspapers gave us terms like "globalization" and "Rust Belt."

Buttigieg grew up in a liberal Catholic household where casual conversation was likely to take the form of an academic or political debate between his parents' faculty friends. An excellent student who entered school politics in high school, he left South Bend to attend Harvard University. After winning the Profiles in Courage high school essay contest, he met Senator Ted Kennedy, who offered him an internship. He considers his years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and on Capitol Hill in Washington the most important formative years of his political education. His acquaintance with former Senator David Pryor, Director of Harvard's Institute of Politics, was especially informative:

The political education we really needed [was] . . . the realization that success in politics was not necessarily about impressing people with your pedigree or intellect.

Buttigieg's academic success and political involvement continued as he studied literature and worked on political campaigns. He was beginning his sophomore year in September 2001. His interest in the Middle East led to studying Arabic, both in the United States and Tunisia. He won the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and studied at Oxford. He also worked on the John Kerry presidential campaign.

After finishing school, he entered the corporate management consulting environment in Chicago, then moved back to South Bend to run for office himself (and lost). Coming home initially seemed an odd choice, but he soon accepted the importance of the cycle he was fulfilling:

In retrospect it was a homeward spiral all along: the more my worldly education grew with lessons from abroad, the clearer it became that this long and winding road was leading me back home, to find belonging by making myself useful there.

While Buttigieg's study of literature may have seemed like an unlikely start for a political career, he points out clear similarities between the two fields:

Good policy, like good literature, takes personal lived experience as its starting point. At its best, the practice of politics is about taking steps that support people in daily life—or tearing down obstacles that get in their way.

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